The Predator is a potentially good film hacked to pieces in editing

By Leigh Monson
   The Predator, the fourth installment in the Predator franchise, a franchise which rears its head about once a decade or so to unsuccessfully attempt to revive the greatness of the original Schwarzenegger film, had a lot of potential for greatness of its own. Fox hired Shane Black to write and direct the film, which is not only a cute nod to Black's acting role in the original film, but is exciting because Black is responsible for some of the best action comedies of the past two decades, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys, and Iron Man 3. However, upon seeing The Predator, it's fairly obvious that Fox and Black did not share the same creative vision for this film, because The Predator is so at war with its own tone and narrative that the final product is barely a film at all, let alone a satisfying Predator flick.
   The plot, for what it's worth, follows Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a military sniper who discovers a crashed alien spaceship. Before being taken in by the military for questioning, McKenna ships some of the technology he found to his home P.O. box as insurance against the government discrediting his discovery as a crazed delusion, which is ultimately what happens. Stuck with a group of mentally maladjusted soldiers – played by the likes of Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and others – McKenna soon realizes that the alien that survived the crash is going to go after the gear he shipped home, putting his ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and son (Jacob Tremblay) in danger. Along with a government scientist (Olivia Munn) they pick up along the way, and with a dangerous government agent in hot pursuit (Sterling K. Brown), McKenna and his makeshift crew of misfits escape confinement and must make their way to his son's suburban town to protect him from the Predator.
   The most frustrating thing about The Predator is that you can so easily see the good movie lingering just under the surface of what was delivered. As a commentary on the original film's conceit of ultramasculine caricatures getting mowed down in the jungle, the notion of moving the action to the suburbs with the principal cast consisting of soldiers suffering PTSD is a fresh and novel inversion that offers something new to the franchise. And Shane Black, as ever, is great at taking characters who in real life would be insufferable and making them empathetic through humor and camaraderie, which only makes the brutally gory Predator action have all the more impact when it's happening to these people we've come to like.
   Unfortunately, it seems like Black's humor was a big sticking point for Fox's producers, because for as much as the jokes are unavoidably present, the film is edited in such a way that it doesn't give you the time to relax and laugh along. This film has been hacked to pieces, flitting between scenes with an absurd quickness that not only doesn't let you settle into the laid-back groove Black clearly intended, but it also destroys any sense of narrative flow. There is connective tissue clearly missing in this film, leading to moments where characters seemingly teleport between locations or between situations without any sense of how they got there or how much time has passed. This doesn't render the film unwatchable, but it completely sucks the emotional potency from the film as it barrels through plot points as quickly as possible to get to a neutered action climax. This doesn't even allow the Predator itself to feel like a legitimate threat, because the film is so at odds with measured pacing that it doesn't allow tension to organically develop.
   The Predator is a massive misfire, but what's so infuriating is that it's very obvious that it didn't need to be. The component pieces of a fun, gory ensemble comedy are all present, and that is clearly what the writer and director's original intent was in making this film. I'm not sure I will ever understand Fox's motivation in hiring Black to make this film if that wasn't the kind of film they wanted, but this hack job they released into theaters serves neither Black's vision nor the viability of reviving the Predator franchise for future installments. What an absolute waste.

2/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.