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There's No Sport in The Predator


Can we just admit that Predator has always been just a knock-off of Aliens? It’s entertaining, mostly through some creativity in the design and development of its titular alien and Arnold Schwarzeneggar being Arnold Schwarzeneggar, but at the end of the day it’s nothing original or particularly stimulating. But thirty years later, pop culture is still convinced it is, through a lousy sequel, a reboot, and a crossover spin-off franchise with the series it was initially trying to emanate. After the failure of 2010’s Predators, The Predator is the second attempt at a reboot, this time helmed by Shane Black, who was part of the ensemble of the original film funnily enough, and if the series’ shallow origins weren’t apparent before, they certainly are now with this lacklustre offering.
A pair of predators involved in their own conflict crash-land on Earth where a military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) recovers a helmet and armguard from the rubble. He sends them home where they fall into the hands of his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), at the same time a government agent (Sterling K. Brown) captures and studies one of the incapacitated creatures. But when the Predator gets loose in pursuit of Rory, McKenna and a group of military prisoners team up with evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to save his son and fight off the aliens.
To get the elephant out of the room right away, the controversial scene featuring Black’s sex offender friend has been cut. Nevertheless, the response of Black and the studio, and the delay of any from the cast and crew to Olivia Munn’s complaints does hang over the film. It’s not helped by the fact that the men in the movie don’t treat Munn’s character very well. They’re disrespectful of her intelligence, rarely take her seriously or otherwise ignore her, at one point she’s manhandled, and there’s an arrogant comradery and off-colour sense of humour between all the military vets that excludes her . One scene in particular that’s meant to be funny comes across very uncomfortable because of this. Machismo has always been part of Predator, but it’s long past time that changed.
For what it’s worth though, Munn performs well in the movie, which is better than most of her co-stars. Boyd Holbrook, though good at playing supporting roles and villains, as evidenced by Logan, lacks the charisma to carry a movie, and is incredibly bland throughout The Predator. Jacob Tremblay comes off much too precocious and thinly written, tormented by the kind of bullies that only exist in movies. And a number of talented performers are wasted, including Keegan-Michael Key (who’s mostly annoying), Alfie Allen, and especially Trevante Rhodes, one of the brilliant leads of Moonlight. None of these characters are particularly likeable either, even McKenna, and so there’s never a reason to care about them. And Sterling K. Brown is just baffling, always chewing gum and making a quip despite ostensibly being a hostile character for reasons the movie never entirely makes clear. It’s certainly the most hammy he’s ever been, yet I can’t help thinking he gave a better performance in his five minute cameo in Black Panther than in this entire film.
In places the editing is really bad, cutting between locations with jarring pacing, and making certain action scenes incomprehensible. And the script is pretty poor from the outset, which is unusual for a Shane Black movie where clever dialogue and sharp characterization are staples. Even his humour is really disappointing. Black seems to think for example that the fact “Predator” isn’t the most technically accurate name for this species is a lot more funny than it is -returning to this joke multiple times. The stuff with the Predators has a fraction of an interesting story to it; though at the same time it’s further demonstrative of Hollywood’s belief that bigger is better. And the visual effects on these extra-terrestrials and their dogs is passable, but the film has absolutely no interest in imbuing them with any mystery. Even with the Alien series, once we knew what the creatures looked like, the first couple sequels still built up to their reveals.
The movie also tries in vain to weave a commentary on PTSD (with regards to some of the soldiers) and autism (with regards to Rory), neither of which has any depth, and in the case of the latter, ultimately resorts to stereotype.
The Predator truly is the Alien: Resurrection of the Predator series, and not just because it pits its aliens against a bunch of idiot convicts. It’s got that same desperation for the success of earlier instalments, imitating them while making misguided choices that prove the irrelevance of the franchise being forcibly sustained. It also goes to show, like Iron Man 3, that Black isn’t the right fit for blockbusters, and should perhaps stick to the comfort zone that made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys so good. 

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