PLOT: A military sniper (Boyd Holbrook) encounters a predator on a disastrous mission and is locked up to in order to be kept quiet. But, unbeknownst to the shady government agent (Sterling K. Brown) involved in the cover-up, he’s already shipped the gear he stole off the creature to his estranged family and when his son (Jacob Tremblay) activates it, the predators come to take back what’s theirs.
REVIEW: THE PREDATOR is Shane Black through and through. It’s fitting that this was co-written with his THE MONSTER SQUAD cohort, Fred Dekker. This feels very much like a hybrid of Dekker’s eighties output, as filtered through Black’s sensibility and know-how, mixed with the predator mythology, which is turned inside out here in a way that will thrill some and put off others.
One thing to know going in is that THE PREDATOR is starkly different from any other film in the series. They don’t try to ape any of the previous instalments, all of which, while occasionally tongue-in-cheek, took themselves seriously. This one doesn’t — not for a second. In fact, it comes close to being an all-out comedy, making it a radical take as far as studio sequels go. Imagine IRON MAN 3 if Black had been able to go even further. That’s what THE PREDATOR is, and if you’re willing to go along for the ride, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Unapologetically hard-R, it’s the goriest instalment in the series so far, although curiously the abundance of gore is undercut by the jokey tone, making it seem tamer than it actually is (not unlike DEADPOOL). If you liked the ensemble in the original film, you’ll be pleased to learn that Black aims to create his own iconic group — and this is the film’s main strength. By necessity, star Boyd Holbrook needs to be a lower-key hero than Arnie in the original and suits the part, playing his sniper with both a sense of humour as well as a lean physicality, although the family aspect, while very Shane Black, doesn’t always work. His relationship with young Jacob Tremblay, playing his Asperger’s afflicted son, lacks warmth, through no fault of the actors as the vibe is just too jokey to evoke any real drama between the two.
The relationships that audiences will really be invested in are between the members of Holbrook’s defacto crew, who he meets while being carted off to an institution. Each has their own defining characteristic and the fellas are perfectly cast. There’s Trevante Rhodes as the badass, suicidal one, Thomas Jane as the tourette’s afflicted head-case, Keegan-Michael Key as the funny one, Alfie Allen as the lithe, sneaky guy, and Augusto Aguilera as the religious nut. They make for a highly likeable group, with Rhodes showing real action chops while Jane and Key’s chemistry is on-point in such a big way you’ll want them to get their own spinoff. Lastly, there’s Olivia Munn as the most down-to-earth member of the crew, a scientist who’s the only half-sane one, although Black gives her plenty of juicy one-liners (hey — it’s a Shane Black movie — what good is it if it’s not filled with quotable dialogue).
Given how funny it is, you might be wondering how the action fares and for the most part its good. The chases and shootouts are well-done, with the relationships between the characters making everything more effective as without exception you’ll be wanting them to survive. My only issue here is that the ending doesn’t feel on par with the rest of the film and seems like it might have been reconfigured at some point. Here, a pretty major character has a total personality transplant that doesn’t fit — before they’re done away with completely. To me, it doesn’t gel with the rest of the film.
There’s no doubt in my mind that THE PREDATOR will be divisive among fans, with some loving the thorough Shane Black-ness of it all, while others will whine about it coming off as more of a spoof of the franchise (and genre) rather than the reboot/continuation they may be hoping for. In its own way though, Black’s approach is refreshingly original and the Midnight Madness audience I saw this with at TIFF ate it up. I had a good time with it and it’s nice to see that the studio let Black make the film he wanted to make.