Shane Black has spoken about how he and co-writer Fred Dekker had “a large appetite” when it came to what they wanted to with this next chapter in the Predator universe, and boy, he wasn’t kidding. The Predator feels like a haphazardly assembled and overflowing buffet plate, and how much you enjoy it will depend on your ability to deal with its whiplash-wild inconsistency in tone and missed opportunities.
Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Logan’s Boyd Holbrook on decent form) is taking down a cartel in Mexico when he runs into a crash-landing “space alien” that decimates his team, and he narrowly escapes by nabbing some of its tech. He mails his evidence home before he’s picked up a government team led by swaggering Dr Will Traeger (Sterling K Brown, having criminal amounts of fun), which has been investigating the Predators’ incursions. When the ET proves to be resistant to anaesthesia and extremely pissed off, it’s up to McKenna, a bus of PTSD-stricken veterans and a civilian scientist (Olivia Munn) to save the day. Which is already enough of a challenge before a bigger, badder Predator shows up to change the game…
The chances are that, at some point, you’ll get what you want from The Predator. There’s the R-rated Shane Black action comedy, with Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and more chewing scenery as “the Loonies” and they’re pretty great. It’s self-aware and there are some good in-jokes, particularly from Brown (did we mention how much fun he was having?). There’s ridiculously gory action horror, as the Predators brutally shred endless anonymous army goons. There’s the obligatory Shane Black kid subplot, as Quinn’s son Rory (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) encounters the alien tech and becomes its target (although the fact that he’s on the spectrum is used for plot reasons in a way that is absolutely worth questioning). Plus, there’s more mythology, nods to the canon, new monsters, and some genuinely good action sequences in the first half.
The problem is that it is just all over the place. Black knows how to blend heart and snark, but in trying to be self-consciously silly, badass, sincere and geeky, he’s created an overstuffed film that is as rowdy and unmanageable as its heroes, and there are too many jarring missteps and questionable jokes to ever really let even the most generous viewer get too comfortable for very long. The even-messier third act is only fitfully fun and suffers from weak effects moments despite the best efforts of the cast. A second viewing may well do it some favours and there is a good movie in here, but the fact that there’s more than one is the biggest problem. Still, we’ll say this for it: it’s weird as hell.