The year is 1987. There is a widespread allergic reaction to shirts and sleeves. The sun’s out so the guns are out. Biceps and bazookas. The jungle is hot and humid. There are no snapbacks and tattoos. Only rifles cocked back and buckaroos. Ah-nuld, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers are about to face off an alien with dreadlocks. Life is good.
Fast forward to 31 years later, through years of sequels and spinoffs, and we’re back to where it started. Somewhat. The Predator returns to its roots and tries to recapture the magic of the original. A quick recap of the story this time goes like this. Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a military sniper on assignment, is interrupted by a predator’s ship crash landing on his location. Barely escaping his encounter, he manages to steal some tech from the predator and ships it via post back home as evidence in case things go South when he debriefs his superiors. Elsewhere, a top biologist, Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) is recruited to by a covert government agency in dealing with the new predator threat they have just detected. Things, of course, go haywire at the facility and the Predator escapes. Meanwhile, Quinn, having met a ragtag group of military misfits called The Loonies, collides with Dr. Casey and together they hunt down the predator before it finds its missing tech – which is now in Rory‘s hands, who happens to be Quinn’s son.
The inherent risk in reviving a franchise like The Predator is that it might just fall flat. Trapping lightning twice is highly unlikely. Well, this time it worked. In a weirdly unorthodox way, I might add. The previous installments and lore are quickly acknowledged. There is no slow burn reveal of the predators. The plot is quite clear within the first twenty minutes. Any extra fat was cleanly sliced off. This is a lean mean, fighting machine (pun happily intended). And it works wonders.
The film is frantically paced. The dialogue is sharp and witty. The back and forth between the characters is snappy and, very often, laugh out loud funny. Quips are a dime a dozen. There is a rhythm that flows with every scene and doesn’t miss a beat. It is mesmerizing. All these are hallmarks of Shane Black‘s work. Together with Fred Dekker, they smoothed out whatever kinks the other films had and focussed squarely and what audiences would rather watch – an R-rated, gory, bloody funny action romp. All this would be for naught if it wasn’t for a cast that could bring this kind of script to life. And boy, do they bring it.
First of all, seeing Sterling K. Brown as the ruthless, cocky villain Will Traeger is as discombobulating as it is satisfying. He is an absolute delight every time he struts on screen with what should be the gold standard in evil laughs. As for our heroes, Quinn leads his pack of marine misfits with massive mental issues. But he’s easily upstaged by his crew and for good reason. With stellar actors like Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, and the ever-entertaining Keegan-Michael Key, they cement their position as the heart and soul of the movie. Rounding out this cast is Olivia Munn as a badass doctor who’s mysteriously good with guns and Quinn’s son, a boy genius with alien computers apparently but stricken with Asperger’s syndrome.
The predators themselves (because they are more than one) kick ass and take names with extreme prejudice. Gore is on full display as nameless grunts are eviscerated in ever more gory but ingenious CGI ways. The infamous mandibles and three dot laser dots thankfully return. Plot-wise, though, is where things start to deteriorate. The quick cuts lose coherence in the third act as the story starts to lose its point. It’s never really convincing as to why the predators are back. Or why Olivia is so good with guns. Or what happened to that dog. Or why Sterling wore his shades at a very odd point. This can be attributed to the massive reshoots it had as well as the controversy behind the scenes issues. I’d also hazard a guess that some of these tropes, fun as they are in context, won’t fly well in a hypersensitive culture. Tourette’s and Asperger’s used as plot devices are overplayed and might be offensive to some viewers.
This shouldn’t draw from The Predator’s entertainment factor. It is a damn good movie that swings from the original’s horror roots and leans into gallows humor. And it pays off hugely. A possible sequel is hinted by the end but this will depend on how much it makes at the box office. This will become a cult classic, make no mistake. It just has to be.