Empire (UK) - - CINEMA - DAN JOLIN

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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