Kevin: Have you ever had to step out of the theater while watching a movie, and when you returned it felt like something important happened while you were gone? Well that’s how CJ and I felt while watching “The Predator” a few days ago, and you probably will too even if you keep your eyes glued to the screen “Clockwork Orange”-style the entire time. That feeling of disorientation is partly from obvious post-production tinkering, including a third act that was apparently heavily re-shot, and partly from the fact that writer/director Shane Black – despite his obvious film-making talents in many other areas – lets his penchant for subverting typical action tropes get the better of him here:
First let’s start with the good stuff: CJ and I both found the film entertaining in the moment, with some amusingly old-school gore and a lot of typically clever Shane Blackian jokes and character moments peppered throughout, and if a 13-year-old Kevin had rented it back in the day he would have loved it. Boyd Holbrook acquits himself well as the hero even if he isn’t totally convincing as the laconic badass he is supposed to be (although at least Hollywood has stopped casting Joel Kinnaman in this kind of role), while Olivia Munn is fine I guess, which is usually the highest praise I can think of for Olivia Munn.
Meanwhile Black comes up with a fun bizarro version of Arnold’s squad from the original “Predator” (which also featured Black as one of the doomed mercenaries) with “The Loonies,” a group of slightly disturbed former soldiers (played by Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key among others) who join up with Holbrock’s sniper character McKenna against the Predator. Actually if the movie had just focused on this group and fleshed out their characters more it could have been the classic we were hoping for from the guy who gave us “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and “The Nice Guys.”
Unfortunately the film we got is extremely disjointed, is both ambitious in the number of characters and plot threads it juggles, but also cheap in that most of it seems to take place in labs or abandoned rock quarries, and Black’s comedic sensibility really should have been reined in more. For instance, while the Loonies are the source of a lot of laughs in the film, Black leans so far into making them the butt of his jokes that when they start getting killed off it has no impact the way any of the deaths had in the original. Actually at one point two of our heroes give each other a dying thumbs up, and I’m still not sure if this was actually supposed to be a joke or not, but either way the audience we saw it with laughed since we had been conditioned not to take anything in this movie seriously.
If anything, the film made me appreciate even more the Robert Rodriguez-produced “Predators” from 2010, which while it tried to pass off Adrian Brody as a badass military vet, if nothing else it approached the Predator mythology seriously and remembered that the creature is supposed to be a scary and often unseen threat. Whereas in “The Predator” he shows up immediately and has to suffer the indignity of being referred to as an “alien Whoopi Goldberg.” Oh yeah, one of them is also here to help the humans against his alien comrades, and I won’t reveal why, mainly because you won’t believe how stupid the reason is.
But at least this does seem like Black was allowed to fulfill his vision for the film, warts and all, although not since “Suicide Squad” have I seen a film that feels so much connective tissue was left on the cutting-room floor. And I’m not even talking about major plot beats, but oftentimes a simple shot or line of dialogue that seems like it will pay off later, but then never does. Here are a few off the top of my head, but if you have seen the film and can think of others please let us know in the comments below:
– McKenna escapes an opening Predator attack and mails some of the alien technology he found to America as proof in case he needs it. Although I was already having questions about this. He needs to mail this futuristic tech back to the states, so he walks into a local bar, gives the seedy bartended a $100 bill and an address, and is then is promptly detained by government operatives. And despite not having any connection to this gringo who had just flashed his gun and bossed him around, the bartender goes ahead and mails it out and he does a real nice job packing it up too! Either way, McKenna’s autistic son later opens the package and starts messing around with some of the equipment, and while the original preview made it seem like he directly brought a Predator ship down to Earth, in the movie it is really unclear.
– At one point before an attack by “Predator dogs,” we see a regular dog walking up to this kid on a baseball field. Then during the attack that dog disappears. Then it reappears and seems to be running to escape with our heroes, but then we never see it again in the film. What the fuck was the point of that, other than that maybe Black was about to do one of his patented “you think the dog is gonna jump into the RV like in ‘Independence Day,’ but won’t it be shockingly hilarious when it gets vaporized at the last second?” things, but the studio made him cut it out.
