Home Entertainment Review: The Predator (Fox)

¬“You know, a lot of experts say that being on the spectrum isn’t a dis¬¬order, it’s actually the next step in the evolutionary chain.” ‘The Predator’ is a 2018 sci-fi/ […]

¬“You know, a lot of experts say that being on the spectrum isn’t a dis¬¬order, it’s actually the next step in the evolutionary chain.”

‘The Predator’ is a 2018 sci-fi/ horror film directed by Shane Black and written by Black and Fred Dekker. First in this series of films was the legendary ‘Predator’ (’87) directed by John McTiernan and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. That movie featured a masterful inverse of the popular trope of the day, that of the nigh-invulnerable kick-ass action hero who “ain’t got time to bleed.” An entire squad of elite soldiers, bristling with heavy arms, bulging muscles and eighties-style bulletproof-plot-armor, gets mercilessly hunted down in the deep jungle and methodically, graphically slaughtered by a being from the unknown reaches of space.

Another inversion followed, this time of location, with the Central American jungle being replaced by the sweaty steel towers and neon-streaked streets of Los Angeles in the sequel, ‘Predator 2’, directed by Stephens Hopkins. Though shot in 1990, it was said to have taken place in the ‘far-flung-future’ that was 1997. It made for a strange but solid movie with excellent performances by Danny Glover, Gary Busey, and their supporting cast. The year before it was filmed, Dark Horse Comics ran a book entitled ‘Aliens vs Predator’, and at the end of Predator 2, in a case of trophies, we see the bleached skull of a Xenomorph. It’s really just a nod to the audience, but it had a resounding effect, spawning several video game titles, toy lines and two of the three movies that carry the Predator lineage.

‘Aliens vs Predator’, (2004), directed by Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t have too many problems, and is, in fact, in many places, a very fun film that gives both extra-terrestrial species their due. We learn the origins of the Xenomorphs. They are bred to be the ultimate prey for the Predator youths in a sort of space alien Bar-Mitzvah-esque right-of-passage. They battle for supremacy and survival in an ancient underground pyramid beneath the Arctic, while an unlucky human archaeological survey team can only try to stay out of the way. It suffers from one glaring problem, however. It’s a PG-13 Predator movie. While there are certainly enough scenes of the Predators doing severe bodily damage to their alien foes, the movie shies away from showing any real violence to the humans in the flick, with cutaways to reaction shots as the others hear the screams. In a franchise like the Predator, PG-13’s really not going to cut it.

2007’s ‘AvP: Requiem’, directed by Colin and Greg Strouse, brought back the gore, but the film was so poorly lit and shot that you could barely see any of it. What Requiem did bring to the table was the monstrous hybrid Predalien, spawned at the end of the previous film and left to¬ run amok and impregnate as many hapless victims as possible in a small Colorado town, much to the detriment of its inhabitants. Alarmed at the prospects of the hybrid breeding uncontrollably, the Predators send one of their best, an uber-hunter to take the beast out. The pursuit doesn’t go the way it thought it would, and it finds that it has, in fact, met a monster far worse than itself. The Predalien is stronger and faster than the ultra-hunter, with the organic weaponry inherent in the Xenomorphs, yet far smarter than its alien offspring who do not possess its hybrid brain. As the two battle to the death, the military does what it always does in films like this and nukes the town, but for our few protagonists who make it out on a Huey chopper.

The franchise soldiered on with 2010’s ‘Predators’, directed by Nimrod Antal and starring Adrien Brody, Lawrence Fishburn, and Topher Grace. This film brought two new things to the party; another trope inverse, this time abducting the principals to an alien planet instead of having the aliens come to Earth as well as introducing the idea of an existential, internecine conflict between the Predators we’re familiar with from the earlier films, and ‘Super-Predators’, who play the hunting games we’ve come to expect, but with vastly different rules. The film, produced by Robert Rodriguez, pulled in over 125 million dollars worldwide, but plans for a sequel fell apart.

2018’s ‘The Predator’ is a troubled film that doesn’t live up to its heady pedigree. In the capable hands of Black, who appeared in the original feature alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with a screenplay co-written with his ‘Monster Squad’ partner Fred Dekker- (yes, Black and Dekker) – and full of a talented cast featuring Boyd Holbrook, Trevon Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Sterling K Brown, Keegan-Michael Kay, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey and Jacob Tremblay, this film should work on paper. The problem is, a whole bunch of the pages are missing.

