As much as I hate to admit it, the Predator franchise has had a bit of a tumultuous history. Despite the success of Predator (McTiernan, 1987), the underrated Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990) didn’t really match the worldwide gross or critical reaction of its predecessor. We then had to wait fourteen years to see the ultimate hunter return to cinema screens, this time for the much-maligned and mishandled AVP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004). While I actually really enjoyed the follow-up, AVP: R: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (The Brothers Strause, 2007) was a box office bomb. Things seemed to turn around with Predators (Antal, 2010), which was both pretty well received and made over double its budget in worldwide gross, we’ve heard neither sight nor sound of a sequel or continuation of any king as 20th Century Fox became obsessed with indulging Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels that completed destroyed that franchise’s links to Predator. Until now. The Predator brings back the writer of the original movie, Shane Black, who has become an accomplished writer and director in the interim and returns the titular hunter to modern-day Earth for a new hunt.
The movie opens with a Predator (Brian A. Prince) being shot down over Earth and crash-landing right in the middle of a hostage retrieval situation. Crack sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) stumbles upon the crash site and swipes some Predator tech and manages to mail it to safety, with his entire unit slaughtered by the hunter, he is soon apprehended and marked as the patsy for the entire situation. Government/military asshole-guy Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and his shady team manage to bag the Predator and bring in evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to help study the creature under the enthusiastic guidance of Sean Keyes (Jake Busey). These guys have documented all Predator (yes, they officially brand the creature being a “Predator”, which Black apparently hates as he has about thee digs at the name throughout the script) sightings over the years and appear to have a hidden agenda revolving around the creatures and their technology.
Meanwhile, as McKenna is being bussed off to a nut-house and makes friends with some other wacked-out military types, his package accidentally makes its way to his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), an autistic boy with a penchant for figured out languages and technology, who inadvertently triggers a signal that brings a bigger, badder Super Predator to Earth to hunt down the other Predator. When the Predator wakes up and starts going on a bit of a rampage, McKenna and his newfound buddies take it upon themselves to intervene and end up having to race to protect Rory from two warring creatures who will apparently stop at nothing to kill each other, everything in their way, and retrieve both their property.
The Predator has some really enjoyable aspects; the Predators look fantastic and it’s a treat to see the creature finally back on cinema screens again. The design has arguably never looked better and, rather than waste time building up to the Predator’s reveal, Black immediately begins the movie with some great shots of the creature and what it’s capable of. The human characters are all pretty entertaining, too; McKenna’s clinically-discharged fellows all have their own little quirks and character traits – Trevante Rhodes plays Nebraska Williams, who shot himself in the head due to the despair he felt over constant conflict, while Thomas Jane (arguably the biggest name in the cast) plays Baxley, who hilariously suffers from Torrette’s syndrome. They build a fun rapport despite all suffering from different variants of post-traumatic stress disorder, though there are times when their dialogue is needlessly mumbled or drowning out by ambient noise. Right from the trailers, though, I had a feeling that The Predator was mashing together many plot threads and ideas from every previous Predator movie and making something new and, honestly, that is kind of what has happened. The Predator hunts and stalks through forest areas like in Predator, is hunted and targeted by government types as in Predator 2 (Keyes is actually the son of Peter Keyes and is even played by Gary Busey’s son; as someone who enjoys Predator 2 and hates when the series ignores it, this pleased me no end!), has some more of its world expanded upon as in AVP: Alien: vs Predator, attacks a suburban area as in AVP: R: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, and features Predator dogs and two warring Predator classes as in Predators.
The Predator incorporates all of these elements, and more, and puts a new spin on it with the idea that the Predators hunt not just for trophies and glory but also to acquire the best genetic sampling from spinal fluids and genetically improve themselves. The film also posits that Predator sightings are increasing as humanity draws closely to self-extinction and most of the species wants to wipe us out and claim the Earth as their own, while the primary Predator wants to give humanity a fighting chance. Also, the government has developed technology to translate the Predator language, allowing some basic communication. Honestly, as great as it is to see some vicious Predator action there are some flaws that cause The Predator to stumble, primarily revolving around the film’s pacing of all of these ideas. It’s like Shane Black wanted to cram as much as possible as he could into the movie and setup for a sequel and, as a result, the focus is a bit sporadic. One minute we’re watching classic Predator action, the next we’re spending time with Rory, then the Predator is eviscerating helpless soldiers, then its fighting the protagonists, then suddenly the Super Predator! Then Rory is able to gain access to the Predator ship, then the Super Predator decides to hunt the protagonists and whittles them away, then its comes down to a Predator-esque final showdown, then the teaser for a sequel hits with about as much impact as the rushed “we have to take the fight to them!” ending of Independence Day: Resurgence (Emmerich, 2016). It seems that every time the narrative starts to get bogged down by all of the many different ideas Black is trying to incorporate and every time you begin to question the plot and things that don’t make sense, an action scene involving the Predator being a bad ass is thrown at you and you quickly forget these issues. However, this does happen more than once in the movie and, in the end, I found myself picking it apart a bit. I felt that it might have been simpler to paint the Super Predator as the villainous rogue trying to engage in genocide rather than the regular Predator as the regular Predator sure kills a hell of a lot of people for a creature that claims to be trying to save humanity with a “gift”. Speaking of which, the “gift” turns out to be a nano-tech-like suit of Predator armour that sports many guns, weapons, and other bells and whistles that will allow humanity to fight back and, no doubt, sell a lot of action figures. It might just be me but I was hoping to see Royce (Adrien Brody) and Isabelle (Alice Braga) emerge from the Predator’s pod perhaps with some Predator tech which, along with their experience, would give humanity a fighting chance. Instead, rather than being a sequel to Predators, I guess this movie takes place before, during, or after that film. I can settle for Black finally acknowledging Predator 2 but it does annoy me that he didn’t use The Predator as a way to wrap things up and then take a step towards re-establishing this franchise. Instead, given the box office history of the Predator films, I can’t help but feel like Black has set himself up for a sequel that will never happen. And that is a shame as there is so much potential in this franchise and The Predator is a decent action/sci-fi film that does a great job reminding audiences why the Predator is such a bad ass creature but I fear we may never see all these loose ends tied up.
Recommended: Remember, I’m very biased as I love this franchise so of course I recommend people watch more Predator.
Best moment: There’s two that stand out for me, the first is when the Predator wakes up and attacks the lab where its being held, and the second is the last stand in the forest against the Super Predator.
Worst moment: Just how self-indulgent some of Black’s ideas are; there’s so many different ideas at work in this movie and it overcomplicates the plot. What made Predator work was how simple it is so I’m not sure why Black felt the need to bloat his script with so many ideas. It’s not a deal-beaker but it does drag the film down when you think about it.