My notes on The Predator.
One of many irritating minor things in the conjoined Alien and Predator franchises is that the Alien aliens are predators and the Predator aliens aren’t … which must have annoyed Shane Black, who appeared it but did not write or direct Predator back in 1987, since he trots out a running joke about how inappropriate the name is (‘that sounds more like a sports hunter,’ is about right) for a species whose ‘idea of tourism is fucking you up’, ie: stalking dangerous humans and ripping out spines as trophies. Only here, the two predators who come to Earth aren’t on safari, though they are here because humanity is an endangered species (our fault) – though Black and Fred Dekker’s script keeps changing its mind about what the monsters are and what they’re up to.
For the first half, a predator who has some human DNA in its mix is set up as a baddie on a par with the monsters in previous films – crashing into a Mexican drug deal, cutting a bloody swath through an Area 52-type alien-studying facility, and going after the Asperger’s son (Jacob Tremblay) of American Sniper Lite hero Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, who probably only sees scripts Dan Stevens has passed on) to retrieve its helmet, which little Rory is wearing as a Halloween costume. Then an eleven-foot-tall bigger predator shows up searching for the first one, who is evidently a traitor and has only killed dozens of people in an attempt to be helpful – but gets sliced and diced before he can explain just what the alien hell he was thinking or the script can sort out a tangle of plot threads. At about the mid-way point, the film falls back on the basic Predator plot of a bunch of grunts in the woods being killed one by one by the sometimes invisible alien. Remember how Black’s soon-killed character in Predator was defined solely by telling ‘pussy’ jokes? Because the gang of ‘loonies’ – crazed soldiers who happen to be on the bus the military is using to pack the inconvenient McKenna off to somewhere no one will believe his alien encounter story – who fill out the body count are pretty much all variations on that – Baxley (Thomas Jane) at least has the excuse of Tourette’s, but the rest of the crew are essentially assholes …since this isn’t a film that’s going to stop to take a breath and examine the pressing issue of PTSD as it affects all its expendable characters. The Man in Black baddie (Sterling K. Brown), who does that old old bit of murdering some of his own men to show what a hardass he is, and the xenobiologist heroine (Olivia Munn), who never even tries to communicate with the half-good alien and just gets on with blasting away like all the grunts, are hardly better thought-out characters.
Nothing really works here – the attempt to get us interested in the hero’s family (Yvonne Strahovski is the long-suffering wife) peters out … the school bullies from Black and Dekker’s The Monster Squad are back, but now sling ‘assburger’ rather than ‘faggot’ as an insult … and a tagged-on coda seems to position the whole Predator franchise to date as a prequel to The Guyver (of all things). This is Black’s third in a row – after Iron Man Three and The Nice Guys – with a super-smart kid teamed up with irresponsible dolt grown-ups – and the weakest stab at the material yet. Late in the day, it does spring one cool-ish idea about the predator ship’s protective force-field, but most of the action scenes are scrappy, with splatters of green blood and some leftover alien dogs from I Am Number Four, and uninvolving. It goes relatively all-out for gore, with one creepy moment as the alien becomes visible as blood pours on its snarly face and it opens its eyes – though the attempt to make either of its creatures seem formidable is undone by the fact that even the folk it kills don’t seem afraid of it (one describes its look as ‘alien Whoopee Goldberg’). Perhaps symptomatic of a troubled production is the way that Jake Busey gets a big build-up as a quivering mad boffin, but then disappears from the film. Still, it keeps up with the franchise’s tradition of being mostly disappointing.