For the next few years, I suspect that co-writer and director Shane Black, and the core team behind The Predator, are going to be facing a question about the movie in most press interviews they do. What happened? Was it your film? Where did it go wrong?
Most damningly: why?
It’s little secret that the film arrives in cinemas off the back of stories of hefty reshoots, but that’s little fresh. Lots of films go through that, and it’s long been something that’s stopped bothering me: it’s part of the process of making a big movie (although excising of characters very late in the day, something that came to light after this review was written, is troubling).
Yet something’s really not right here. Plot points are left dangling. Characters are thinned out. Things don’t really make much sense. The effects at the end look unfinished to the point of making me recall The Mummy Returns.
Most damningly of all, there’s no sign of who the author is. It certainly doesn’t feel like a Shane Black project, that much is certain. The last thing I’d expect of one of his films is something so bland, so lacking in identity, and so much a mish-mash of stuff that, bluntly, doesn’t mish-mash together very well.
More than that: I can’t remember a Shane Black project so boring, and, sadly, so offensive.
Working from a script that he co-wrote with Fred Dekker, there are moments in The Predator where you get an inkling of the ideas that may have drawn the pair to the project. Some deeper exploration of the Predator motives, and some attempt to do something more with the species. But in the midst of it, the primal idea of an alien force coming to Earth and, well, hunting us, has been lost.
Frustratingly, it’s there at the start. We meet Boyd Holbrook’s Quinn McKenna, a man with a fractured marriage, a son with Asperger’s (coming to that), and a wife who sort of defends him a bit. But at the beginning, Quinn is a sniper, in the jungle, and has an alien encounter. There’s a nod to the spirit of the original here, and the feeling that we’re in safe hands.
Tragically, we’re not. Narratively, nobody believes Quinn when he reports his alien sighting, and the authorities eventually react in time honoured fashion by bundling him into a prison truck, with a diverse collection of men swearing for company. There will be a few scenes with these men. One in particular had me checking a calendar in my head to determine what year it was.
For one of the sweary men, Thomas Jane’s Baxley, suffers from Tourette’s. His character is also dealing with PTSD, but the main reason for this seems to be so that Baxley can spit out obscenities, where we’re expected to laugh at them. I for one associate Shane Black movies with crackling dialogue, with real snap and genuine wit. The conversation where sweary men are trying to work out if Baxley said something to do with a woman’s nether regions is please-let-the-floor-open-up bad.
If they reshot and recut other stuff, how the heck did that get through?
Surprisingly, virtually none of the humour lands. It’s as if Dekker and Black’s copy of Final Draft has been hacked by some ‘bantz’ malware, replacing characters talking to each other with one tired exchange after another. Men ribbing men with clumsy lines spat at each other. Olivia Munn is in the midst of the story too, and as always, puts in a very good work. But she’s on a loser here. Sterling K Brown is the standout in the cast.
It’s not just the dialogue that’s problematic. Early in the film, a Predator is restrained in a lab overseen by Jake Busey in a white coat. He Jakesplains a few things, which is all fun, because it’s Jake Busey, right? We’re also told by the people in said lab that the Predator has been sedated, and there’s no way he’ll get out. And I’m sat there thinking that Black and Dekker will surely subvert this, and have some fun with such an obvious set up.
Slight spoiler: they don’t. Instead, we get a Predator sequence in bright light. Like pretty much every Predator sequence in the film, it barely musters a fraction of the tension you’d get from checking your kettle was plugged in properly in the morning.
And then there’s the Predator species itself. It’s hard to know where to start. I don’t want to give away what happens in the film, so permit me to be vague: no. There’s stuff in here that were it to appear in an AvP movie, we’d write off and say it’s just an AvP movie. Here, with effects that at times look blatantly incomplete, I found myself sat staring at the screen just wondering what happened, mentally fast forwarding to the documentary in the future that details the behind the scenes story of the film.
How can so many brilliant people kick the ball so far wide of the goal?
It’s sealed by a handling of Asperger’s, through the character of Jacob Tremblay, and Tourette’s in a way that I found uncomfortable at best, pretty offensive at worst. If that doesn’t get you, though, panic not: piss-poor jokes about race, vaginas, blowjobs and your mother are queuing up to have a go. You need something brilliant to make those work without isolating large chunks of your audience. This film does not make those moments work. It’s not offence for skill, or story purposes. It feels like offence because, well, there’s nothing else in the tank.
The film does have the odd moment of promise, and in particular, there is one sequence that stands out. The film is set at Halloween, and this offers fodder for a fun spin on October 31st parties. It’s very brief, but I did get signs that there’s pulse to all of this in the midst of it. Some interesting ideas on the board that did manage to make it through the production process. Some decent performances too, and the fun of watching the Predators at work. There are slivers of what could have been.
Furthermore, I am very conscious of the fact that it’s easy to review a film as you wanted it to be. I, like many of you, loved the idea of Shane Black directing a Predator movie, bringing the energy, verve, fun and edge that’s embedded deep in his film work to date. That this film took a different turn though, fair enough.
But that it’s nasty (and not in a good way), that it pisses away the Predators as a threat (we get one just firing a standard gun at one point. A Predator, a lethal hunter, just left firing a gun), that it fails to explain plot points, and just resorts to blowjob and vagina jokes when it’s in trouble? Well, it’s the franchise disappointment of the year. It’s such a crushing letdown. When one character lamely tosses out “get to the chopper” at one point, it just doubles the pain.
And the ending? Well, let’s just say at some point we should all get in a pub and talk about it. We might need some drinks.
A bad misfire this, particularly disappointing given the pedigree of who’s behind the camera. I think I may have got that across. Save your money. Buy a Predator boxset, The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Lethal Weapon. Every single one of those is worth your time to some degree.
The Predator, though, is not.
The Predator is in UK cinemas from September 12th.