It was supposed to be just another Arnold Schwarzenegger star vehicle — practically a genre unto itself in the Reagan years — and the sort of blockbuster you could sell with an easy elevator pitch in 1987, i.e. Ahnold-vs.-killer-alien. Instead, the original Predator found the Austrian Oak getting slightly upstaged by the monster at the center of this sci-fi/action flick: a giant, dreadlocked amphibian with a metallic helmet, an NFL wide receiver’s physique and face only a similarly mandible-blessed mother could love. Dudes of a certain age (it’s usually dudes) can quote from the movie at will and pull off a passable imitation of Arnold’s beautifully histrionic “Kill me! Do it noooowwwwww!” But almost everyone recalls the heat-vision hunting POV shots, the shimmering invisible-camouflaging abilities, that “ugly motherfucker” mug. This was an extraordinary screen extraterrestrial, one with staying power.
There would be Schwarzenegger-less sequels, as well as comics, action figures, t-shirts and a team-up side series designed to settle who’s-tougher playground disputes. And now we have a franchise reboot, complete with a definitive article in the title — gotta have a definitive article in the title — and a whole new crew of he-men and a Hawksian heroine as prey. Although, as numerous characters in this latest Predventure will tell you, the title character is less a creature who hunts other species for food than a sort of interstellar “bass fisherman.” This becomes a running argument. Someone calls this galactic trophy collector “an alien Whoopi Goldberg,” too. It’s that kind of movie.
Because The Predator is also a Shane Black film, which means you get something more than your usual spit-’em-out sequel/revise. An actor — he’s Hawkins in the first Predator — and a screenwriter (Lethal Weapon) with a classic Hollywood rise-and-fall backstory, Black’s second act in the industry has seen him add director to his resume, giving audiences small gems that range from underrated (The Nice Guys) to criminally underrated (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Male bluster and banter is his business, and along with his co-writer Fred Dekker, he gifts this latest Predator v. Everybody story with a lot of swinging, stinging dialogue. You can tell the duo want to bring back a certain type of Eighties movie with this job, the sort of multiplex funhouse where characters quip in between gory kills and how well you can obscenely insult someone determines your standing. There’s a lot of chatter about recombinant DNA, which makes sense: It’s a Shane Black joint genetically fused to an otherwise generic franchise entry.
Who wins? Audiences who like a little spice with their sci-fi and splatter, and above all, the actors. Playing an Army Ranger sniper who makes first contact, Logan‘s Boyd Holbrook may be indistinguishable from dozens of other scruffily handsome young actors that someone’s obviously breeding in bulk on a farm in the Midwest. But give him Black’s acid-tinged zingers and an ensemble of PTSD-suffering soldiers to play off (including Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and Game of Thrones vet Alfie Allen), and he suddenly seems like he can hold your attention for more than 10 seconds. Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes weaponizes an already off-the-charts screen charisma with his cracked soldier. As an evolutionary biologist, Olivia Munn finally finds someone who can write for her caustic persona and timing; the fact that a not-at-all-kosher casting decision and some fucked-up fallout have tainted the whole affair shouldn’t take away from the work she’s doing here. (The decision to remove the scene in question was unequivocally the right one, though it completely robs Munn of the introduction her character deserves.) Sterling K. Brown has more fun with a government agent covering up and cleaning up a classified mess than is legally allowed.
In fact, at its best, The Predator is a movie that makes you forget there’s an iconic killer alien involved at all — with the exception of a slaughter in a lab and a shoot-out near a spaceship, the high points mostly involve the cast simply cracking wise with each other. Everything serving the main story, which involves the sniper’s autistic son (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), an upgraded apex Predator and the future of the human race blah blah blah, has a tendency to feel like time-killing between snark and set pieces. No one needed to see the bad guys’ mutant hunting dogs, who will, from this moment forward, be referred to “Pet-dators.” Even its sick sense of humor, which underwrites a great visual gag involving a severed arm, gives way to a lot of self-serious fighting and noise during a dragged-out climax.
What this new entry really is an exercise in viewer horse-trading: Are you willing to endure a lot of expositionary nonsense just to hear Brown make a three-course meal out of the statement “they are large, fast and fucking you up is their idea of tourism”? Would you be ok having to put up with a lot of franchise mythology that feels made up on the spot to bask in some way-better-than-average tough-guy talk? Auteurists, you all good with getting your Shane Black fix and ignoring the rest? Do you feel so nostalgic for this canon-worthy creature that the idea of spending time with him for a little under two hours is worth paying cash for a movie you can’t write off but can’t wholeheartedly recommend, either? Did you answer yes to any of these? If so, then this Predator may be for you. There’s nothing left to say but: Do it! Come on, it’s here! Come on, go ahead, see it!! Do it noooowwwwww!