Shane Black’s The Predator is kind of a mixed bag.
Which is hardly surprising, considering how incredibly busy the movie is, juggling way too many subplots, supporting characters, and tones. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to flesh out the series’ lore—and maybe break away from its cigar-chomping, oiled-up, testosterone-fueled roots—but there’s something to be said for the simplicity of the original’s premise: an elite team of absolute badasses trapped in the jungle with the one thing that could conceivably kill them. That’s the kind of stripped-down, straightforward, no-bullshit storytelling that makes the humble ‘80s action flick one of my all-time favorite cinematic sub-genres (see also: Die Hard, The Terminator).
And you know what really stings? It would be so easy to salvage this latest sequel. Emphasize Boyd Holbrook and his ragtag crew, weaving genuine conflict into their quirky personalities (beyond throwaway quips and one-liners) so that the viewer actually gives a damn when shit inevitably goes south (the relationship between Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key would have been a great payoff… had it actually been built up to). Downplay Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown (even though the latter nails his villain’s “hilarious-yet-still-legitimately-threatening” vibe); establishing them when our protagonists first meet them (thus eliminating the need for redundant re-introductions) would streamline the narrative considerably. And cut the kid out entirely; his Amblin-style antics are a poor fit for this franchise, and there’s got to be a better MacGuffin to motivate the climax.
There’s some strong material in The Predator; unfortunately, it’s dragged down by all the excess baggage, and ultimately drowns in its mediocrity. Likewise, Black’s distinctive authorial voice (y’know, the thing that got my ass in the padded, reclining seat in the first place?) surfaces only at brief intervals, and is for the most part smothered by obvious studio interference. I hope his next project is worthier of his talents. And I certainly hope that the tone deaf sequel hook takes a cue from Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil adaptations (i.e., it ends up going nowhere).
[Originally written September 16, 2018.]