Written By: Daniel Kinsley
The original Predator (1987) is by this point undisputed as a high point of 80s action cinema. Headlined by a prime-time Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John McTiernan (just a year away from lensing the all-time all timer, Die Hard ) it is a sparse, hyper masculine monster movie that plays like a slasher dropped into the middle of a peak 80s action flick. In the thirty-one years since, an unlikely franchise was born, as it spawned a direct sequel (Predator 2 ), a few ill-advised crossover films (Alien vs. Predator , etc.), and a better than advertised reboot (Predators ) before the reigns were handed off to writer-director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys). *
Hiring Black and co-writer Fred Dekker ** signaled that the the folks in charge were aiming to do something fresh with the franchise. By pivoting away from the blistering jungle aesthetic and relocating the action to the suburbs, The Predator (2018) has a very different feel almost immediately from any other film in the IP. Similarly, without the presence of a singular personality like Arnold, the film opts largely for an ensemble piece, a decision which works like gangbusters.
As the film opens, Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his team are in the midst of an operation, when a Predator ship crash lands on Earth, forcing a confrontation between the space hunter and the soldiers. Naturally, McKenna is the only one to survive, but not before getting his hands on the Predator’s armor and shipping it back home for proof of what he saw. After McKenna goes on the lam, a squad of government mercenaries led by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) manage to capture the incapacitated Predator and ship the creature to an underground lab. Evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to study the creature, as the foremost expert in the field. Soon after, Traeger’s team catches up to McKenna and he is brought in for questioning. His story is deemed crazy and summarily buried, and he is placed on a bus full of whacked-out commandos, led by Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) on their way to a black site, never to be heard from again.
The two disparate storylines begin to merge after McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), a gifted child with autism, receives his father’s package and begins toying around with the alien technology, unwittingly drawing the attention of a second Predator hell-bent on retrieving its stolen tech. Naturally, the Predator in the lab manages to break free, going on a splatter-filled killing spree before escaping. Casey manages to survive the massacre and finds herself in the company of McKenna and his new Loony Tune Squad who quickly realize they will have to race to find McKenna’s boy before either Predator does.
While audiences might come for the monster, they will stay for the rest of the cast, which is chock full of fun performances that are a joy to watch bounce off of one another. It’s difficult to single anybody out without feeling like someone else is getting shorted. Thomas Jane and Keegan Michael Key are bizarre and juvenile yet totally hilarious, while Trevante Rhodes (hot off a strong turn in Moonlight ) makes a strong case for stardom as the suicidal leader Nebraska. Olivia Munn is similarly strong, holding her own with the boys in the banter and the action. *** Though everyone is a delight, it’s Sterling K. Brown as the psychotic merc with lifeless eyes and a desert dry sense of humor that comes away with the MVP.
As sequels are wont to do, the film expands on the original mythology, gradually revealing its larger plans as the film goes on. While many will bemoan removing some of the mystery of the Predator species, Black is too savvy a screenwriter to get bogged down in exposition; instead, the film moves from one blood-soaked set piece to the next as the Predator squares off with the humans in a suburban environment that feels unique to the franchise and brings to mind Carpenter’s Haddonfield more than anything in its previous films. The looseness of the plotting and the vulgar humor is bound to turn some viewers off, but for viewers who still do not take their genre viewing too seriously, there is a lot to love.
While the original script planned to bring back the infamous Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in a cameo role, the final scenes point toward a new direction should a sequel be made, and you can almost feel the glee at all of the insane possibilities.
If the original was an action film cloaked in slasher tropes, then The Predator feels more like a reverse engineered version of The Pineapple Express (2008) a shaggy monster-driven spectacle that also doubles as a hang-out comedy. Just, you know, with a murderous space alien splattering gore in between laughs. Seriously, the most surprising thing about the film (even for a guy as notoriously witty as Black) is that it is flat-out hilarious. Much like the rest of Black’s output in the aughts, the film almost feels like a throwback to a time when studios still churned out R-rated mid-budget pictures, and for this writer, it was a welcome blast from the past.
* Fun fact: Black starred in a small role in the original film as Hawkins around the time he was cutting his teeth as a genuine phenom for penning the OG buddy film Lethal Weapon (‘87). Time is a flat circle.
** Fun fact #2: Incidentally, Black and Dekker wrote another monster movie together…in 1987. The Monster Squad is probably not a classic by most standards, but it remains a childhood favorite of this writer.
*** If she seems a little TOO combat ready for a civilian biologist, this writer was willing to overlook it because she brings such a fun dynamic to the group.