Without a shadow of a doubt, The Predator is going to be one of those movies that divides people for a very long time.
There is zero ambiguity amongst anybody when it comes to John McTiernan’s 1987 original, Predator – it’s a great action sci-fi picture. Most people agree Stephen Hopkins’ Predator 2 from 1990 is patchy but fun. Those who did see Nimrod Antal’s Predators from 2010 have probably forgotten everything about it by now and we just don’t talk about those AvP movies do we? Shane Black’s The Predator though? This was a slam dunk. Which is why it’s such a genuine surprise that it’s, well… not very good at all.
Indeed this is the first film Black has ever directed which falls into that camp. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is terrific, Iron Man 3 solid as a rock and The Nice Guys was just delightful. Black’s scripting track record over the years has been equally as dynamite. He of course appeared in Predator as one of Arnie’s military squad who get hacked to pieces by the troublesome Yautija, so breathing new life back into one of the most neglected science-fiction franchises in cinema was a salivating prospect. How, then, has this ended up such a chronic mess?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. One suspects The Predator may have been far stronger on the scripted page, probably in earlier drafts, before it was committed to celluloid and potentially too many cooks may have spoiled the broth. You almost don’t want to lay the blame directly at Black’s door, simply because you know he is a better writer and director than anything in The Predator would evidence. Painfully hackneyed dialogue and characterisation, of frequently unlikeable and sexist characters; direction which often points the camera in the wrong place; editing which feels like a blind man at a turkey shoot and effects which… well blimey, let’s not even go there.
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There is a pulp awareness to The Predator which sometimes—and only sometimes—edges you toward forgiveness for its significant shortcomings. Black seems to know we really shouldn’t take all of this very seriously. Yet in doing so, any sense of tension or suspense evidenced in Predator—the film this sequel so desperately wants to be—is stripped away. Remember how seldom we ever saw the alien in Predator? We might as well not bother having human characters in Black’s film given how much we see of the creature(s). Granted, we may know very much what the Predator looks like these days, but he is practically rammed down our throat from the first few minutes.
While Olivia Munn looks embarrassed to be there (and frankly given how her character is portrayed and treated you can’t blame her), Jacob Tremblay’s autistic central child is at least handled with some level of realistic sensitivity amidst the nonsense on screen, but everyone else is as disposable as they come. You won’t give a hoot what happens to any of the stock, macho types you sense Black and Fred Dekker’s script venerates on one hand and tries to make self-aware on the other. They are as erratic as everything about the plot, which doesn’t make a lick of sense either when you try to unpick it.
Defenders of The Predator will no doubt class it as brainless B-movie fun, but honestly that’s exactly what’s missing: fun. There’s little to be had in what should have been a riotously exciting experience. If anything, it’s proof Shane Black is as flawed as the rest of us, and could well serve as the tragic nail in the coffin of a cinematic creation who deserves way better.
A few deleted scenes and featurettes make up a DVD release which is as standard as you’d expect. Despite the choppy quality of the film, a comprehensive making of release would be fascinating, especially if those involved dissected mistakes as well as successes. Sadly, this isn’t it.
The Predator is out now on Digital Download and on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™ and DVD 28th January, along with Predator 4-Movie Collection.