Not a reboot or a ret-con, ‘The Predator’ acknowledges several of the earlier films, directly mentioning ‘Predator’ and ‘Predator ‘, and with a visual nod to ‘Aliens vs. Predator’. There is no mention of ‘Predators’ or ‘AvP: Requiem’, nor is there any hint of the sinister Weiland –Yutani Corporation.

The film opens with a color-coded space battle, a blue Predator vessel being blasted by a red one as they dance through the spaceways. After the blue one is hit, it opens a warp-hole to the extra-terrestrial vacation spot of choice, Earth. The blatant color coding and virtue-shading makes the chase feel more like a video game instead of a genuine threat, and then we’re off to the races as the damaged Predator vessel crash lands in Mexico, right on top of an Army Ranger team. The Predator begins to do what Predators do, and it’s not looking good for the men. Team sniper McKenna (Holbrook), is the only one to survive as he finds one of the Predator’s wrist-mounted weapons in the wreck. He stuns it long enough for him to escape with the beast’s tactical helmet and forearm-cannon. Instead of reporting this to his superiors, he inexplicably decides to mail this alien MacGuffin to his ex-wife, Emily (Strahovski), care of his Autistic son, Rory (Tremblay).

When we first see Rory, we watch him being bullied at Chess Club in school. After two opportunistic thugs pull the fire alarm, the supervising teacher, for some strange reason, just leaves the special needs child he is responsible for alone in the classroom, and the boy is left at the mercy of the goons.

A mysterious CIA unit led by Traeger (Brown) is on the hunt for the Predators. His team recruits Dr. Bracket (Munn), to help determine what the Predator really is, what it and the rest of the species is actually up to with their visits, and why said visits are happening with greater frequency. The answer to that question turns out to be a heavy-handed, global warming warning, as we are told they are coming more and more frequently because they expect us to be extinct soon. It’s good to have an environmental message sandwiched in between beheadings and bombastic explosions. After McKenna knocked it for a loop, the CIA team was able to restrain the alien and bring it to a remote military research facility under a dam for further study. Somewhere, Wolverine is smiling.

Traeger’s team was also able to capture Mckenna, and after being interrogated, he finds himself on the bus for Group 2 (which we are told over-and-over again, is the sequel to Group 1) a collection of former Marines suffering from various forms of mental illness and PTSD. Group 2 is composed of ‘Nashville’ Williams (Rhodes), a suicidal junkie, Baxley (Jane), who suffers from Tourette’s, Lynch(Allen), who just loves to blow things up, Nettles (Aguilera), the Huey pilot with the traumatic brain injury from a crash and Coyle (Key), who is just a flaming asshole.

The other Predator’s red ship emerges near the atmosphere in pursuit of its prey, but its radar-signature sets off alarms, causing a rapid response alert to scramble aircraft. The alarms are relayed to the CIA facility, unfortunately waking the heavily tranquilized Predator, which again, does what Predators do, killing droves and droves of security red-shirts, but sparing the unarmed Bracket. The Predator then takes off after his missing gear, which it’s tracked to Emily’s house. In the name of science and action-movie badassery, Bracket decides to go after the alien that just slaughtered a roomful of men armed with automatic and burst-fire weapons with a bolt-action tranquilizer gun.

This movie is missing a lot of its connective tissue. There is nothing in what we’ve been shown of Bracket in the movie to support her sudden display of martial prowess. She goes from zero to Rambo faster than you can blink and spends the rest of the movie packing heat and slinging her rifles as adroitly as the trained former Marines and Army Ranger Sniper. This happens again and again in the movie, missing vital little pieces that connect the greater whole, and because of this, the film feels like a series of barely tethered vignettes that float above the plot.
After the Predator busts out, the loonies on the bus (no, really, that’s what they call themselves.) decide that McKenna might just be telling the truth about encountering murderous things from another planet. They commandeer the vehicle and rescue Bracket when her pursuit of the Predator goes awry. The Predator wrecks the bus, so in a neat little callback, they “get to the choppers”, a bunch of motorcycles that just happen to be parked nearby, all gassed up and with keys.

