The Predator (2018)

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Shane Black directs Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn and Thomas Jane in this sci-fi action sequel where the alien “bass fisherman” of genre legend takes on a bunch of mentally unstable veterans, a kid with Asperger’s, a sexy expert, a government conspiracy and a bungalow sized security guard from his home planet. 

There are two ways you can approach this particular Predator movie. 1. Like a dickhead who has watched too many Cinema Sins YouTube clips. Or 2. As a fan who accepts for every tight ensemble special effects thriller with Arnie, you get 5 or so yardie versus cartel, Adrien Brody as an action hero, please stop adding Aliens, beer and a pizza sequels. Crack open a crate, call Papa Johns… as Schwarzenegger is not in this one.

Lowering your standards means you can accept this for what it is… a series of silly, cool, gory, silly moments strung together with a bare shoestring of a plot. Not “There’s something out there and it ain’t no man” mythic but certainly on a par with the dreadlocked slaughterer who loop pedals kids saying “Want some candy?” I love me some Predator 2. I really like me some Predators. The Predator comes in at the lower end of the quality scale of that last one. But only just lower. Acceptably lower.

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There are undeniable problems. Some of the second half CGI is rushed and ropey… but I’m never a fan of CGI I can notice. The Predators seem to abandon their long established modus operandi and let easily killable humans with weapons survive quite a lot in the middle section. There’s kinda, sort of a narrative reason for this but it still doesn’t sit well within the philosophy of the franchise. Some of the set pieces are overly dark and chaotically edited. One major character dies in the blurry background and I had to check Wikipedia when I got home to see if he actually did meet his maker.

There are other cast members and subplots abandoned by reshoots (what happens to Gary Busey’s son, the FBI Agent who collects Munn’s scientist, Yvonne Strahovski’s house arrested Mum and what is going on with that Jacob Tremblay obsessed normal dog?) but not as many loose strands and plot holes as the critics’ review suggests. Shane Black has always been a fan of coincidences and half mentioned asides motoring entire plots. As beloved as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys are, their mysteries are rushed and coincidental to the action. A second watch smooths out a lot of what seems like random occurrences. That happens here also.

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No… Holbrook’s lead doesn’t dumbly directly send his son alien tech, the PO box subscription he hides it at runs out. Olivia Munn isn’t just in the mix for sexist reasons. Munn clearly adds some glamour to the proceedings but she does figure out major plot points that move things forward, gets funny lines and is an active combatant in the set pieces. She’s not just tits in a lab coat. Yes, the tall predator and his dogs are a bit ridiculous looking but they fit in with the caste system and ecology suggested by Robert Rodriguez’s threequel. The final coda teeing up a continuation you know damn well will never be explored is awkward. Neither will that intriguing pirate’s musket that ends 2 or the fate of Brody and Braga’s off world mercs. It is this particular franchises style that we end on a glimpse of a greater narrative just before the credits roll, one that is never revived in sequels. Did Arnie’s Dutch retire, recuperate or was sectioned after the end of Episode 1? It is not that kinda of series. Homage is paid (did I mention Jake Busey plays Gary Busey’s son in this?) to the past but cliffhangers aren’t revisited.

So The Predator is messy, even a little obvious reshoot incoherent on a first watch. Who cares about clean? I for one didn’t turn up to a Predator flick for neatness. I turned up to watch cool stuff happen in a bad taste adult environment. The first half builds nicely. Space chase gives way to Holbrook’s sniper being introduced mid mission in a kinetic cold open. By the time he’s on the run with alien tech in his backpack and tequila on his mind, I was sold. He’s been good before in Logan but here he projects a capability and a goofyness that reminded me of Mel Gibson at his best. He undersells Black’s frenetic, foul mouthed dialogue nicely. I’m keen to see what he does next. Black’s witty and dirty approach of constant banter works for me. It works for his better-than-B-movie standard cast too; giving Sterling K Brown, Munn and Strahovski brighter moments to shine here than more prestigious projects their agents have forced on them recently ever did. Trevante Rhodes has brilliant chemistry with everyone he interacts with. Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s suffering basket case is the highlight though. 10 years ago, he’d have been the go to lead for this sort of reboot. Now he gets to play the most offensive, adorable, ass kicking support character with no pressure. Kudos for stealing a very crowded and busy show.

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The carnage is here too. There are two cracking, prolonged swathes of action. All the characters cross paths early on. There’s a joy in watching a Predator tearing up an installation while Munn and the Loonies try to escape being permanently redacted. And the grand finale where the survivors have to stop a Predator spaceship from leaving Earth moves briskly and plays nicely with the warped physics of forcefields and crashing UFOs. All the skirmishes in between are chunky and meaty too. There’s enough glowing green blood and spattering red blood to justify the swearing and the hard R legacy.

As for dafter moments involving an explosion at Halloween, a thumbs up with a severed arm, a Predator dog playing fetch… all stuff that would been a two page “comedy” moment in a Dark Horse comic book in 1990s. This ain’t serious, this ain’t Shakespeare. It is however bonkers and enjoyable. Park your brain at the door, your expectations with Carl Weathers and devour the most ludicrous Predator entry yet. Like the derided Justice League or Tom Cruise’s The Mummy proved, just because a botched movie is very easy to slate doesn’t mean said movie can’t still be crudely pleasurable. “I’m Gonna Have Me Some Fun… Have Me Some Fun!”

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