Like its titular, trophy-hunting aliens, the Predator franchise has proven to be surprisingly hard to kill.
The latest installment of the series, director Shane Black’s pseudo-reboot The Predator, follows a string of sequels and crossovers inspired by 1987’s Predator that — with the exception of 2010’s well-received spinoff Predators — underperformed critically while still earning enough money to justify making another installment. Although it isn’t the campy, CG-splashed mess that most of its predecessors were, The Predator isn’t likely to buck that tradition, but it still brings some fresh elements to the franchise that make it a worthwhile addition for fans of the sci-fi action series.
Set after the events of Predator and 1990’s Predator 2 (and possibly after 2010’s Predators, although it isn’t directly referenced), The Predator casts Boyd Holbrook (Logan) as an Army sniper who finds himself caught up in the Predators’ latest safari when he accidentally discovers one of their crashed ships. Believed insane by his commanding officers, he recruits a group of fellow military castoffs of questionable sanity to help him stop the alien hunters.
As with all of the films in the series, the story boils down to pitting a group of human protagonists against a seemingly unstoppable alien enemy. The Predator ups the ante by introducing a larger, genetically modified version of the iconic alien hunter, as well as a few other fun (for the audience, not the human characters) surprises in its hunting arsenal.
Black’s efforts to bring something new to the franchise are admirable, and although the new super-sized Predator doesn’t feel all that different from its predecessors, he and co-writer Fred Dekker come up with some clever ways to introduce new elements to the franchise’s lore and twist existing elements — both narrative and physical, when it comes to the aliens’ tech — in unexpected ways. The signature force fields and cloaking technology used by the Predators in previous installments of the franchise, for example, are used in some memorably creative ways in The Predator that make the old feel new again.
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As the film’s male lead, Holbrook joins original Predator star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator 2‘s Danny Glover, and Predators star Adrien Brody as the latest tough guy to take on the Predator, but never quite carves out his own niche in the series. Where Schwarzenegger’s character was every bit the classic ’80s Hollywood tough guy archetype, Glover was the eternally outclassed, reluctant hero, and Brody played a compelling lone wolf, Holbrook is just a guy with a never-ending supply of guns — only distinct from the rest of the cast due to his screen time.
Holbrook is ostensibly the film’s male lead, but it’s his surrounding cast that saves The Predator from becoming just another montage of human characters being sliced, stabbed, and otherwise turned into red mist.
Playing a pair of veterans whose post-traumatic stress disorders manifest in some ridiculous ways, Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key are the film’s primary scene-stealers and most frequent sources of comedy. The two have a genuinely entertaining chemistry in the film, and the ensemble of quirky veterans around them harkens back to the original 1987 film’s iconic team of tough guys in all the right ways. Their characters do a lot with the screen time they’re given, and make the moments they get in the spotlight memorable amid all of the action.
In the role of a biologist brought in to study the Predators’ genetic modifications, Olivia Munn actually seems more comfortable with the chaotic running and jumping and shooting sequences than the dialogue-heavy, expositional scenes her character is intended to provide. To her credit — and that of the film’s creative team — at no point in The Predator does she fall into a damsel in distress role, and better yet, she holds her own in the gun-toting cast remarkably well.
Still, the film tends to drag a bit when either Munn or Holbrook are the sole focus of a scene.
Black wisely keeps those slower, quieter moments to a minimum, though, and The Predator moves along at a pace that doesn’t let you dwell too long on all of the call-outs to the earlier films that are packed — and occasionally forced — into the story, relying instead on its monster and eccentric ensemble to sweep the audience along. That pace occasionally makes the film feel a little disjointed as it suddenly swings from one extreme to the other with its comedy and gory action, but the ride rarely stops being entertaining.
It’s not quite the complete package that the 1987 original was — or the well-received 2010 installment, for that matter — but The Predator does deliver on what its trailers and preview buzz promised. Easily the most intentionally funny chapter of the franchise (as opposed to the campy, unintentionally funny Alien vs. Predator crossover films), The Predator should also satisfy the series’ more hardcore fans with the way it builds on the series’ lore and puts a fresh coat of paint on classic elements.
Whether The Predator can reinvigorate interest in a franchise more than three decades old remains to be seen, but as long audiences approach it with appropriate expectations, there’s a lot of cheer-worthy action and sincere laughs to be found in Black’s installment of the saga. Sure, it has a fair share of flaws that keep it from being one of the series’ best, but The Predator certainly keeps the hunt interesting.
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