Warning: This post discusses major plot points from the newly released film, “The Predator.” Not that you should bother watching it.
It is hardly surprising that the latest follow-up to the action movie classic, “Predator,” is not as good as the original. What is genuinely surprising is how utterly abysmal it is. “The Predator,” the clumsily named sequel, is stunningly awful. Somehow, director and co-writer (along with Fred Dekker) Shane Black, who also starred in and helped write the original, manages to only capture the absolute worst qualities of “Predator.” In theory, his decision to turn the franchise into an action-comedy is a good one, but in practice it’s a cinematic catastrophe. It’s genuinely astonishing that a filmmaker as smart as Black managed to craft one of the dumbest, sloppiest movies of the year. Nearly everything about the film, from casting mistakes to offensive and unfunny jokes, is dreadful to watch.
The movie begins with a new Predator heading to Earth, outrunning another spaceship chasing it. This new Predator crashes and runs into our new protagonist, the elite U.S. sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who steals some of its technology. Government agents capture the Predator, who is then experimented on by the villainous Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn). Quickly, Quinn is captured by government soldiers and placed in a bus with a group of veterans with mental health issues (nicknamed “The Loonies”); his autistic son Rory (Will Tremblay) gets his hands on some Predator technology; and a newer, “Ultimate Predator” gets thrown in the mix. (If that sounds like a lot to process in the first 15 or so minutes of a movie, that’s because it is).
The original “Predator” featured a charismatic cast playing compelling characters; “The Predator” has the opposite. Everything that made Holbrook so compelling in “Logan” makes him terrible here. In that film, his lack of charisma helped him portray a grizzled villain; here, that very same lack of charisma should’ve disqualified him from playing the lead in an action-comedy. Trevante Rhodes, who plays one of “The Loonies,” would’ve made for a far more entertaining lead; unsurprisingly, the studio went with the boring white guy over one of the stars of “Moonlight.” Munn is decent, but saddled with a shoddily written character. None of the other Loonies ever really register. Only Brown manages to amuse with an entertainingly cocky performance, but he’s barely on screen.
Similar to how it treats Brown’s charm, the narrative fails to appreciate what little goodness it has. A Predator vs. the Ultimate Predator story could’ve made for an inventive, campy movie. Yet very early on, the original Predator is killed off, causing the narrative to refocus on the Ultimate Predator, a new monster who’s clearly supposed to be scarier and more intimidating than the original. In practice, the new baddie is just incredibly boring. There is also an odd amount of attention paid to Quinn’s son, leading to some deeply uncomfortable scenes. I’m not lying when I write that there are moments—sometimes even jokes—involving Rory watching people be blown to smithereens or having their guts sliced and torn out of them. Why an action-comedy wasted a perfectly good idea in favor of having a child witness graphic violence is beyond me.
Regrettably, bizarre narrative choices aren’t the only issues with Black’s storytelling; there is no detail too important, or too relevant to a given scene that the film doesn’t overlook and ignore. It seems as though the entire film, from script to edit, is a rough draft. Character motivations rarely match up with their actions and relationships between characters don’t make sense. Why would Quinn’s estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski, woefully underserved by the material), give a rousing, inspirational speech about her husband’s skill as a soldier? Doesn’t she hate him?
There are also tons of smaller details that are left unexplained. How and where did the “Loonies,” a group of fugitives, get their hands on an RV and plenty of firearms? The film just cuts to them in an RV prepping their weapons, with no explanation as to how they got there. Normally, specifics like this don’t matter, but there are countless moments in which the details, big and small, are illogical or ignored. At a certain point it becomes hard not to be aggravated when characters randomly arrive with a helicopter.
Much of this could have been forgiven if the film did the bare minimum and delivered some decent action scenes. Yet cruelly, “The Predator” does not even have entertaining action. Every potentially enjoyable fight is over-edited into incomprehensible nonsense; nearly every other fight scene is just comical. Instead of relishing in the delightfully over-the-top deaths of major characters (like the original “Predator” did), Black does everything in his power to obscure these moments, which should have been highlights of the film. Other moments are more absurd than anything else; I chuckled at the sight of one character ramming a police car into a “Predator Dog” (don’t even get me started), but I was not thrilled by it. Admittedly, there are a few decent Predator kills, but even those moments are few and far between.
More surprising than the editing is the new film’s sense of humor, which is far more outdated and offensive than the first movie’s. There are more gay-panic jokes made in the 2018 sequel, than there were in the 1987 original. One character goes by the nickname Nebraska, as his real name is “Gaylord.” We are, of course, meant to laugh at the idea that a gruff, ex-Marine could be named “Gaylord.” Naturally, we don’t laugh, because it’s not funny, but a lazy homophobic joke (there are unfortunately, other similar examples).
There may be more female characters this time around, but they’re written and treated far worse than the original film’s lone woman. The aforementioned wife is written completely incoherently. The other woman (Munn’s character) is forced to cower before the Predator while completely naked, awaken in an unfamiliar motel room to the sight of male strangers staring at her, and tragically endures even more mistreatment by the writers. She may not have said or done much, but at least the woman in the original “Predator” wasn’t forced to endure creepy men hitting on her for the entire movie.
It gets even worse. For some reason, Black devotes large sections of the film to the subject of mental health issues and how they affect people, only to show that he comprehends next to nothing about the subject. Take Quinn’s autistic son: Somehow, his Asperger’s allows him to read and understand the Predator’s alien language. It also makes him the target of the “Ultimate Predator,” who wants to use the young child’s DNA to evolve, because according to the film, autism is an advancement in human evolution. Then there’s Baxley (Thomas Jane), a character whose Tourette’s syndrome serves only one purpose: A joke, in which he says something disgusting to Olivia Munn’s character that, without his mental condition, would constitute harassment. (As you’ve probably already guessed, that moment is played for laughs).
Despite this exhaustive list of flaws, I still haven’t discussed the absolute nadir of the film. That dishonor belongs to the film’s grotesque handling of suicidal depression. (Yes, in a film about an alien hunting an alien, there’s also discussion of suicide. Seriously). You see Nebraska, one of the previously mentioned “Loonies,” has been forced into therapy after a failed attempt to take his own life. At the end of the film, he gets the chance to heroically sacrifice himself, flinging his body into the engine of the Ultimate Predator’s ship, to stop the alien from leaving with Quinn’s young son. In a normal movie, this would be an example of Hollywood heroism in which we’re meant to cheer on Nebraska’s bravery. In this film, we watch a suicidal man smile before finally offing himself. Are we supposed to cheer? Weep? Gawk in horror at this horrific mishandling of an issue that claims the lives of millions annually?
Who knows. Nothing about “The Predator,” makes any sense at all. It is impossible to understand what Black and Dekker were thinking when they wrote this. I will never comprehend any artistic decision made in this movie. But I’ve spilled enough ink over this dumpster fire. At this point, it’s best to try to forget about this catastrophe.
Henry Spiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JudgeyMcjudge1.