glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | oct. 2018
I was so excited to see “The Predator,” excited enough that I spent the extra cash on getting in on an Imax screening (no comps for this reviewer) despite being prepared for something that would likely be lesser than the classic Arnie film (which I still enjoy after many viewings). Helmed and written by Shane Black, how bad could it be? Awful, disappointingly, depressingly awful and I honestly feel terrible having to say that. After an encouraging opening, the film descends at terminal velocity into one of the messiest, unnecessarily complicated and oddly pitched action films I have possibly ever seen.
The basics of the movie are that sniper Quinn McKenna (played by Boyd Holbrook) is about to make a kill in a mission that seems like it could be interesting, but it's interrupted by a Predator ship crash landing nearby. After his colleagues are killed, he takes some of the technology and sends it back home to provide an alibi for himself should he be framed to cover up the alien presence. This, of course, happens but due to a bill not being paid, the weaponry is delivered to his son and he has to break out with a new squad of mentally damaged soldiers to go after the Predator, save his son and defeat the evil government guys.
Said that fast it doesn't sound awful but first off, this is a 107-minute film and there are diversions, subplots and a huge cast of characters that manage to make the modest runtime feel far too densely packed. There's a broken family plot, the evil government plot, the Predator civil war plot and a quirky, unconventional soldiers plot amongst others; there's too much to fit into the 170 minutes by far, so it gets skimmed over to the point of near irrelevance at the cost of taking away from what we came for: the Predator.
When we get the Predator, it's great. There are some suitably brutal fight scenes, gore and all that stuff we would expect but it's relegated almost to second place by a predator dog that is domesticated by being shot in the head and an autistic Wesley Crusher wunderkind character. Isn't “movie autism” wonderful? It makes you Rainman, apparently and with just a touch of the debilitating effects you'd expect from the scale that this character is suggested to have. I hate to sound all mean about this but the condition is reduced to a plot convenience to provide the all-too-obvious twist near the end and I do wonder quite why this character is in a movie like this. If this was aimed at kids his age then I could at least understand his presence but in a Predator film — an R-rated Predator film — the character seems so out of place here.
The film is entirely unfocused on the hunt and seems so intent on setting up a new franchise that it all comes over as being less its own story and instead, being the first installment of an extended universe. I'll give it this; it's ambitious, but that ambition to be a bigger story has tripped this up so terribly and left it all feeling like a cluttered mess. Between bawdy humor which goes on far too long (the first film cuts that out when the action gets going) and the trite drama which feels like it's trying to force social politics into the least appropriate story, I felt like I was less watching a Predator film than I was a bizarrely blended mix of sci-fi horror and prime time sitcom.
It's a damn shame too as the action scenes are actually very well done, with even the occasionally shaky CG barely detracting from them. We needed more of that: the expansion of the story of the Predators, the idea that the government is trying to exploit the alien tech, a band of resisting humans caught up in the middle of it. We didn't need family drama, faithful brain-damaged alien dogs and child geniuses. Add on top of that the overtly evil government agents — and I mean moustache-twirlingly evil — and the film hits peak ridiculousness early on. This is before we even get to things like the weaponry that does all the targeting itself — the surprisingly, almost accidentally, easy-to-operate gadgets that just do what they do in a fashion that would make Apple blush with envy and the fact that this basic-issue Predator equipment completely negates the need for any skill on behalf of these fearsome hunters. Then there's the utter annihilation of the theory of evolution, reducing it down to a deliberate picking and choosing of traits whilst also claiming that a debilitating condition is the future of mankind, coveted by powerful aliens. What?
I mentioned the franchise theory earlier and this has “sequels” written all over it. It has the feel of scrambling to set things up and there is some good stuff in there when it comes down to it, but as a movie in its own right, “The Predator” is so badly cluttered, poorly pitched and misjudged that, to be honest, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this kills the franchise off yet again. If it does go forward it needs to get back to being an action film. The more complicated story elements that are related to the Predators and the human forces aligned against them is fine enough but the rest of the stuff needs to be jettisoned as it's not what an audience going to see a Predator film is looking for.
The TL;DR? If you're a fan of the first and second Predator films then this will do just enough to all too briefly evoke the memories of those films at points. The rest is just a mess; it's a nonsensical, contrived slog to get through and is disappointing in a way that I haven't felt in a very long time and it's all the worse for occasionally reminding you that there was potentially a good movie buried in this infuriatingly wasted opportunity.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.