When you see the name Shane Black in the opening credits, you expect to see something different. This is the idiosyncratic mind that reinvented the buddy cop movie, gave hardboiled crime thrillers a sharp tongued twist, and turned Iron Man’s greatest foe into a clueless cockney crook. One assumes, then, that it must be another Shane Black behind The Predator. How else to explain why the one-time Hawkins’ return to the series could be such a rote, redundant bore that barely contains any hint of its creator’s singular personality?
The set-up looks promising with Black and Fred Dekker’s script conjuring up a few fresh twists on the series’ tropes. After a serviceable opening sequence in a jungle, the setting quickly shifts to a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Our hero is no Arnie-light super soldier, but an 11-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, who inadvertently receives a piece of alien tech that attracts the attention of the titular space aliens. And rather than a team of highly-skilled commandos, the action centres on a gang of mentally ill veterans who are presumably the only people on Earth crazy enough to do battle with an indestructible alien warrior.
Early scenes ripple with sweary banter between the crew and cheeky call-backs to the first film. There’s a cracking gag about the inaccuracy of calling a race of alien huntsmen ‘Predators’ and a gloriously tongue-in-cheek reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic ‘Get to the chopper’ line. And like all the other films in the franchise, The Predator’s propulsive action sequences are laced with plenty of blood, guts and dismembered body parts as the dreadlocked fighters slice, dice and splice their way through most of the supporting cast.
For all the gory, bloody fun, the joke quickly runs thin. There’s none of Black’s trademark rebellious spirit in the dialogue and the plot struggles to find any new routes to take on the survival horror roadmap. We simply see Boyd Holbrook’s super sniper and his crew attempting to avoid being ripped to pieces as they desperately search for a way to defeat a seemingly unstoppable monster. Even the invention of an upgraded, Mega-Predator fails to raise the stakes in any meaningful way. It might be taller, uglier and more CGI-dependent than its predecessor, but its moves and threat level are very much the same.
And while the cast are all game, little effort is made to put any meat on the bones of their characters. Despite their mental health issues, the insensitively monikered ‘Loonies’ are given hardly any depth and the father-son dynamic at the heart of the story never quite rings true. All of which renders much of the violence – especially a messy, overblown climax – virtually senseless. Black openly admitted to taking this gig to recapture a sense of lost youth. Perhaps some things are better left in the past.
Runtime: 107 mins (approx.)
Director: Shane Black
Screenwriters: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes