Bigger, Not Better: A Predator's Tale | Episode 102.5

Posted September 14, 2018

I remember a time, not so long ago, when we were all united. The inferno-orange poster for The Predator was revealed. No one yet knew that Shane Black had hired a sex offender for a brief role in his new film. The world simply saw a film starring Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, and Keegan Michael Key, with Shane Black at the helm. Seemingly everyone agreed Black’s specific directorial voice would be perfect for this franchise’s second reboot inside a decade. Was the prodigal prince of pre-franchise, gory, cheeky, schlock not fulfilling his destiny here?

Now, I hate to get all ontological with this, but let’s consider the actual Predator for a moment: that intergalactic sportsman with his bouncing locks and crustacean mouth. Was he a star worth returning to a sixth time? Five movies had featured Mr. Predator — Predator, Predator 2, Alien Vs. Predator, AVP: Requiem, and Predators. Four of those movies are bad. One is arguably quite good, and upon rewatch of the oiled up 1987 original, it’s debatable whether it’s iconic because of the Predator, whose lasers look more like CGI roman candles by the year. No, the original Predator is a movie that sneaks up you, regardless of its monster, like a green beret with a knife between his teeth and knocks you out with the technical craft of a prime John McTiernan, the density of the real jungle, the sparse and unhurried dread of the script, and what amounts to a technical exercise in Arnold silently besting a baddie his own size.

So wait. Is that a recipe for a Shane Black takeover, or exactly the opposite? Yes, Black played Hawkins, the bespectacled, dirty-joke slinging, neurotic one in the original movie (he's also the only one under 200 pounds), but the film itself maintains none of the writer’s essential qualities. For one, Predator was never an intellectual endeavor at all. It remains a bizarrely erotic movie about beefcakes acting in ways that flatter their physiques and then getting those same physiques torn to bits by Sir Predator’s knives and sickles and stuff.

Let’s delay no further then: 2018 Shane Black is actually a terrible fit for a movie that’s trump card (revealed in the trailer) is an even bigger Predator than your standard, shrimpy 7-foot-tall Predator. Yes, The Predator is one of the mouthier big budget films I’ve seen in some time. Black succeeds in that sense, and there are a handful of serviceable quips and sight gags — Sterling K. Brown popping nicorette gum like Skittles the first moment we see him comes to mind.

The Predator is also one of the messiest blockbuster films in recent times. Even less so than grim DC nonsense, this movie doesn’t appear to be striving for visual, spatial, narrative, faux-mythological or basic human coherence. Like a lot of lazier Shane Black, it’s just gunning for a feeling, a certain velocity of action and dialogue that both adores its violence and immediately shrugs off the implications of said violence.

But there are more basic problems. The Predator fumbles all of the technique of the McTiernan original — and what more do you really need for a movie that’s just a hunt that turns into a last stand? Then, ask anyone who’s seen this movie where it’s set. Hmm. Let’s try and name the settings in order. Jungle. Lab. Parking lot. School. Basement. Lab. Suburb. School. Baseball field. Basement. Forest. ONE MORE LAB.

It’s an unmemorable blur of nondescript places that makes the original Predator’s use of Central American rainforest look like Lost City of Z. In Black’s film, characters simply hurtle into the next scene for another round of some of the least specific, least compelling hyper violence I can recall. I may not have realized it up front, but a movie in which people’s intestines are shredded as a matter of course is more callously disturbing than one fixated on actual body horror. All the slicing and dicing done by the Predator here recalls grotesque but disinterested video game carnage.

And for having such a deep, enthusiastic bench, the cast comes off as a blunt object, like an even dumber version of the Aliens space marines. (Sadly, there is no Ripley among them.) Boyd Holbrook is fine at being a troubled sniper with an autistic son, the way you’d expect Garrett Hedlund Lite to be. Olivia Munn is panicked and unconvincing and has clearly memorized technobabble via phonetics, the way Wahlberg memorized romantic poetry for The Gambler. Keegan Michael Key is over-enthusiastic and ungrounded, the way he always is with lacking material. Trevante Rhodes is pretty good as, wait for it, Nebraska Williams!, and never should have covered up his incredible grin in Moonlight. Sterling K. Brown, bless his heart, seems to understand just how steroidal and toxic this whole endeavor is and savors the opportunity to be the kind of asshole who gleefully tells a little boy he’s going to kill that boy’s dad.

This is a loss for pretty much everyone involved, but it needn’t be for us, the audience. We can learn not to be duped again: neither by the Predator nor Shane Black. It’s entirely possible the 56-year-old director makes another very good movie in his career. (Some people think he did with The Nice Guys; I don’t quite agree.) As we saw with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Black needs real inspiration in order to focus his supreme skill with dialogue.

It’s the idea of Shane Black that seems to have run out of real room to operate in 2018. That timbre of shit talk, self-awareness and action-comedy chaos lacks a meaningful way to self-actualize in the world of franchise propagation, where those qualities no longer feel novel but rather requirements for movies like The Predator. They must constantly draw attention to their meaningless existence without changing much about that existence.

