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“The Predator”: Battle of the Bass Fishermen from Beyond

The Predator!

“Rest assured I was on the Internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.”

No one in their right mind walks into a Predator flick expecting cinema genius. They’ve never known the respect that the Alien series originally garnered among sci-fi-horror fans, which may explain why viewers are swiftly enraged whenever an Alien sequel is terrible, but merely shrug and move on when another Predator drops and flops. The series to date, ranked for newcomers:

  1. The original, From The Director Of Die Hard, still my favorite Schwarzenegger movie
  2. Predators, in which renowned character actors are stalked and slaughtered for morbid fun
  3. Alien Vs. Predator, because director Paul W. S. Anderson guarantees at least one great action scene per film, which is all we got
  4. Predator 2, which defies any attempts at remembrance
  5. Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, the closest I’ve ever come in the past ten years to stopping a movie halfway through because it was That Bad

In a similar vein, fans of Shane Black films know what they’re getting — sarcastic tough dudes spouting quotable quips while firing very loud weapons at henchmen and everything around them explodes, and sometimes there’s as many as one (1) actress holding her own in their midst while rolling her eyes a lot. They’re effortless steel coaster rides, but always easy to nitpick later for hours if you dwell on them for more than three minutes. The original Lethal Weapon remains Black’s most cogent potboiler to date, but if you’ve seen such films as The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or the thoroughly idiotic yet sometimes compelling Iron Man 3, you know what I mean.

Like Reese’s with chocolate and peanut butter, someone at Twentieth Century Fox wondered what would happen if they did the same with Shane Black and The Predator. Why not throw them in the same vat and watch what happens?

Short version for the unfamiliar: What’s more threatening than another Predator coming to Earth? Two Predators coming to Earth! Chases and death ensue!

…okay, fine, there’s barely more. Our hero Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, the charismatic villain from Logan)) is a military sniper who watches a mission south of the border go off the rails when he runs afoul of one such angry space stalker. In that sense the prologue quickly pastiches the original Predator before moving on. McKenna escapes alive but gets himself locked up by an American government that doesn’t want him sharing his story with the world. Little do they know he’s laid his hands on some souvenir MacGuffins that are about to fall into the wrong hands.

By the time the Predator gets hyped up enough for a rematch, McKenna has fallen in with his own personal Suicide Squad — a lineup of ex-military inmates, each unhinged and dangerous and wacky in their own way, all prepared to back up their new friend and help save the day despite their own government’s plans. But no one’s ready when a new player enters the ring: a Mega-Predator! Eleven feet tall, pumped up on space body-mods, ready to destroy anyone in his path…and the humans aren’t his primary quarry.

In the middle of all this manly metal machismo, salvation may come from the unexpected source of all: McKenna’s li’l son Rory (Jacob Tremblay (Room), an autistic savant who may be the first character in the Predator Cinematic Universe to unlock their weird language, and thereby the key to victory. Assuming this film isn’t worse than Requiem and he doesn’t get butchered halfway through.

Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) is the American government’s premier space-alien-ologist on call, who can analyze creature blood almost as well as she can wield weapons and tumble into high-octane action scenes because apparently she double-majored at Strong Female Character University. Separated from her any number of Bechdel levels is Yvonne Strahovski (TV’s Chuck), wasted as McKenna’s Concerned Ex-Wife and Rory’s Concerned Mom.

McKenna’s wrong-place/wrong-time Bro Brigade includes Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) as Martin Riggs by way of 50 Cent; Keegan-Michael Key (Donna’s husband Joe from Parks & Rec) as the goofiest one; Thomas Jane (The Punisher, Deep Blue Sea) as the one who curses most because he has Tourette’s; Augusto Aguilera (ABC Family’s Chasing Life, I guess?) as the Hispanic one; and Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick) as a spare white guy.

All that is immoral and reckless within the U.S. military is embodied in Sterling K. Brown, miles away from NBC’s This Is Us and relishing every chance to strut, lecture, threaten, and torture anyone who stands between him and Predator murder-tech. In a small role as a walking Easter egg, one of Brown’s scientists is Jake Busey, aptly the son of his dad Gary’s character from Predator 2, whoever he was. (Honestly, I know I’ve see it twice, but I remember nothing about it except Danny Glover’s pained expression at the end.)

Frittered away in split-second roles, all deserving better, are longtime character actor Garry Chalk as a mailman, Patrick Sabongui (Barry Allen’s boss from The Flash) as a henchman, and Peter Shinkoda (Daredevil, Falling Skies) as a nice guy in the epilogue.

Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Morals of the story include but aren’t limited to:

  1. Autistic kids have their talents no matter where they are on the spectrum
  2. Non-custodial parents who keep in touch with their kids are cool, especially when they save their lives
  3. Teamwork is super awesome
  4. Not all soldiers broken while serving their country deserve to be forgotten
  5. Heavy-duty genetic modification is wrongful tampering in God’s domain, even for aliens
  6. If you have a PO Box, always keep it paid current or else risk having your mail forwarded to the worst possible places
  7. Climate Change Is Bad (a nearly throwaway plot point)
  8. In nature a true “predator” kills its prey purely because that’s how they survive; killing for sport isn’t in their nature

(Seriously, two scenes cover that long-standing discrepancy. As Dr. Olivia Munn puts it, the big-game-hunter behavior in all their previous films “is more like a bass fisherman.”)

