The Predator movie review: pointless retro junk

The Predator red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Garbage. A bad excuse for a movie, even for the pulpy disposable popcorn nonsense it wants to be. Incoherent and illogical, cheap and shoddy. Wannabe sci-fi action horror that can’t pull off any of it.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big fan of science fiction
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Let’s get this out of the way first: The Predator is garbage. It’s a bad excuse for a movie. Even for the pulpy disposable popcorn nonsense it wants to be.

This is a wannabe sci-fi action horror that is completely lacking in suspense and power. It generates no excitement or even any basic engagement with itself. It is violent and bloody, yet in only a cursory way. It doesn’t linger on relentless gore, and it lacks the “interesting” and “fun” kills that are supposedly a highlight of the genre, so it’s dull and annoying to both those who love horror and those who don’t. It doesn’t have a single thing to offer as science fiction: no fresh ideas, no compelling aliens or weird technology, just a sports-hunter extraterrestrial visiting earth — again — and taking out many humans for fun. The action is confused and disjointed and mostly takes place in the dark, as if to ensure that you really won’t be able to figure out what’s going on. (John McTiernan, who directed the 1987 original, of which this is the third or arguably the fifth installment, is a master of gripping action. The Predator director Shane Black… is not.)

“No, computer, I said ‘Not Earth again! Not Earth!’ Recompute course-- Oh, never mind, I’ll do it myself.”
“No, computer, I said ‘Not Earth again! Not Earth!’ Recompute course– Oh, never mind, I’ll do it myself.”

I’m not done yet.

The Predator is incoherent and illogical. It literally makes no sense from minute to minute and in the big picture. “You saw that, right?” someone shouts at an allegedly intense moment. “He grew an exoskeleton under his skin!” We have no idea what this refers to — we have seen no such thing. The plot relies on wild coincidence: a missing crashed spaceship turns up conveniently near the rest of the action when it probably should have been thousands of miles away. The story features absurd justification for one character’s authority in this scenario: Olivia Munn’s (Ocean’s Eight, Office Christmas Party) scientist is considered worthy of calling in by the American government to consult on first contact because she wrote a letter about aliens to the US President when she was six years old. It features wild speculation from human characters about the motives of the predator alien — it’s actually a traitor predator who wants to protect humanity from its fellow predators! — that is entirely unsupported by the very evidence before their eyes: the predator alien is killing humans it doesn’t have to kill for no reason we can see except that it enjoys it, or else doesn’t consider humans worthy of not killing; if it wants to protect us, it’s certainly not for any purpose that benefits us. And yet the movie itself appears to buy into this weird positive spin.

The Predator looks and feels like a cheap direct-to-VHS sequel to the 1987 original.

I got more.

The Predator is shoddy. From its muddy color palette to its tinny score to the tired framing of every tediously familiar shot, this looks like a cheap direct-to-VHS sequel to McTiernan 1987’s movie. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if retro-loving Black (see his The Nice Guys) intended it that way. It would explain the pseudo-E.T.-ish Halloween sequence, as young Rory (Jacob Tremblay: Wonder, Room) attempts trick-or-treating wearing an alien mask that’s genuinely alien. (I don’t think mobs of children trick-or-treating along suburban streets has been a thing since the 80s. The Predator is set today.) It would explain why the script is littered with offhand snarking and quipping amidst all the carnage: Black helped invent the idea that action movies should also be funny with his own breakthrough script, for Lethal Weapon, from the same year as the original Predator. And yet this new movie is painfully witless, with naughty vulgarity and male trash talk as the height of its humor. (There’s a character here who suffers from Tourette syndrome, apparently solely to get some more random bad words into the dialogue.) Intentionally retro junk is still junk.

At least the predator does a girl the courtesy of not teasing her about being his prey, unlike these jerks...
At least the predator does a girl the courtesy of not teasing her about being his prey, unlike these jerks…

All of this would still be true absent the news that broke just before The Predator debuted recently at Toronto Film Festival: that Black had hired a friend of his for a small role, a friend who is a convicted sex offender, for a scene in which he sexually harasses Munn’s character. Black told no one about his friend’s background — did he think this was ironic and funny? — and when Munn found out about it, long after the fact, she complained to the studio, 20th Century Fox, and the scene was removed from the movie. The whole situation gets even worse, but my point here is this: Removing this scene from the film does not change the fact that this remains a movie in which the lone female character with any significant presence is constantly derided and intimidated, her expertise minimized and dismissed, and it’s all played for laughs. (Munn’s scientist holds her own, but that’s definitely beside the point. She is a character at odds with her own movie. She retains her dignity in spite of the fact that the movie holds her in contempt.) Most of the characters consist of a gang of disgraced soldiers (Trevante Rhodes [12 Strong, Moonlight], Keegan-Michael Key [The Disaster Artist, Get Out], Thomas Jane [Drive Hard, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World], Alfie Allen [Game of Thrones, John Wick] and Augusto Aguilera) who’ve been diagnosed with violent mental-health issues, along with the sniper (Boyd Holbrook: Logan, Morgan) who’s been tossed in among them because he had an encounter with the predator alien and the government is trying to discredit him. Munn falls in with them, and becomes the constant butt of their abuse (and that of others, too, such as the government official played by Sterling K. Brown [Black Panther, Mojave]).

And so The Predator takes on another level of awful with this backdrop. The abuse Munn’s scientist takes is just about the only consistent aspect of the movie, in plot, in character, and in tone. Clearly much thought went into it. But it serves no thematic purpose. It’s just there because it can be, because Black finds it amusing. (The director also cowrote the script, with Fred Dekker.) It’s yet more unpleasant — and most certainly unnecessary — retro crap. And it only underscores how filmmakers like Black need to step back from the positions of power in Hollywood, take their outmoded ideas about what works onscreen, and just go the fuck away already, and make some room for new perspectives.

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