Updated: Oct 14, 2020
In a nutshell: During a mission in Mexico, army sniper Quinn McKenna crosses paths with a Predator. The alien kills his team but he manages to injure it and steals some Predator armour as evidence of the encounter. A shady government agency quickly turns up at the scene to capture the Predator and interrogate McKenna.
When his son accidentally triggers another, more-enhanced Predator to come to Earth, McKenna is forced to team up with a bunch of former soldiers and a genetic scientist to save his family and prevent a bigger global threat.
If you’re familiar with our podcasts, you’ll know our love for Predator (1987). Following the release of the horrible Alien vs Predator films (2004 & 2007) and the good but not great Predators (2010), the franchise needed rejuvenation. So who better to step up to write and direct, than Shane Black? He wrote action classics Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Over the past 15 years, he’s become an acclaimed writer-director, with the brilliant neo-noir Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005), the hugely successful Iron Man 3 (2013) and little-seen gem, The Nice Guys (2016).
Black also had a personal connection to the original Predator – he played the role of Hawkins whilst acting as on set script doctor for producer Joel Silver (though he admits he did little of the latter). When the project was announced, Black promised to return Predator to its glory days, a bloody, action-filled event movie. How could it have gone so wrong?
The film has a strong opening with echoes of the original film. A Predator crash-lands on earth and encounters some American Special Ops soldiers in Central America. So far, so good. Unfortunately, Black seems to be in a rush to set up the rest of the film and move the action to a setting he’s more familiar with, suburban America. Gone are the vast jungle vistas or the sweltering claustrophobic cities from previous films. Instead, Black seems to be channelling early Spielberg films like E.T and Close Encounters, replacing any nuance and suspense, with “your mom” jokes and buckets of gore.
We’re introduced to a bunch of characters, good, bad and mad but we have little reason to root or loathe any of them. The first half does feature some decent action, in particular, there’s a great scene where a Predator angrily takes out a bunch of shady government types. Once the new upgraded Predator turns up, the film turns into a mess of ropey CGI, confusing character motivations and glaring potholes.
There’s no real sense of geography – everyone happens to be conveniently close by, no matter how far the action takes them. Weapons and vehicles magically appear for our heroes at the right moment, almost like a video game. The ending, which sets up a sequel, left me stunned, and not in a good way. It all smacks of studio interference, which seems to be the case, as it’s been largely reported the films third act was mostly reshot.
Black is renowned for his witty, often biting dialogue and dense plots. Sadly here, many of the jokes fall flat or are in poor taste. There are questionable choices regarding mental illness as well as autism. The conditions are the subject to jokes and plot machinations, rather than adding depth to the characters involved.
The cast tries their best with the material given. Boyd Holbrook who’s been reliable in Narcos and Logan doesn’t get the opportunity to be a character you actually care for. Olivia Munn holds her own as a plucky scientist, helpfully providing some background on the Predator mythology. However it’s Sterling K Brown seems to have the most fun in his villainous role, getting the lion’s share of the better dialogue.
Black goes to some lengths to honour what’s gone before. The opening credits, the use of Alan Silvestri’s theme and the practical effects on the classic Predator tick off the nostalgia boxes. There’s even some clever casting with Jake Busey, as the son of Peter Keyes (from Predator 2) played by his dad, Gary Busey. Unfortunately, nothing interesting is done with this character. A lot of focus is put on the new CG Mega Predator who lacks the weight and believability compared to the iconic Predator prosthetics. What worked in previous films – a slow reveal, moments of suspense or themes of honour, are all largely ignored.
To be fair, Black and his co-writer Fred Dekker do attempt to explore different ground with the mythology, yet it still feels like a wasted opportunity. I remember telling people, “if Shane Black can’t save Predator, who can?!”. It now makes me even more nervous about James Cameron’s new Terminator project which comes out next year. I really had high hopes for this film, so it saddens me to say that this is the biggest disappointment of the year.
Alternate Title: Predator: Suburban Commando
Fun Fact: As with every Predator sequel, Arnold Schwarzenegger was approached to star in a cameo role. He politely declined. Smart move, Arnie.