The action franchise returns with its sixth instalment, which feels like it could’ve been made three decades ago.
Shane Black could’ve stepped off the set of 1987’s Predator, watched Predator 2 in 1990, and then directed The Predator straight away. The actor turned screenwriter turned filmmaker didn’t follow that exact path; however it feels like no time has passed between the franchise’s first two movies and his addition to the series. Instead, it has been 31 years since Black featured opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bit part, with two terrible Alien vs. Predator cross-overs coming to fruition in the intervening period, as well as a third Predator effort in 2010, simply titled Predators. Still, The Predator has a fun, obvious, purposeful throwback vibe to it – a vibe that helps the feature do what it wants to, but can only take this new instalment so far.
In its narrative, as co-written by Black (The Nice Guys) and Fred Dekker (Black’s writing partner on 1987’s The Monster Squad), The Predator first takes one of the film’s protagonists to the eponymous creature. Then, after sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan) watches his squad fall prey to the cunning warrior in the Mexican jungle, and subsequently swipes some of its armour, the movie takes its unnerving entity to the rest of humanity. Evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn, Office Christmas Party) encounters a predator in a secret government lab, it unsurprisingly gets loose, and so she teams up with McKenna and a crew of post-traumatic stress-suffering ex-soldiers. For the central critter’s part, it’s trying to track down the missing gear that young Rory McKenna (Jacob McKenna, Wonder), Quinn’s son, found in a posted package on his doorstep.
The Predator is a game of cat-and-mouse several times over, and not just with people hunting predators or vice versa. Shifty military operatives, led by Sterling K. Brown (TV’s This Is Us), are chasing both man and beast. The elder McKenna wants to stop harm from coming to his boy from either human or other sources. His cohorts (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, Friends from College’s Keegan-Michael Key, The Expanse’s Thomas Jane, Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen and Chasing Life’s Augusto Aguilera) are torn between helping and tasting freedom. And, although she’s forced to brandish weapons along with everyone else, Bracket wants to study the menacing extra-terrestrial species. Plus, as a spaceship battle makes plain in the movie’s opening moments, there’s more than one predator – and predator-dog hybrid – in the mix.
Combine all of the above, and Black’s film is one of many moving parts, most of them action-packed. ‘Shoot first, think later’ isn’t a motto that’s verbally espoused, but it’s as appropriate to the characters as it is The Predator’s overall approach. While Holbrook, Munn and Rhodes stand out among the cast – channelling Michael Shannon with precision, making the stock female role more memorable than it is on the page, and doing the same with his sidekick part, respectively – this isn’t a feature that cares to flesh out its figures. Rather, it’s a stalk-and-kill sci-fi thriller where people needn’t do more than run, shoot and spout the screenplay’s smart-talking dialogue. In short: it’s an ‘80s-style B-movie, and it wants to look and feel like one.
There’s enjoyment to be had in watching the nostalgic onslaught play out, albeit with few surprises. When The Predator works, it’s because Black is so committed to harking back to the movie that he once graced, including with special effects that wouldn’t have looked out of place three decades ago. When The Predator drags, it’s because there’s ample visible blood and gore but no real meat between the film’s teeth – and those fangs aren’t the only thing that’s clearly bare. A franchise-extending denouement is also ill-judged, and while it might be symptomatic of a particular plan not panning out as anticipated, it smacks of Black just wanting to keep his energetic, over-the-top and overtly eager homage going.
2 ½ stars★★☆
Director: Shane Black
US, 2018, 107 mins
Release date: September 13