THE PREDATOR. Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown. Directed by Shane Black. 107 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong violence).
In all its sweaty, uber-masculine glory, ‘Predator’ is easily one of the most iconic action films of the 1980s, possibly of all time. With its cast of exceptional physical specimens led by the inimitable Arnold Schwarzenegger, brilliantly efficient screenplay, and Stan Winston creature design destined to go down as one of cinema’s most horrific apparitions, it is genre cinema firing on all cylinders. Indeed, it was recently broadcast on television, and I can personally attest that its power to thrill has endured the test of time undiminished. There have been several sequels and spin-offs over the years, but none have matched the adrenaline-pumping excellence of John McTiernan’s original. Shane Black, the veteran screenwriter-cum-director who had a small role as Hawkins in Arnie’s original squad, is the latest filmmaker to turn his hand to crafting a worthy follow-up, but he’s also the latest to fail.
Decorated Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is conducting a hostage retrieval in Mexico when a spaceship crash-lands in the middle of his operation. Something fast and powerful, equipped with hi-tech weaponry and camouflage, emerges from the wreckage to make short work of his comrades. McKenna escapes with his life, but also manages to nab some alien technology while he flees. Knowing that government spooks will be hot on his trail, he mails the contraband to his home address stateside.
Both McKenna and the creature are picked up by asset recovery specialist Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and taken north of the border. To ensure secrecy, McKenna is declared insane and bundled onto a bus to be institutionalised, while the Predator (a nickname voted on by Traeger’s team) is sedated and taken to a secret research facility, where Traeger has enlisted the expertise of evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to explain why the Predator displays human strands in its DNA. While McKenna bonds with the PTSD afflicted passengers with whom he’s sharing a ride, the Predator escapes from the lab, demonstrating in extremely gory fashion why it should be feared.
McKenna soon surmises that the Predator is set on recovering the goods that he stole from it. This isn’t a critical reveal until he realises that his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) has opened the package and taken its paraphernalia trick-or-treating. Joining forces with Casey, McKenna and his band of mentally scarred warriors make a stand against the Predator and whatever other earthly or extra-terrestrial threats are on its tail, and it dawns on them that they might also be fighting for the very fate of humanity.
Despite the solid bones of the story cooked up by Black and cowriter Fred Dekker, the film suffers from a few fatal flaws. Its scenes feel disjointed, particularly in the first act, and its pacing is off kilter, veering from meditative to high velocity in a way that doesn’t come across as post-modern or contemporary, but rather like it was hacked together. The action, when it comes, is workmanlike at best, a disappointing turn out for a franchise founded on the curated mayhem of the first film. Speaking of the ‘Predator’ that started it all, we see too much of the Predator in this instalment, a problem in part because its power was inextricable from its economical employment (there’s little suspense to be found here), but also because of the glossy, ugly CGI used to bring it to life (a stark contrast to the practical Predator of old).
Despite a bland Boyd Holbrook in the lead, the cast is solid. Olivia Munn is good in an uneven role and Sterling K. Brown continues to prove that he needs more film work, while McKenna’s impromptu squadron is spotted with strong contributions. Especially Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the group’s resident joker who masks his anguish with humour, Coyle, Trevante Rhodes as suicidal Nebraska, and Thomas Jane as Tourette’s sufferer Baxley.
The cast is probably the best thing about the film. Try as he might, Shane Black just isn’t the person for this job. With his experience writing 80s action hits like ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Last Action Hero’, hiring Black was probably a no brainer for 20th Century Fox, but he’s tried to be too clever with ‘The Predator’. It has the makings of a promising ‘men on a mission’ movie and an original spin on the Predator mythos, as well as a couple of good quips (a throwback to Schwarzenegger’s classic ‘Get to the Chopper!’ line is a hoot). However, that’s not what made ‘Predator’ great. The characters were large and there were a few classic Arnie puns, but the film’s core simplicity was its secret weapon, allowing everything else to pulse around it. Maybe, as with the first film’s clever deployment of its villainous alien, less is more.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 13.
20th Century Fox.