What does a “Predator” movie look like when the Predator is all too often irrelevant to the proceedings? Well, you can see for yourself on Friday with the release of the Shane Black directed “The Predator.” To be sure, that isn’t the only problem with the film, but it is certainly somewhere in the group.
With script from Fred Dekker and Black, this is the fourth entry in the franchise (if you exclude the two “Alien vs. Predator” movies) and it’s, by far the most lackluster. The action may be enjoyable, but whenever the fighting stops the audience is left with a whole lot of generic, unlikable characters. There are certainly a few interesting ones sprinkled in amongst them, but too often that smaller group is shunted off to the side in favor of the larger group and their stories which are never developed.
Front and center in the group of unlikeables is Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). A sniper, McKenna finds himself on the run after meeting a Predator while on a mission and opting to steal some of the Predator’s tech, specifically a helmet and gauntlet that he mails back to his P.O. Box. Not having paid for the P.O. Box, the Predator’s equipment gets forwarded to McKenna’s ex-wife, Emily (Yvonne Strahovski); and son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay).
Rather than saying that this is a flaw in the plot, we will say that it is proof that McKenna is an inconsiderate, heartless, amoral, fool. “The Predator” does a lot to show us that McKenna cares for his son when he is around, but quite clearly his actions here depict someone who is unable to actually fathom the consequences.
McKenna is the blandest of the bland “good” guys. While the film has an opening to make him interesting, following up on McKenna putting his son in harm’s way, it doesn’t go down that road. Instead, this horrific action is completely overlooked with little to no consideration.
That lack of consideration is a hallmark of the movie.
Olivia Munn is the female lead, playing Dr. Casey Brackett. She is called in to a super secret military operation, known as Stargazer and led by a man named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), to take a peak at the Predator McKenna found. Brackett is then quite quickly hunted by members of Stargazer. This has something to do with her taking a vial of liquid from the installation when the Predator wakes up and starts killing everyone, but as presented it’s just as likely that she’s trying to preserve the sample as steal it. Still, Traeger and his group decide she has to die and she finds herself saddled with accompanying McKenna and his newfound group of PTSD-suffering military friends around the area.
With luck, you’re not yet confused. If you are, however, unsure, how these things all connect, it’s probably just better to go with the flow. There is little reason for the Starzgazer folks to be baddies, after all everyone just wants to understand the Predator species and stop them from ending humanity, but they are most definitely the main villain. It feels like far more time in “The Predator” is spent with Stargazer fighting Brackett, McKenna, and PTSD sufferers—known as the “Loonies”—than fighting the evil aliens out to kill off humanity.
Then there is the problem of the Loonies. This is a group of military people (played by Travente Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, and Alfie Allen) who are clearly suffering from their experiences in war, and the results of that suffering are mainly played for laughs. There are moments when things with the group do become serious, like when one of their number, Williams (Rhodes), explains how he tried to commit suicide, but that only makes the “funny” bits more offensive.
Watching “The Predator” one can’t help but feel that the movie is a series of missed opportunities. There is a fascinating tale here about the way Predators evolve. It is mentioned but not deeply explored. There is a story about Predator in-fighting. It is not examined. There has to be a reason why the Stargazer people are evil. There is no tale offered. The Loonies could be deeply affecting characters. They are, but only when the movie opts to use them that way, which makes their comic relief moments all the more heinous. Brackett is a fascinating character and beautifully portrayed by Munn. She is, however, regularly shunted to the side for some bit of irrelevance.
Although the predator vs. human conflict is fun to watch unfold, it is by no means the main thrust of the story. One walks out of “The Predator” feeling as though there is no particular necessity for this movie to exist within the franchise and that it may have been stronger if a different alien were used instead.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox