Writer-director Shane Black has seemingly set out to make the biggest, loudest, popcorn-munching-est, most audience-friendly (while still R-rated) Predator film he possibly could. To do so, he’s stuffed it full—too full—of Black-ian quips and gags, a potentially confusing number of characters, intersecting narratives, and callbacks to 1987’s Predator, many of which fall right on the line between cheer-inducing and groan-causing. Plenty of jokes land though, including a succession of debates about the name Predator – with multiple acknowledgments Hunter would be more accurate (The Hunter being the original title of the 80s screenplay Kiwi Geoff Murphy worked on before being fired by Arnie).
Running at a cracking speed, this OTT action-comedy boasts a killer body count and off-colour humour that feels at home alongside its 1987 and 1990 predecessors. Tonally, there’s stuff that feels a little anachronistic in a cinema circa 2018—chiefly the depiction of a variety of disorders as a shortcut to defining characters and steering plot points (though Black’s own admission of having Tourette’s should be factored in).
Most deflating is that in trying to ramp things up for maximum impact at all times, the writers’ presence is almost always felt. Rather than punctuating action and tension, as in previous instalments, the humour’s pretty unrelenting and front-and-centre, making it hard at times to let the film sweep one away. That’s also not helped by erratic pacing that suggests big blocks left on the cutting room floor. Whether that was in the interests of keeping things sleek, or more major surgery late in the game (for example chopping out Edward James Olmos from the film) The Predator often awkwardly lurches from joke to joke, set piece to set piece.
This is a film that feels like it has made the mistake of attempting to give its audience everything it could possibly want, but the good news is that the ensuing messiness still has plenty to enjoy. Sterling K. Brown’s droll villainy is a constant scene-stealer even when (especially when) he is being mean to a big-hearted kid; Olivia Munn convinces as a heroic scientist with great marksmanship (the film also proving it isn’t the 80s by not perving on her during either time she’s required to disrobe for plot purposes); and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes impresses as an action badass. Unfortunately, Boyd Holbrook is largely charisma-free as the lead—luckily he constantly has about a million other things going on around him. Even if two of them are… predator dogs.
Pleasingly, the film avoids taking a defined position on what constitutes canon in the Predator franchise. Predator and Predator 2 are directly referenced—to paraphrase Brown’s character, Predators came here in 1987 and 1997 and they have been coming here more often recently—and an AvP prop appears, but The Predator is very much positioned as a stand alone film rather than beholden to series chronology (and therefore a couple of godawful films). Thankfully, when it makes its own contributions to Predator lore, they’re pretty good. Except perhaps the epilogue, but perhaps it is fitting for an uneven film that tries to do too much to end on an unnecessary note.