Wait, Is This a Family Movie?
Let's be clear, right up front: The Predator is not a bad movie. I've seen my fair share of bad movie, film so terrible I couldn't get through them. We're talking movies like I, Frankenstein or Van Helsing or anything from Troma Entertainment. Those are bad movies. The Predator is just passingly acceptable a film that would probably have been considered success if it had been made for $30 Mil but, instead was made for $150 Mil and it's hard to see how. It's cheaply made and pretty cruddy so it's hard to understand how Fox Studios expected to relaunch the franchise off of this.
Set in the present day, The Predator sees our protagonist (it's be stretching it a bit to call him a "hero"), Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) leading a mission to kill a drug running gang and take back their hostages. Things go south, though, when a Predator ship crashes down to Earth. McKenna and is men try to fight the thing off, but the alien kills the two soldiers under his command. McKenna escapes with a couple of pieces of alien tech, sends them to a P.O. Box for safety, and then is eventually captured by the U.S. Military. He's seen too much, he knows, and expects to be the pasty for this little alien incident.
His package eventually shows up at his ex-wife's house, and his kid, Rory (Jacob Tremblay) pen it to find the tech within. Of course, he automatically plays around with the stuff and since he has autism and the ability to see patterns, he figures out how the use the alien tech. The predator, and some of his tech, has been taken to a limitary base, with Dr. Casey Bracket (Oliva Munn) overseeing the study of the alien. Of course, the predator wakes up, killed just about everyone, and goes on the run. This leads McKenna (who escapes custody with a team of military loonies), Casey, the military, and the Predator to all run after the child to get the tech back, all for their own reasons.
If there is any one word I'd use to describe the plot of The Predator, it would be "overstuffed". It's amazing how much there is going on -- so many teams running around, so many little plotlines in play -- for a film based on the 1987 Predator. It's like the producers saw the original film and thought, "yeah, that alien is cool, but everything else about that movie can be ignored." The original production is a seriously stripped down affair, one plotline that gets shucked halfway in to focus on an alien killing every mofo in a jungle. That's it. This new film those wants to be a buddy action film, a family film, an alien slasher flick, and Independence Day all at once. It just tries too hard to follow all its narrative threads and can't bring any of it together.
Some of the fault lies with writer/director Shane Black. I am a solid fan of the man's work, enjoying most of his output. When he's on, he produces great films, stories that transcend genres to tell new, unexpected stories. The original Lethal Weapon, for example, took that idea of the buddy cop film and screwed around with the trope by pushing the "bad cop" to the absolute extreme, making him absolutely insane. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a great play on the neo-noir genre that also screws around with timelines, perspectives, and the idea of what really makes a detective story. And then there is, of course, Iron Man 3 which essentially asked "is Tony Stark still Iron Man if he no longer has access to his suit?" These were all films, in and out of franchises, that found a way to bend genre conventions.
And say what you will about The Predator, it certainly tells a story unlike any of the Predator films to come before (even more so that the 2010 Robert Rodriguez Predators which essentially asked "what if Predator but on an alien world?"). The unfortunate thing is that the story the film wants to tell isn't very good at all. This is a film about a hulking alien with powerful technology coming to the planet to kill people for sport. It doesn't need to have a kid put into the middle of, turning the entire thing into a family film. But with that change, the entre tone of the franchise changes around it. It's no longer a sci-fi slasher flick but something more wholesome. Sanitized.
It's clear that many of the problems came about from the studio interfering in the film. There were plenty of articles that discusses the extensive reshoots the film went under after test audiences hated early screening, and more people hated the tone and style of the first trailer. And it would surprise me if the studio came in even before that, giving extensive notes on the script as well. So it was retooled, over and over, to make a film people would like. Clearly, they failed.
Although much of that failure also rests at the feet of Boyd Holbroook, the film's lead. This is where normally, I'd come to the defense of the actor and simply say, "oh, he just wasn't right for this role, but..." Except, I just went and looked over his body of work and I could any of his lead performances that I actually liked. He was passable as the villain in Logan, he was lost as the head DEA agent in Narcos and he was in any number of other productions where I couldn't even tell you who he actually played. I'm sure, sooner or later, the man will be able to give a solid performance. Maybe. He should not have been give the lead duties on this film, though.
What's curious is that there's a murderer's row of great actors in this film, any of which could have at least elevated the material enough to sell the film (at least enough to be better than the version we got). Trevante Rhodes gives a soulful performance as Nebraska Williams. He has depth, he has acting chops, and he looked good in every scene where they had him hold a gun. Why wasn't he the lead character? Or Keegan-Michael Key, who at least could have made the hokey material funnier? For that matter, Thomas Jane has become quite a good actor as of late (see his performance in The Expanse, so maybe's it time to let this guy headline another film). Any one of these dudes could have done a much better performance as McKenna. Instead we get a bland lead making the rest of the movie feel even blander.
Although, to be frank, the movie was never going to look like the $150 Million they spent on it, no matter who they put in the lead. The effects in this movie are Z-grade bad for 2018. The ships all look like crappy little prop models, something chintzy from the 1950s or 1960. Every blood and gore effect is done with CGI even though, by now, we all have realized that CGI gore doesn't look anywhere near as realistic as pig blood and animal intestines. And please guys, please, can we stop making every alien creature in a movie out of CGI. Every film in this series up until now has use practical effects, dudes in rubber suits, for the aliens, but this time the Predators are CGI, giant hulking aliens that look fake and soulless. You don't care about the action on screen if none of it seems real.
So, really, the fault can be spread around to just about everyone. The producers hired the wrong guy for the lead. The studio interfered and compromised all at the same time. And in creating a film unlike anything that came before it in the franchise, Black lost the great 1980s action movie spark of the original. That surprising considering the fact that Black essentially defined a school of 1980s action films. I still have faith the man can crank out good films, but maybe he should do it outside the bounds of a failing franchise and a studio desperate for a hit before they essentially cease to exist. Maybe Disney can do better with this series once they take it over.