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THE PREDATOR (15)
Director: Shane Black
Review: RJ Bland
Although remakes and reboots and reimaginings (whatever the heck they are) are commonplace within the industry right now, there are three franchises in particular that audiences always seem to clamour for. These are Terminator, Alien and Predator.The last two have joined forces for a couple of rather unsuccessful outings and whilst the Alien franchise trundles on, Terminator is set for ANOTHER reboot. The Predator franchise however has been less tumultuous. Predator and Predator 2 may have filled multiplexes in the late 80's/early 90's, but we had to wait until 2010 until we got another Predator movie – namely Nimrod Antal's Predators. It was actually a solid (and rather bloodthirsty!) movie that was generally well received without coming close to meeting the dizzy heights of the 87' original. However last year it was announced that Shane Black and Fred Dekker (a couple of dudes best known for writing 80's action flicks) were going to be in charge of the latest addition – simply titled The Predator. Black was actually in the original movie himself so it all felt like a pretty good fit. SO we tuned in to see if it was a roaring success, or if it should have never landed on our planet in the first place.
After sniper Quinn McKenna watches his squad fall prey to a Predator that has just crash landed in the Mexican Jungle, he is detained by the military for questioning – but not before he has posted some of the alien hardware back home. Whilst the army decide what to do with him they fly over evolutionary biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) to take a look at the captured predator that's being kept in an underground lab. Suffice to say, you need to be extra careful when sorting out the restraints on a 7ft killing machine from out of space. Because if you don't, then he's liable to escape – which is exactly what happens. McKenna sees the drama unfold from the relative safety of a bus that he's sharing with a bunch of other military misfits. None of them believe his stories of aliens and spaceships but they soon shut up when they see him leaping from building to building. McKenna and his band of loonies soon join forces with the feisty biologist in pursuit of the escaped Predator – but with the military on their ass as well, their difficult mission to nullify the murderous space villain before he gets back to McKenna's home town to retrieve his gear is made even more unlikely.
There's a lot of blood shed in The Predator. A lot. And we get to see a lot of the eponymous alien too. The action is pretty relentless, almost as if Shane Black realises that after an eight year wait, audiences mainly just want to see things being blown up and heads being pulverised. Whilst all of that happens in abundance, it's regrettably the worst Predator movie to date (excluding the AVP movies of course) – but why?
There are a number of reasons why The Predator fails to live up to expectations. Director Shane Black is best known for a handful of fast-paced, pithy action movies from the 80's - Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and most recently, The Nice Guys. He's movies are never dull, always busy and full of one-liners. They never take themselves too seriously. However that's kind of where things fall down in The Predator – it doesn't take itself seriously enough. Predator movies always find room for the odd quip and moment of black comedy, but the sheer volume of jokes and japery that Black and Dekker (ha, how have we just noticed that!?) ram into the screenplay here only serve to undermine the fact that this is supposed to be a sci-fi horror franchise, not an action comedy. Beside the occasional belter from Arnie, Predator (1987) was a thoroughly tense and gruelling experience and although replicating that is always going to be nigh-on-impossible, the tone and atmosphere probably should be respected. The smart-talking works on occasion but for the most part, it feels more like an A-Team spin-off than a Predator movie.
The Predator is a film that has also been through some turmoil during production with entire scenes being removed (and even complete characters). Most of the third act was re-shot as well if rumours are to be believed. The result of this – and an inconsistent screenplay – is a rather choppy and uneven film where the story and the characters fail to gel. There's a real lack of coherence at times and although the film generally holds your attention and there are always things going on, things generally fail to click and connect.
From a casting point of view we have a pretty decent assembly of talent on display. Boyd Holbrook's star is certainly rising and he puts in a solid performance as the leading man, whilst Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Yvonne Strahovsky and Jacob Tremblay all provide ample back-up. To be fair, they all do their best but suffer because the characters all feel quite muddled and underdeveloped. Biologist Casey Brackett (Munn) seems to be a bit of a mystery. We're never really able to get a grip on her character as she leaps from the role of expeditionary scientist to kick-ass Lara Croft type. McKenna's (Holbrook) family situation is also rather baffling as is his relationship with his wife and kid - and then there are characters (cough* Alfie Allen) who really don't seem to serve any actual purpose. It's all a bit of a mess. In an effort to paper over the thin characters, Black and Dekker attempt to expand the mythology of the franchise by opening it up to alien dogs and genetic tampering and giant predators and intergalactic cops and robbers. I get why they feel the need to offer up something a little new but I think that most of the audience just want to see a bunch of people taking on an (almost) invincible alien. It's a bit reductive but we don't need to be bogged down with plot!
Of course this all sounds as though the film is trash but that isn't the case. There is fun to be had here. The action scenes are plentiful and fans will lap that stuff up. It's a good looking film too and the Predators are beautifully visualised on screen. The nods to the original movies are also welcome (Get to the choppers! - and Jake Busey's incision were particular highlights). However its flaws are amplified because of the quality of its predecessors and the added expectations that come with Black's involvement in particular make it all the more disappointing. The ending doesn't want us leaving more either - and that's probably the biggest crime of all. It left me NOT wanting to see a direct follow-up. And that's a slap in the face.
The Predator may be blood-soaked and action packed but an uneven script, weak characters and jarring comical tone make for a frustrating movie-going experience.
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