The Predator Review
There were high expectations among studio bosses at Fox when they got Shane Black on board to write and direct The Predator, hoping he could breathe new life into the long-running franchise that was starting to look a little hackneyed. After all, Black became one of the hottest writers during the nineties, penning razor-sharp scripts for a succession of smash hit buddy movies, all brimming with sardonic one-liners. His earlier directorial efforts were equally well received, notably two memorable collaborations with Robert Downey Jr.: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Iron Man 3 (2013). This time around Black is reunited with old friend and co-writer Fred Dekker. The pair previously worked their magic several decades ago on The Monster Squad (1987), an enormously fun love letter to all those classic creature features from a bygone era that was cruelly overlooked at the time, though eventually becoming a cult favourite.
The Predator begins in very familiar territory as toughened army sniper Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) is involved in a stakeout of a drugs cartel deep in the Mexican jungle, before witnessing a mysterious craft dramatically crash into the undergrowth. As bloody carnage ensues, horrified Quinn realises whatever came down is most definitely not of this Earth, managing to grab some remnants from the wreckage before making his escape. As openers go, it’s a breathlessly efficient start.
In the suburbs many miles away, Quinn’s young autistic son Rory (nicely played by Jacob Tremblay) is having a tough time at school, struggling to fit in with the other kids. Some of these early scenes with the boy are well handled, yet reminiscent of other superior movies, particularly the work of Spielberg. At home a large package arrives, sent by Rory’s father, but clearly not intended for his eyes. Unpacking the contents, the inquisitive youngster discovers a strange helmet and gauntlet. Assuming it to be a cool game, his brilliant mind rapidly manages to get the bizarre tech working. Rory’s meddling with the gadgetry unintentionally transmits a signal into deep space though. Before long a new deadlier breed of Predator is heading to Earth, determined to hunt down something of great value and settle a score.
Quinn’s jabbering to his superiors about seeing aliens finds him shackled in a military hospital bus transporting a motley band of other battle-scarred war vets. They’re all suspected of various wrongdoings and presented here as a kind of Dirty Half-dozen. Quinn rapidly becomes acquainted with boisterous joker Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Williams (Trevante Rhodes), wannabe magician Lynch (Alfie Allen), ex-Huey pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) and PTSD sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane). Naturally nobody on the bus believes Quinn’s “crazy” talk of extra-terrestrials. Not until they pass a secret research facility – obligatory in this type of film - and conveniently see something deeply unpleasant making a bid for freedom. At this point they feel duty bound to intervene and it may come as no surprise to learn that the fate of mankind will soon rest in the hands of this brigade of misfits. An overly busy narrative also includes an evolutionary biologist named Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), who gets drawn into their mission, plus nefarious government agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) who will doggedly stand in their way.
Regrettably Black’s ear for snappy dialogue completely eludes him on this occasion, with the profane banter between characters often resoundingly awful. Holbrook makes for a bland lead to boot – while many will miss the presence of Schwarzenegger, even the return of Adrien Brody would have been preferable. The supporting cast including talented Moonlight star Rhodes and Munn – playing one of the few female characters – do their best with the thin material.
Black pledged to deliver an “R” rated movie that’s a throwback to all those much-loved eighties actioners. On this level he does provide a barrage of bullets and gore, though swift editing never dwells too long on all those severed body parts and dripping entrails – ensuring a 15 rating in the UK. There are endless smug nods to earlier entries in the series too, like Jake Busey’s casting as the son of a character named Keyes, who was played by his father Gary in Predator 2. Some of Arnie’s dialogue even gets cheekily reused, including the line “get to the choppa”, along with a variation on his most iconic wisecrack during the climatic showdown. Look fast and you’ll notice that Rory attends the “Lawrence A. Gordon” middle school - named after the first film’s producer.
Initially envisaged as a reboot of the first film, The Predator became a further sequel instead, whilst attempting to expand on the mythology. Numerous ideas are presented, some of which are intriguing while others don’t work so well. I liked the notion that the species are evolving - presenting us this time with a gigantic Predator far more fearsome than before. While the Predator creature FX are uniformly excellent, the CGI utilised elsewhere is at times distinctly second-rate and cheapens the film - we could have done without the poorly realised Predator Dogs for instance. There are hints of a much better film lurking in the screenplay, but it’s wildly uneven and done no favours by post-production tinkering that leads to a disappointingly routine third act. Nonetheless it’s fast-paced and reasonably entertaining - arguably not the complete disaster that some may lead you to believe. Just lower your expectations considerably and don’t expect anything approaching the original classic.
The Predator arrives on blu-ray bearing an “18” certificate. However, the film itself is still the same “15” rated version that played in cinemas and is released on other formats. The increased rating is simply due to the inclusion of a trailer in the extras, therefore does not relate to a harder cut of the film.
The film was shot using modern Arri Alexa digital cameras, with the resultant image pin-sharp throughout and presented here in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The level of detail is impressive throughout, even in the lower-lit jungle sequences. You can really appreciate the extraordinary level of detail in the Predator creature FX and set design. Unfortunately, the exceptional clarity only accentuates some ropey CGI.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 7.1 and it sounds quite phenomenal, from the thunderous space craft to the terrifying guttural growls and clicking of the creatures. Even more subtle moments are adeptly captured, like the rustling of foliage. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout. English subtitles and English audio description are also included.
Over an hour of additional material is included, though be warned as some segments contain spoilers.
A Touch of Black (10:28): Writer and director Shane Black explains how he came to be involved in the first Predator, cast in the small but memorable role as Hawkins. He had previously written Lethal Weapon and both films were produced by Joel Silver. Various cast and crew talk about the film and there is some revealing behind the scenes footage.
Predator Evolution (20:11): The creature is discussed by various cast and crew. There is a fascinating glimpse into the workshop of Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, who created the astonishing Predator creature suit. This includes an interview with Brian Alexander Prince, the 6’10” Parkour expert who played the Predator.
Takedown Team (16:14): Interviews with many of the principal players, who discuss their roles.
Predator Catch-up (9:07): Ever wanted to see the first 3 Predator movies in under 10 minutes? Now you can, with a cool compilation of all the very best moments.
Deleted Scenes (6:55): 3 brief scenes of no great consequence and pointless outtakes of Augusto Aguilera as Nettles trying to deliver some lines.
Gallery (1:50) and Trailers (6:06)
The Predator is out now on Digital Download and on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™ and DVD 28th January, along with Predator 4-Movie Collection.