The Predator is just so bad. Bad on every conceivable level. Bad to the point that it makes you question-was it intentional? Some sort of failed attempt at parody isn’t inconceivable, as writer/director Shane Black’s directorial efforts have been brimming with self awareness and encoded in a sense of irony, from his brilliant deconstruction of hardboiled noir (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), his subversive and cathartic superhero romp (Iron Man 3), and his masterful private eye buddy duo (The Nice Guys). Blame studio interference, blame poor marketing, or blame the cast for not knowing what they’re in for, but the ultimate blame lies with Black himself; this is the first of his films where I’m not sure he’s in on the joke.
After a mysterious creature from another planet kills his men, Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is deemed unfit for duty and silenced by his government. Holbrook befriends a group of insane ex-soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Augilera) and a scientist researching extra terrestrials (Olivia Munn) to track down the creature that killed his team. There’s also a government official character played by Sterling K. Brown who wears jackets and says things.
What makes me lean away from suggesting the film is a product of self awareness is it’s blatant script and technical faults; there are jokes, one-liners, and expositional monologues made by characters that are so bad that surely, *surely* they were an attempt at parody, but the film’s direction doesn’t neccessarily indicate otherwise, nor do the film’s characters develop to the point that those sort of lines would feel appropriate. I try to evaluate the film as it’s own thing, but compare this film to the 1987 original; within the first fifteen minutes, we know exactly who each character is and what their schtick is, but in Black’s rendition, schtick is the only thing he’s got.
If we’re sticking with comparisons to the original, a clear difference made early on is the portrayal of the Predator. In John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, the creature is shrouded in mystery to make it more primal and scary, but Black makes a choice early on in the new film to let you know everything about the Predator and show you in it’s entirety. This is clearly a choice, as Black isn’t going for a thriller per se, but he doesn’t take advantage of it either. It’s these sort of choices that make the third act plot revelations, ridiculous side plots involving McKenna’s son with autism, genuine discussions about PTSD with the soldiers, and the film’s embarrassing attempt at sequel bait feel all the more lazy; they’re half cooked ideas at parody that are mixed into a film that’s not sure what it’s identity is.
It’s also evident how poorly produced the entire film is; early on the editing choices are strange, stringing together unrelated scenes in an order that seems counterintuitive to fluidity. Many scenes feel choppy, as if there were shots or moments completely lifted, and the film’s plot hangs on paper thin logic. There’s also just straight up bad technicals; the CGI looks half rendered and terrible, the sound effects are inconsistent, and the action scenes are lacking in creativity, minus some admittedly inventive deaths (which remain consistent with the theory that Black was in on the joke).
The first half of the film is straight up unwatchable, but as the second half begins I was genuinely engrossed as the film’s plot mechanics somehow managed to get dumber with each passing scene. It’s at that point that I was almost convinced Black had duped us with the opening in order to give way to a ludicrous third act, but even then the third act still fails any logic test and isn’t really as fun as you’d want it to be. Still, I do want to give credit to the cast; while the script doesn’t really present any opportunities, the actors seem to be having a good time, and Holbrook in particular gives the film the sort of macho, wink at the camera sort of charm it’s looking for.
The Predator is an aggravating and befuddling film, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s terrible but I don’t hate it. Perhaps a poorly produced midnight movie is what Black was going for, but the film feels like an incomplete and conceived attempt at even that. Sure, I laughed a lot, but as the film went on I found myself laughing at it more than I was laughing with it. I give props to Shane Black, a very talented filmmaker, with going for a wild reinvention of the action movie, I’m just disappointed it didn’t work. Grade: D