John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, Predator, is one of my favourite movies of all time. I don’t say that lightly; I mean, it’s in my personal Top Ten. It’s a perfect movie for me, not only because I’ve seen it countless times and have an unholy amount of nostalgia attached to it, but because it really is a flawless mixture of action and suspense, violence, fun, and casting. Like many original movies from the 1980s, it spawned a franchise which never lived up to the original. However, the Predator franchise has not been overly milked, has not relied on a single star, and has more hits than misses. When reviews for this fourth mainstream entry began to appear, they were fairly savage – even subsequent fan reviews were not positive. Plus, there was all that stuff about that guy and those scenes being cut. A film a dearly wanted to see upon release passed me by, and it wasn’t until a few years after that I finally sat down ready to be disappointed.
You know what? It’s not that bad. It’s the funniest Predator movie by some stretch, and I’ll gladly watch anything written or directed by Shane Black. He’s a Predator original, but he’s consistently one of Hollywood’s most entertaining writers. I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is a family oriented Predator movie, and it does have a strange balance of tone, but as someone who first saw Predator before I was 10, I was more than happy to see some of this movie’s more juvenile aspects.
Look, the autism stuff is ridiculous. It’s by far not the first time such a trope has been abused in media – it’s a trope after all – but it is a little tone-impaired in this day and age. Moreover, it’s entirely inconsequential to the story. Rather than making the lead character’s son (played well as always by Jacob Tremblay) be autistic, why not just make him a child genius? He can be smart and still hit the beats of being bullied/socially awkward/whatever else you want to add to make him more interesting. The key point is that the kid is intellectually gifted and seems to be able to figure out Alien technology.
We come in as a US sniper (McKenna) and his team are in the midst of a hostage retrieval mission. A Predator is there, for reasons we discover later, and it wipes out almost everyone before McKenna is able to knock it out. He steals some of its weaponry and armour and posts it home, before some shady Government officials turn up and take both McKenna and The Predator to some Area 51 type place. It turns out that the Government has known about this race of aliens (and others…) for decades, and their experiments discover that this particular alien somehow contains human DNA.
Meanwhile, McKenna’s booty ends up at his home where his young son begins experiments of his own on them, inadvertently triggering some sort of tracking device alerting the species to his location. The lab Predator escapes, McKenna finds himself leader of a new crew of misfits, and an even greater Predator threat heads to Earth. Groups collide and carnage ensues.
There’s probably one of two ideas too many in the script – even that brief synopsis is a mess. Predator succeeded partly due to its simplicity – a group of soldiers on a jungle mission are pitted against a powerful, almost invisible killer. Done. Each idea is fine in principle – the government stuff clearly there to set up further Aliens crossovers, the DNA stuff enhances the lore, the family stuff is good for character building and humour, and the ‘super’ Predator vs regular Predator thread furthers some of the mythology uncovered in Predators. Thrown altogether, along with the various different characters and it’s a boiling stew too hot for anyone to handle.
It’s a bit of a shame, because Dekker and Black’s writing elsewhere is on point – the usual snappy dialogue and free-wheeling insults we expect. Good cast too – Holbrook is good in everything, but is a little wooden here, Munn is an appropriately sassy foil, Sterling Brown literally chews the scenery, and we have Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Thomas Jane, and Trevante Rhodes are fun alongside others. The cast, and the group we see in Predator is another reason for its long-lasting success. We like these guys, we like spending a couple of hours with them, and we’d like to know more about their past escapades. Black knows this, and while his attempts to mould a similar group are a little too reliant on quirks and humour, it’s a good stab at pulling together a diverse group all fighting the same cause. We even get cast nods to previous films, with Jake Busey as the son of Gary Busey’s character from Predator 2, and Francoise Yip from Aliens Vs Predator Requiem. Nothing of consequence, but fun additions.
In terms of action and violence, there are plenty of entertaining scenes and set pieces. I wish they would stop trying to make Alien dogs a thing, but elsewhere we are treated to suburban and jungle based mayhem between man and alien peppered with blood and energy. The best moment is of course when Jacob Tremblay gets hilarious bloody revenge on a couple of bullies. The climax is fun, even if most of the cast are dispatched with too quickly instead of more evenly through the run time, and we’re left with a controversial final scene where we learn what the regular Predator’s purpose was in coming to Earth. It doesn’t make a lot of sense considering we first see the Predator killing a bunch of humans when it seemingly came to help us. Script re-writes and re-shoots decidedly harmed a more cohesive final product.
Apparently there were several attempts at an ending, each hoping to set up various sequels, from Arnie’s Dutch appearing and announcing there’s a looming war between humans and Predators, to Ripley and Newt somehow showing up. Personally, I like the idea of having Dutch come back as that way you could also have tied in the survivors from Predators and even Danny Glover from Predator 2. In any case, any and all sequels are likely dead in the water, especially after Prey’s release has taken the franchise in a different direction.
So, The Predator didn’t deserve its negative reaction, at least not all of it. It’s far from a perfect movie, but when placed alongside other deep-cut entries of long-lasting franchises it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than the fourth Die Hard, the fourth Alien, etc. It’s fun enough more most of the cracks to be covered in a first watch and it’s loyal to the franchise rules and expectations even if it likely didn’t turn out to be the story the writers originally hoped for.
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