Sometimes I think that The Predator series would make for a fascinating case study. The very first film in the saga released in 1987 featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. That movie didn’t pretend to be anything other than an action film with sci-fi elements and in my opinion still holds up well today. I think this is due at least in part to the underlying theme. The cat-and-mouse game of the hunter and the hunted has a certain purity to it. We can relate to that on a primal level and it makes for excellent drama. Case in point – The Most Dangerous Game. Unfortunately, other films featuring the titular Predator have tried to move away from this effective premise and ultimately have ranged from mediocre to “pretty good”. I had hopes that this new film would be a return to the series roots but I am forced to conclude that even though the movie does a lot of things very well it still falls short.
Before we get into the review, there is something that needs to be addressed. This is the first film review I have written for this site with an elephant in the room but it needs to be talked about. Director Shane Black knowingly cast Steven Wilder Striegel – a registered sex offender – in the film without alerting any of the cast. It was actress Olivia Munn who discovered this and alerted the studio and her fellow cast members but later said she did not feel she received much support from her fellow actors over the matter. Kudos to Munn for doing the right thing. and it is good to see that the victim has the strength to come forward and address the issue. Fox had removed footage of Striegel from the theatrical release of the film and claimed that the removal does not impact the story. I disagree; it does impact the movie (more on this below). More importantly, the decision to cast Striegel and the studio’s previous silence about the matter should not be forgotten.
The movie begins with an interstellar chase scene between two Predator ships. The fugitive Predator manages to escape to Earth. Specifically, it crashes in Mexico where Army Sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is carrying out a military operation. After helping themselves to a few parts from the crashed spaceship, McKenna ships them to the United States where they eventually end up in the hands of his 12-year old son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). It seems that Rory is a bit of a genius who manages to achieve a small degree of proficiency with the alien gear. The United States government catches up to Quinn and declares him insane in an effort to silence him. He is put on a bus with several other soldiers known as “Looneys” where they will presumably be shipped off to some psychiatric facility.
This premise alone would be enough to make a movie but the plot becomes more complicated. Olivia Munn plays a biologist with a keen interest in aliens who is recruited to study the captured Predator. Quinn swallows a small piece of alien technology that didn’t get shipped to his son. Young Rory tinkers with the Predator gear. His parents are estranged and yes, the rather large Predator who was chasing the fugitive arrives on Earth.
None of these plot elements are bad. In fact, they are well done pieces but the movie seemingly meanders between all of these plot points with no clear idea which one it wants to follow. The Predator wants to be an action movie; it also wants to be a comedy and it wants to be a movie about relationships. However well done these individual plots may be, they do not form a cohesive film. This is most definitely not a case of a movie being more than the sum of its parts. Ironically enough, the best part of the film is towards the end and this sequence comes closest to resembling the original 1987 movie simply because it is about the hunt.
I feel a lot of sympathy for the editors of this film. It is no secret that The Predator has had a troubled production history and the movie feels like the studio dumped tons of filmed footage on the editors and told them to salvage a movie out of it. The characters suddenly gain resources like an RV out of nowhere. An Earth dog befriends young Rory, challenges the Predator’s Hell Hounds, is later seen running to join the heroes – and makes no further appearances in the movie. Olivia Munn’s character – Casey Brackett – seemingly teleports from one location to another. It seems like the film was stitched together from three or four different movies. That’s a shame as there are some gorgeous set pieces and fight scenes are choreographed with satisfying brutality.
The performance from the actors is arguably the strongest aspect of the film. Young Tremblay plays a very convincing autistic boy who is remarkably forthright and vulnerable at the same time. Holbrook does well as a soldier who doesn’t quite manage to settle his life between being a sniper and a family man. You may have to suspend some disbelief over Olivia Munn playing a biologist who can hold her own on the battlefield next to seasoned soldiers but she is exactly the type of actress who can make it work for an action flick. Unfortunately, the band of Looneys get the short of the end of the stick. They are hilarious but ultimately serve as little more than a few extra guns on Quinn’s side.
The Predator might satisfy movie goers who simply want to enjoy an action film. It certainly delivers in that regard. However, Longtime fans of the franchise will be left wanting more.