Once a popcorn movie franchise, always a popcorn movie franchise.
There’s zero attempt at hiding this fact with the fourth instalment in the Predator series (excluding AvP and its sequel). Director and co-writer Shane Black aims as broad as he can, delivering a movie that’s an uneven concoction of ’80s tinged gore, nostalgia and “momma” jokes. It’s not going to win any awards for subtlety, but then who’s coming into a Predator film looking for nuance? If you’re after over-the-top bloodshed and old-school action, then Black has you covered. Just try not to think about it all too much. Pull on one of the film’s loose threads and it will all quickly unravel.
The plot, such that it is, in the series tradition focuses on a ragtag company of military types banding together to eliminate the otherworldly threat posed by Earth’s latest Predator visitor. Grunts lining up to get taken out by the titular dreadlocked alien killer. And though they’re an entertaining enough bunch, Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Ventura, Duke and co. they most certainly are not. Less physical and less memorable, the majority of the new gang serve one sole purpose: to be turned into mincemeat by the Predator. At the front of the pack of Predator burgers is Boyd Holbrook’s Quinn, an army sniper who’s the first respondent to the scene when an alien ship crashlands on Earth. He’s the most engaging of the group, his emotional drive at least giving us reason to care for him. It’s pretty basic stuff; he’s an estranged father to an autistic son (Jacob Tremblay’s Rory), scrambling to return to his family to protect them from evil. And yet Holbrook has the requisite charm to make his trial interesting, with a big assist coming from the accomplished Tremblay.
Despite some early attempts to inject personality into Quinn’s partners in battle, once the action kicks in they soon devolve into a line of cookie cutter clones. Not that they’re especially rounded in the first place. There’s Tourettes sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane), who spouts profanities for “laughs”, Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), who botched his own suicide, something which becomes a running “joke”, Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle, who rapidly fires of banter with a wide-eyed glee, and more. Collectively they’re the self-proclaimed “Loonies”. I’m no authority, but it doesn’t seem the most forward-thinking portrayal of mental health issues we’re likely to see this year. And will you shed a tear when they die? Absolutely not. In fact aside from Quinn and Rory, the only other character of note is Olivia Munn’s biologist, Dr. Casey Bracket, the instant expert on all things Predator. But even she is so inconsistently capable that she gets lost in the shuffle.
Thank goodness then that the Predator itself has never looked more impressive. A colossal, stalking murder machine brought to life largely with tactile practical effects. Or at least that’s the case with the original recipe Predator, the star of the show. Not content with having one of cinema’s most famous monsters to play with, Black chooses to “upgrade” the hulking hunter; the Predator has evolved and grown. But bigger doesn’t work out as better here, the extra size meaning additional CGI wizardry on display. He was already gigantic, so it feels like an unnecessary change in direction.
It’s not as tightly comedic as Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2016), nor is the action as strong as in his Marvel Cinematic Universe entry Iron Man 3. You’d also expect a film from the writer of the first two Lethal Weapon entries to have a stronger dynamic between its leads. In many respects, The Predator underwhelms. And yet still, watching the alien creature viscerally chopping up his foes with the help of his iconic arsenal of weaponry retains its thrill factor in spite of the film’s flaws. The suburban concrete jungle is his hunting ground, and hunt he shall.
Rating (out of 5):