After a quiet interlude, the group decides it’s time to go get Rory before the Predator does. They ride out in a Winnebago that materializes like it was beamed in by Mr. Scott. Full of guns, rifles, grenade launchers, tactical gear, optics, armor, and ammo out the wazoo, this Winnebago is not messing around. They are able to track Rory down right before they are braced by the beast himself. Only, then the Predator to encounters a monster far worse than it. The sudden reveal of the red-ship Predator is a little startling. It is massive. Eleven feet tall and looking like an overinflated, over-‘roided power-lifter, it literally beats the original model Predator right into the ground and rips its head clean off.

The CIA team clash with Group 2 a few more times, and then make off with Rory who they expect will lead them to the original Predator’s crashed vessel, because in this movie, Autistic children can decrypt alien operating and weapon systems in a matter of hours and become adept in their use. McKenna, Williams, and Bracket are left in custody, with orders to be executed. Of course, with the help of shenanigans (and one space-dog), they are able to turn the tables on their captors and take out some more red-shirts.

They meet up with the rest of the Group who have stolen a helicopter, and they follow Traeger and company to rescue Rory at the impact site. Of course, the red-ship Predator has similar plans, and the over-long, overwrought final confrontation between Marines, men, and space-men begins.

So yeah, this movie has problems. Some of the dialogue is tight as a drum, some of the lines are like the header quote, which is just mind-boggling. That’s not how Autism nor evolution works. There are too many places where vital scenes are missing. There are also continuity issues. They keep referring to Nettles as a Huey pilot, probably in homage to the first movie. However, the Huey was phased out in favor of the Blackhawk in 1979. It’s 2019. Nettles even has a huge, highly visible tattoo of a Blackhawk on his forearm. It is suggested that Lynch is a Demolitions expert, except he spends most of the movie in high over-watch positions, sniping. McKenna, the Army Ranger Sniper, on the other hand, spends the bulk of the movie shooting people and Predators in the face with large-caliber automatic pistols at very, very close ranges. Traeger, the CIA Predator expert, the agent who has studied the alien presence and their weapons for decades, suffers a startling mishap using a Predator cannon that he’d already fired several times without ill effects.

There are strange tonal shifts. The movie lurches from heartfelt family moments to quippy, biting banter. Then moving to ‘awww, friendship’ bits, to a hardcore action gore-fest, to a slapstick beat that would’ve found a home in one of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and finally back to more gore for the climax.

At the very end of the film, we are confronted with a Deus-Ex plot twist that negates the original model’s predatory scenes earlier in the film with all the murder and stabby-stabby action. We discover that he was bearing gifts, gifts meant to (hopefully) spawn a sequel or two, and further cement the idea of Good Predator/ Bad Predator.

The movie wants you to ignore its flaws, and it tries to achieve that by distracting you. There are several scenes matching music cues and compositions straight out of the earlier movies. By the time the film is done, you’re going to be very tired of Schwarzenneger’s “Dutch Theme” refrain playing, which is pretty much every time Traeger is on screen. There is also little innovation here. The Predator-on-Predator conflict seems lifted bodily from ‘Predators’, while the bulky, uglier, enormous red-ship Predator’s bad CG design is very derivative, resembling a mashup of the hybrid Predalien and the Super-Predators from the earlier films.

Also, I’m not quite sure why this new breed of enhanced Predator bothers to sneak around with a cloaking field, as it is basically a tank. “If it bleeds, we can kill it!” was the catch-phrase of the original movie. The red-ship Predator withstands small-arms fire, Claymores, grenade launchers and several blasts from the original model’s MacGuffin helmet and shoulder-cannon, yet its plot-armor fails when the story demands it, leaving it vulnerable to a character with a goddamn butterfly knife, and then later, pistol-fire.

This film doesn’t make sense, and that’s a problem. If you squint and look sideways, it sort of does, but that’s not how movies are supposed to work. There is so much missing. A few of the holes are covered in the deleted scenes provided in the Blu-Ray, but not nearly enough, and that’s also not how movies are supposed to work. Shane Black usually makes very good films. ‘The Predator’ is not one of them.

The Blu-Ray is very Spartan, with only several deleted scenes provided. There is no director’s commentary, no making-of, no BTS, not even trailers. It’s a good thing it’s not too expensive, because you would find better extras on most DVD’s.

‘The Predator’ Blu-Ray is available for purchase now.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.