DIRECTOR Shane Black
CAST Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Trevante Rhodes, Sterling K. Brown, Keegan-michael Key
PLOT Following the events of Predator and Predator 2, government organisation Project Stargazer, wise to the aliens’ spinecollecting visits, captures one — and finds it has human DNA. Furthermore, it’s being hunted by another bigger, nastier Predator. THERE IS A pleasing circularity to the fact the first person we saw killed by Jim and John Thomas’ Predator in 1987 has returned 31 years later to write and direct his own instalment of this seemingly unkillable series. Shane Black (formerly the unfortunate Hawkins) has made no secret of the fact he took this gig to rekindle a sense of lost youth. Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, means this fourth (non-xenomorph crossover) entry in the series is a brazen exercise in nostalgia-button mashing.
How well you respond to that will more or less determine how much you enjoy the movie. Black and Fred Dekker’s script is mottled with cheeky call-backs to the first film. In one scene, Olivia Munn (as evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket) inverts Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exclamation at seeing the unmasked alien hunter (“You are one beautiful motherfucker”); in another, Trevante Rhodes’ Nebraska points to a row of conveniently placed Harley-davidsons and yells, “Get to the choppers!” The story opens in a jungle (like the first film), then moves to the city (like the second). It centres on a crew of tooled-up badasses, albeit this time a rag-tag gaggle of exsoldiers known rather insensitively as ‘The Loonies’. And, like all previous Predators, it is brutally violent and extremely gory.
As someone who once found himself at the sharp end of a wrist blade, Black appreciates that viscera need to fly. And fly they do, freely and often, in a propulsive, self-knowingly OTT action-chase narrative that starts strongly as The Loonies buddy up with rogue sniper Quinn Mckenna (Holbrook) and Munn’s spiky egghead to tackle the titular “space-alien” — and the upgraded, unfortunately Cgi-dependent, Hulk-like mega-pred that’s on its tail.
But there is a malicious gleefulness to the violence that unmoors the story as the rampage rumbles on. It is one thing to have Predators gutting, filleting and exploding people all over the shop, but to show Mckenna coldly kill a man with a tranquiliser dart shot into his eyeball at point-blank range — in front of his young son (Tremblay), no less — then joke about it displays a squirmy absence of empathy.
There’s also a sloppy choppiness to the action that renders later sequences virtually senseless. Black cuts and zips around so frantically that fine detail is smeared and potentially good gags (including one involving a character wearing a Predator shoulder-cannon) go barely registered. He’s having such fun being an ’80s action gore-hound kid again, he’s forgotten that viewers actually need to follow the game he’s playing.
Still, the film benefits from a scrappy, sardonic appeal to the character interplay (if rather retrograde in its attitude to mental issues), with a solid, winning supporting class, including Sterling K. Brown as a snide Predator-hunter who doesn’t get the screen time he deserves. And Black and Dekker build on the lore in an intriguing way that fans might appreciate as much as they do the writers’ droll respect for the original.
VERDICT Uneven, occasionally unsavoury and at times frustratingly muddled, but there’s enough bloody, ’80s-style fun in The Predator to give it a pass from long-term fans.
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