For better or worse, Shane Black has revivified the Predator franchise with this slick but shallow thriller. Shying from typical reboot territory, The Predator is a straight sequel, explaining the murderous aliens’ presence on Earth in largely forgettable form.
Antihero Quinn McKenna is our protagonist, a military sniper who witnesses the gory crash landing of a Predator in the American south. He is consigned to custody to avoid publicity, but mails a few pieces of the alien’s armour home as insurance. His autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) inspects the technology and accidentally triggers homing beacons alerting not just the crashed hunter but its own pursuers.
Orbiting this story is Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket, a biologist fascinated by the extraterrestrial evolution she detects, alongside a set of prisoners condemned to the same facility as McKenna for their apparent instability. Trevante Rhodes and Keegan-Michael Key are particularly memorable in this lineup, but the package fails to cohere. Its other members are underserved and uninteresting.
Director and co-writer Black’s signatures are all over The Predator. From surprisingly mature child characters who don’t mind swearing, to acerbic humour wherever possible, these touches bring mixed rewards. Tremblay simply doesn’t convince in later moments of sass, while occasional jokes summon discomfort. What educated biologist would ask of a man clearly suffering from Tourettes, “Is he retarded?” And what screenwriter thinks that the word ‘retard’ is amusing on its own merit?
These are the exceptions, in fairness. Largely the black humour lands decently enough, and the assorted cast each contribute a decent shift of characterisation. Sterling K. Brown as a malevolent government agent is practically chewing the scenery, but doesn’t break the fiction, quite.
Black’s penchant for violence is his most apt attribute, in this case. Predator movies have long featured brutal executions, and Black clearly relishes the chance to add to the canon. He disembowels, beheads, delimbs and garottes with abandon, but the film’s camerawork feels distanced from the mayhem. It’s rare to want more gore, but constant murky nights and dark lighting render the action frequently indecipherable, a shame for a franchise that has such history with gross-out moments.
Similarly, the punchy theme music of the original film is used too sparingly, incorporated into a modernised and comparatively soulless score. Given Black’s obvious reverence for his source material, he might have stayed a little closer to its formula.
Still, when his zingers are on point, and his characters are amusingly bouncing against the absurdity of their situation, there are reminders of his enjoyable cinematic voice. The Predator is a dumb action movie, but perhaps could have done with being a bit dumber. Lose Tremblay, lose the constant night-time, and one could find plenty to enjoy. As it is, this is a waste of famous movie imagery and design.