The Predator Guys!

Five of the Six Stooges.

Nitpicking? If I ever see The Predator a second time, I expect I’ll be able to add another thousand words to this section. Based on a single showing, maybe I’ll keep this section short, but may fail.

Key developments in the third act hinge on Dr. Munn’s theory that autism isn’t a disorder but in fact nature’s way of upgrading humanity to its next stage in evolution, which in her reasoning is why some prodigies on the spectrum have talents that amaze and bewilder beyond comprehension. In other words, they’re mutants like the X-Men but with less fancy superpowers. I remain skeptical about how well this will fly with anyone who’s dealt with autism, first- or secondhand. As it’s played out, Rory’s talents border on magic and make him more of a popcorn-flick trope than an inspiring role model.

Even less inspirational: Thomas Jane playing Tourette’s for comic relief, as if it’s an Andrew “Dice” Clay shtick and not an actual disorder. Of all Black’s throwbacks to ’80s cinema in general, this element is among many that don’t transition well to the 21st century. Like, at all. Jane’s punchlines are among many that don’t land, but his are by far the worst. Uncharacteristically for him, Key’s junior-high joke-book prattling runs a close second. Running a firm third place: a terrible, subverted callback to one of Schwarzenegger’s own classic moments. That scene should’ve ended with the character being shot on principle.

Also not among the film’s strengths: geography. The players begin in a few different states, but eventually unite in a matter of hours that are only seconds long, possibly with the aid of a very special lightspeed bus. They drive from one location to the next in search of what they think are the MacGuffin, but have to keep changing course as the crew shout new directions to them from their amended script pages. This confusion in edits and reshoots culminates in a final battle among the surviving cast thhat appears to take place either in the mountains of Texas or the lush jungles of Tennessee. Things get even screwier when one character abandoned miles away somehow teleports to that scene and leaps into the fray, by which time the past fifteen minutes’ worth of nighttime has given way to a bright, fifteen-second sunrise.

One of the dueling Predators is revealed to have a vague moral compass on at least one topic that some humans can get on board with, but it’s absolutely undercut by the same Predator’s other acts of carnage and mayhem that don’t exactly scream “savior”. Even when they’re betraying their own for some greater good, they can’t resist a good ol’ malevolent bloodletting…which comes off far more enthusiastically gushing at times than in their past exploits.

Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (their last feature film together was The Monster Squad) attempt a few modest additions to what paltry Predator lore has accumulated to date, which is a cool idea, but it also includes Predator hunting dogs, on the assumption that hunters from other worlds would share all the techniques and quirks of human hunters light-years away. In design they’re not far removed from the beasts of Zuul, but (mild spoiler ahead) in a sprightly turn of events, one of them turns into a crowd-pleasing h*cking good doggo ready-made for plush toys and frolicking with the stars of any sequels. At first it was amusing but now I’m just…ugh.

…honestly, this is exactly what happened with me and Iron Man 3. I loved it when I exited the theater, but the more I contemplate it, and the more I type about it, the more it’s aggravating me. And that’s before mentioning the whole “sexual predator in The Predator” debacle.

So what’s to like? Our nearest AMC Theatre recently upconverted one screen to an official “Dolby Theater at AMC” (spelling variation theirs), with promises of a larger screen, deeper picture clarity, blacker blacks, and a colossal sound system that feels like it’s made of jet engines and can be cranked up to 25 and beyond. The seats tremble as the mighty subwoofers roar, and after a while the fusillade of constant gunfire can begin to hurt your ears exactly like real gunshots would. For sound-effects junkies like me, it’s everything we could hope for and more…as long as it’s working. In a bit of irony, the projectionist failed to turn the sound on through the first 2½ trailers, thus failing to show off their new toys while turning the latest trailer for the new Halloween into a silent German art-house experiment.

Once the sound finally kicked in, it was intoxicating. And The Predator was the perfect kind of movie for an ear-splitting road test. So much macho action, so many explosions and bullets and flying shell casings and revving engines, not to mention the Predator/Air Force aerial dogfight or the down-to-Earth space-dog-fight, or the space-testosterone throw-down of Predator vs. Ultra-Predator promised in the trailers, and so on. The Predator demands the biggest, loudest amplifications possible, all the better to mesmerize its manly-guy target demographic and drown out its flaws.

When I first described the experience to my wife an hour after it was over, I was still coming down from that supersonic high and praising it in full “guilty pleasure” mode, noting its accurate alignment with the Shane Black oeuvre, in which storytelling imperfections are part of the game. I still can’t fault it for its exploding, punching, engine-gunning bluster, but now I wish I could’ve turned much of the rest of it down to about volume 2.

Until and unless I run across a cable-TV showing sometime and start having more issues with it, for now I’d rank this third on the Predator list, slightly ahead of AvP, but that’s not a hard feat.

How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after The Predator end credits, but two different listings confirm that, two profanities withstanding, Jacob Tremblay’s schooling continued during shooting, as befitting any aspiring thespian hoping to avoid the fates of too many past child stars.

For anyone interested in post-viewing additional reading, Screen Rant has a handy, all-spoilers rundown on probable deleted scenes (including the complete excision of Edward James Olmos and other creatures), rewrites, refittings, and other happenings throughout the course of filming, including a rumored total do-over of Act Three from the top down and some raised eyebrows at the game-changing epilogue that implies someone at Fox has been watching too many Marvel movies.

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