'The Predator' Has Plenty of Dude-Heavy Action but Lacks Self-Awareness Directed by Shane Black
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn
Published Sep 11, 2018At this point, it's going to be hard to talk about Shane Black's The Predator reboot without taking into consideration the recent scandal over Black's decision to cast a friend, a registered sex offender, in a scene with actress Olivia Munn, and Fox subsequently pulling the scene from the final film after Munn brought this fact to light.
Even if one were to go into the theatre without any knowledge of the situation, The Predator still feels like a bro-heavy anachronism, a throwback to a time when "yo momma" jokes were fresh and funny, and no one would call out a lack of female character development. And even casting this aside, The Predator is still lacking when it comes to straightforward thrills, suffering from iffy CGI, murky fight scenes and a banal plot.
After a mission in Mexico goes awry thanks to a deadly spaceship attack, ace sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) manages to snag a Predator's helmet and gauntlet, covertly shipping them home to his on-the-spectrum son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Meanwhile, biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is called in to military headquarters to investigate a captured Predator that apparently has bits of human DNA. After McKenna is shipped away to a group home for soldiers with PTSD in an attempt to silence him, McKenna, Dr. Bracket, and a rag-tag team of misfit soldiers that includes Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen and Thomas Jane, must band together to stop a renegade Predator from wreaking havoc on the city.
If there's one thing that The Predator does well, it's pacing. The plot navigates chunks of exposition alongside action sequences with ease, without bogging the narrative down with excessive details. It's brisk and no-nonsense, and its 104-minute runtime rarely drags. Overall fight choreography, especially from the primary antagonist Predator, are fluid and appropriately gory, eliciting several groans and cheers from the audience.
However, toward the end of the film, The Predator falls prey to a common flaw in many of today's big-budget action movies — the over-reliance on CGI, especially in darkly-lit fight sequences. Choppy editing and camerawork result in a finale that isn't as engaging or fun to watch as previous ones are, simply because it's difficult to get a sense of what's going on.
While Holbrook's performance as hero tough guy McKenna is serviceable, Rhodes, Key and Jane have great comedic chemistry (even though it's unfortunate that they mostly spout the kinds of gross-out jokes Black's characters are known for), injecting brevity and lightness into a movie that's deadly serious. It's odd to see such an earnest action film in 2018, one that plays out with zero self-awareness or irony despite its reliance on well-worn, overly simplistic tropes — like casting Tremblay as "the autistic child genius," and setting up its female characters with interesting backstories only to push them to the fringes of the film by the climax.
Munn and Yvonne Strahovski as Rory's mom Emily are the only two female characters in this film with any lines, and receive the "strong female character lip-service" treatment: they are capable and coherent, certainly, but that's about all. Munn's character arc pales in comparison to the rest of the cast, and Strahovski barely receives any screen time at all.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a mostly-male cast, nor with an action film that's content to be big, fun, and dumb. But one with such overt machismo and dudely posturing without a hint of self-awareness feels like a relic from in age in which filmmakers were content to stick a well-worn, but flawed, mould.