Fandom is hard. Fandom is especially hard when your fandom is essentially dependent on one film, despite that thing resulting in multitudinous subsequent disappointing films. This is the way it is with books, films, music, whatever your preferred form of media is. Imagine if, after The Hobbit, Tolkien’s subsequent books were somewhere between mediocre to terrible. Not that I’m comparing John McTernan’s terrific 1987 film to The Hobbit, but you get the idea. It may not be a classic in the same sense, but Predator is a perfect piece of action/horror/sci-fi cinema. In terms of its genre, it’s near perfection. It took a series of actors who, mind you, were not great actors, and made them great, and made a great film with them.
Then, the sequels came. And we tried so hard to like them. Sure, Predator 2 is a fine bit of schlock, but it’s nowhere near its predecessor. Things go steadily downhill from there, and I suspect many of you, at some point or another, have found yourself saying things like “there are things about AvP that are pretty fun!” or “Predators isn’t good, but I still like watching it” or “it’s just dumb fun.” But the thing is, McTiernan’s masterclass in sci-fi action deserves more than that. It deserves to have a faithful continuation of its franchise.
But to be a fan of the Predator franchise is to become comfortable with disappointment. It’s just what we’ve come to accept in the 30-year history of these films. And now, we’ve moved into a new era of the franchise, with The Predator. It brings the franchise into this new era by trying to recapture some of what made the original great. Directed and co-written by Shane Black (director of the underrated Iron Man 3 and a star of the original 1987 film as well), it goes back to its roots in many ways. Once again, we encounter the strange creature. We’ve got a stoic, determined badass (Boyd Holbrook) in the lead, a bunch of badass soldier types (including Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, and Alfie Allen), a woman who joins up with them (Olivia Munn), and a government spy whose interests do not necessarily coincide with theirs (Sterling K. Brown). In some ways, it’s a note-for-note homage to the original.
Sure, the plot is very different. This time, we discover new, more complicated reasons for the creature’s visits — they’re not just hunters, they’re also colonizers. We discover new breeds of Predators. There’s an adorable moppet (Jacob Tremblay), who’s on the spectrum and may be the key to our salvation. Munn is an evolutionary biologist with keen insight into the science of the Predators. But there’s also a lot of loving looks backward, from references to jokes to Jake Busey, for God’s sake. The cast works well enough together, and Holbrook, while not the most personable protagonist ever, does a decent job as the leader of a group of misfits, often crazy soldiers trying to figure out what the hell is happening. Rhodes is solid, giving a better, more nuanced performance than the film probably deserves. Munn is a ton of fun as a foul-mouthed genius, fully cognizant that she’s surrounded by a bunch of heavily armed lunatics with adolescent tendencies. Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen — all of them are often fun to watch, and fun to watch together. Sterling K. Brown is over-the-top, but he’s so damn good at being over-the-top — and does it with a weird, sly subtlety — that it’s still enjoyable.
It’s just a pity that they’re not in a better movie together. Because the whole is decidedly less than its parts. The Predator is more than disappointing — it’s terrible. It reminded me of Justice League (another film where great performance and chemistry tried to save a middling production), except the film itself is far worse. It hopelessly and needlessly over-complicates the mythology and the story of the Predators, forgetting that part of what makes the idea work so well its inherent simplicity. Riffing off The Most Dangerous Game was the key to its success, and too many of the subsequent entries have tried too many wild deviations from that concept. The Predator is no exception. Worse still, the action simply isn’t particularly exciting. The film’s finale is a bit more gripping, but most of what happens before is neither memorable nor even engaging. Too much of it is by-the-numbers action ho-hum, with little innovation.
Worse yet though is that when the film does try to innovate, it stumbles badly. Things like hearing the Predator’s voice translated (or having their dialogue translated at all), learning about their inter-species conflicts, and closer insights into their biology and technology all end up laughably lame, like a child’s attempt at scripting science fiction. In fact, to put it in child’s terms? The Predator is just stupid. This isn’t helped by the fact that one of the fundamental aspects of the script simply makes no damn sense. Hell, here it is in spoiler text if you want: The first Predator is actually there to help deliver a weapon that will help humans fight off the other, badder Predators that want to take over the planet once global warming advances farther. Which, OK, that’s a dumb plotline in and of itself but even so, if he’s there to help, why does he keep fucking killing people? He literally kills almost every single scientist he encounters. It’s all just so pointless and stupid. Christ, I haven’t even gone into the couple of weirdly, needlessly sexist scenes that were awkward and stupid on the surface, but much more troubling upon deeper examination (look for a more in-depth analysis on this coming from Roxana later).
I had high hopes for Shane Black’s return to the Predator franchise. Those hopes were grossly misplaced, because while his knack for clever dialogue and fun characters is intact, The Predator fails — miserably — on almost every other level. To be a fan of the Predator is to accept a certain amount of disappointment. This one does nothing to change that. You’ll inevitably watch it someday, and someday you’ll possibly even remember it more fondly than you should. But in your heart of hearts, you’ll know it’s just a big dumb waste of talent and money that tried to manipulate your sense of nostalgia, but ultimately missed the mark.
Header Image Source: 20th Century Fox