By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by Shane Black
Written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black
20th Century Fox
About midway through THE PREDATOR, the third attempt to reboot the sci-fi/horror franchise, it occurred to me why it’s been so difficult to come up with a movie that lives up to the original. What gave 1987’s PREDATOR its true kick was the anticipation of seeing its alien villain take on Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor who, back in his glory days, seemed to be above us regular humans. We don’t have an action star today who seems as larger-than-life and superhuman without the benefit of special effects, so it’s hard to get the same thrill and tension watching the extraterrestrial attacker take on terrestrial soldiers it completely outmatches.
Shane Black, director and co-writer (with longtime friend and occasional collaborator Fred Dekker) of THE PREDATOR, evidently realized this, and so turned the movie into something of a goof, lacing it with plenty off impish, off-the-cuff humor. Thus, although there isn’t a lot of honest suspense, there is quite a bit of low-rent fun to be had—more than in the grimly serious previous PREDATORS (and, for that matter, more than in the redundant ALIEN: COVENANT).
The singular title used here is a bit of a misnomer, given that a key hook is the presence of more than one Predator…but that’s getting ahead of the story, which involves a great deal of setup. For the first half hour or so, Black intercuts among a series of parallel narrative threads, with the most emphasis on Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a merc who sees a mission in Mexico violently interrupted by the crash-landing of a Predator craft, whose occupant takes out the rest of his team. He swipes some of the creature’s tech and armor and, just to be safe, mails it to a PO box back home. Unfortunately, the package winds up at the house of his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their young son Rory (ROOM and BEFORE I WAKE’s Jacob Tremblay), an Asperger’s-spectrum savant. (One of his symptoms is sensitivity to sound that makes a school fire alarm debilitating, though he’s later able to run through endless gunfire-and explosion-setpieces without flinching.)
While Rory is unwittingly fiddling with a Predator-signaling device, biologist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) has been whisked to a hi-tech government facility where a captive Predator is being studied—but not for long. Meanwhile, Quinn has undergone military interrogation and is being shipped to captivity of his own with a bunch of potential Section 8-ers (played by Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and others), but they effect an escape and…
And again, this is all just setup for the eventual series of confrontations between humans and Predators, whose species has been tinkering with genetic experimentation. The result we see is an especially massive “Ultimate Predator” that stands 11 feet tall. “The hunt has evolved,” promise the ads, though when you get right down to it, the only thing truly different about this bigger Predator is that it’s…bigger. The m.o. remains: blade-slicing, laser-blasting and hurling puny humans against walls and trees, with gleefully over-the-top gory details. Black began his tour with this series as a redshirt in the ’87 film, so perhaps it’s appropriate that THE PREDATOR demonstrates a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. It’s as apt to play horrible death as a punchline as it is to use it for a scare.
As such, the movie keeps rollicking along at a good clip, fueled by its focus on Quinn’s nutty compadres, who dub themselves “The Loonies,” as the true heroes. (As usual, of course, the government are the worst guys here.) It’s a movie where Quinn has no problem leaving his beautiful blonde wife alone with a bunch of mentally questionable military grunts, since their prior reaction to being in Dr. Brackett’s presence has been hemming and hawing like a bunch of awkward teenagers. The acting all around is good enough to get the job done, with the gifted young Tremblay worth singling out for his neither precocious nor sentimentalized portrayal of a “special” child thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The Predators themselves are very well-wrought, with fine work by veteran creature creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.
The latter is name-checked in one of the many in-jokes that Black and Dekker sprinkle throughout the script. There’s some fun discussion about the creature’s nomenclature that’s especially amusing for anyone who remembers that the first movie was originally titled HUNTER, though my favorite is a throwaway visual gag on a high-school sign. These bits reinforce that THE PREDATOR, for all its blazing guns and splattered bodies, is not to be taken at all seriously.