What we want for in 2018 is actual creativity, not attitude. So what if Iron Man 3 is the best Iron Man movie; it’s still the third Iron Man movie. So what if you can assemble a wonderful crop of B and C listers to really light up the sixth movie about the Predator. You can’t hide that what you’re doing has worked 1 out of 5 times and that the Predator doesn't believe in change. Make it 1 out of 6.


All The Movies We've Reviewed

101 Dalmatians
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Things I Hate About You
127 Hours
22 Jump Street
47 Meters Down
Across The Universe
A Dangerous Method
A Few Good Men
Air Force One
A League of Their Own
Alien 3
Alien: Covenant
Alien: Resurrection
American Animals
American Hustle
American Made
American Psycho
American Splendor
A Simple Plan
A Single Man
A Star Is Born
Atomic Blonde
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Baby Driver
Baby Mama
Bad Company
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Moms
Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Beasts of No Nation
Beauty And The Beast
Before Sunrise
Behind Enemy Lines
Black Hawk Down
Black Mass
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bleed For This
Body Heat
Boogie Nights
Bridge of Spies
Bull Durham
Call Me By Your Name
Captain Fantastic
Catch Me If You Can
Chariots Of Fire
Chasing Amy
Child's Play
Christmas Vacation
Cinderella Man
Con Air
Cool Runnings
Crazy Rich Asians
Crimson Tide
Danny Collins
Dante's Peak
Dead Poets Society
Deep Blue Sea
Deep Impact
Deja Vu
Demolition Man
Dirty Dancing
Donnie Brasco
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
Dude, Where's My Car?
Easy A
Eddie The Eagle
Ed Wood
Employee of the Month
Erin Brockovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
Everybody Wants Some!!
Executive Decision
Ex Machina
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Fatal Attraction
Field Of Dreams
Finding Forrester
For Love Of The Game
Friday Night Lights
Game Night
Gangs of New York
Garden State
Gone Girl
Gone In Sixty Seconds
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hail, Caesar!
Half Baked
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Head of State
He Got Game
Hocus Pocus
Hollywood Ending
Hot Tub Time Machine
How High
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ingrid Goes West
Inherent Vice
Inside Man
Inside Out
In The Land Of Women
In The Line of Fire
Into The Wild
I, Tonya
Jaws: The Revenge
John Wick
Jurassic Park III
Jurassic World
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
King Cobra
Kingdom Of Heaven
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lady Bird
La La Land
Leave No Trace
Less Than Zero
Lethal Weapon
Little Miss Sunshine
Love & Mercy
Love, Simon
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mamma Mia
Matchstick Men
Midnight Special
Million Dollar Arm
Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mo' Better Blues
Mom and Dad
Money For Nothing
Moonrise Kingdom
Mr. Mom
Murder at 1600
My Cousin Vinny
National Lampoon's Vacation
Never Say Never
Ocean's Twelve
Old School
One Hour Photo
Open Water
Orange County
Out of Africa
Part of Me
Peter's Friends
Phantom Thread
Picture Perfect
Practical Magic
Public Enemies
Purple Rain
Raising Arizona
Red Dragon
Red Eye
Red Sparrow
Remember The Titans
Reversal Of Fortune
Rock Of Ages
Run All Night
Save The Last Dance
School Ties
Scream 2
Simply Complicated
Sleepaway Camp
Small Soldiers
Snakes On A Plane
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Southside With You
Space Jam
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
State and Main
Step Up
Steve Jobs
Sweet Home Alabama
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Addams Family
The Big Chill
The Big Sick
The Bling Ring
The Brady Bunch Movie
The Campaign
The Cell
The Cloverfield Paradox
The Color of Money
The Disaster Artist
The End of the Tour
The Family Man
The Fast and The Furious
The Fighter
The Flintstones
The Fly
The Fog
The Fugitive
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Hateful Eight
The Hate U Give
The Holiday
The Hours
The Hunt For Red October
The Illusionist
The Indian In The Cupboard
The Insider
The Judge
The Jungle Book
The Last of the Mohicans
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The Martian
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Meg
The Mexican
The Mighty Ducks
The Mission
The Mosquito Coast
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Natural
The Negotiator
The Nice Guys
The Night Before
The Pagemaster
The Perfect Storm
The Poseidon Adventure
The Prestige
The Queen
The Recruit
The Revenant
The River Wild
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Rules of Attraction
The Shadow
The Shallows
The Sixth Sense
The Social Network
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
The Thing
The Truman Show
The Watch
The Witches of Eastwick
This Is Where I Leave You
¬°Three Amigos!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Tropic Thunder
Van Wilder
Varsity Blues
V For Vendetta
Welcome To Me
While You Were Sleeping
White House Down
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Wild Things
Wild Wild West
Win It All
Without A Paddle
Wyatt Earp
Young Adult
Zack and Miri Make a Porno