– During an attack by a captured Predator on a research lab (why did they have fewer restraints on him than you would put on a drunken Eagles fan in the Philly stadium jail?), Olivia Munn takes off her clothes to hide in a decontamination unit. The Predator sees her but doesn’t kill her, a fact that she later mentions to McKenna in case that information proves useful. It doesn’t, that scenario never comes up again, unless it did in the original third act.
– It appears that the Predator has killed everyone in the lab, but all of a sudden we see Jake Busey (yes, Jake Busey is in this, which means he could be the son of the character his dad played in “Predator 2”) and a whole bunch of other workers still alive and just kind of acting like a rambunctious dog got loose and made a mess. Busey yells at Munn something like “Don’t let him get away,” and she runs off in hot pursuit with a tranquilizer gun. Why she is so hell-bent on chasing after this creature Ahab-style despite the fact that it has proven impervious to all other weaponry so far is a mystery, other than in real life Olivia seems to like taking down predators, at least of the “To Catch a …” variety.
– Speaking of the tranquilizer gun, you’d assume that it is going to play an important role in taking down the final Predator considering that the movie keeps showing it and the heroes take it with them everywhere they go. Nope, it is used to kill a human bad guy at the end and then discarded.
– McKenna and the rest of the Loonies escape the military base on some motorcycles that for some reason are just parked right where their bus broke down. We then cut to them chilling at a motel with a bunch of other bikers. How they rented a room with no money is unclear, but I’m guessing there was a scene of them ingratiating themselves with this biker group or something.
– McKenna’s wife is being guarded by some government types when a “Super Predator” shows up. Honestly I literally don’t remember what happened to her after that. She wasn’t killed since McKenna mentions her later on, but I can’t remember if she ever shows up again
– One of the Loonies, a Brit played by Alfie Allen from “Game of Thrones,” is introduced as an explosives expert who also has a talent for magic and sleight-of-hand. You’ll be shocked by now to discover that neither of these talents ever factor into the film.
– The heroes need to make their escape and chase after McKenna’s son, who has just been kidnapped by government operatives. Jane and Key show up in a helicopter they’ve procured off screen. How they did that is again unexplained. There is a logo on the copter of two women and text saying something like “The Traffic Girls,” so I’m guessing there was some sort of gag here that was left in the editing room.
– One of the Loonies has his arm shot off by a Predator, and then fires a flare before presumably dying (we don’t actually see that). Not sure what the point of the flare was though since his comrades could see and hear what had just happened. Also, why did he have a flare gun to begin with? I assume it was meant to signal some kind of attack, but again we missed that explanation.
– Near the end McKenna and the remaining Loonies jump on an alien spacecraft that proceeds to fly around so much that it apparently goes from what appears to be a quarry in Pennsylvania, where we started the climax, back to the jungles of Mexico. Yet while McKenna is fighting the Predator, Munn somehow was able to run several miles from wherever the fuck she was and surprise the creature from behind by using its cloaking technology (by the way, the Predator tech is more user-friendly than most Apple products, since any human who picks it up is able to figure it out within seconds).
– Sterling K. Brown’s death. I guess that was a spoiler unless you’ve seen literally any “Predator” or “Alien” movie, and thus would know his type of character always dies in these things. I won’t spoil how he dies, mainly because it is really confusing. I think Black was so concerned with making his death another funny shock moment that he didn’t bother to notice that it’s really hard to tell what has happened or even if he actually is dead. And it’s too bad because Brown deserved better, since he’s really great in this and having a lot of fun.
Either way, “The Predator” is yet another movie that spends an inordinate amount of time at the end setting up a much more interesting sequel, an act of unjustified hubris we haven’t seen since “Alien: Covenant” and “Mile 22.” At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to show up for a climactic cameo that would have lead to a bigger role in the next installment, but Arnold apparently didn’t like the script (let that sink in for a second). Instead we are left with a much less satisfying cliffhanger, so since we won’t have Dutch to protect us if this follow-up ever happens, I guess we’ll have to settle for the next-best previous Predator opponent: