Shane Black -- the predator

The Predator Review: Neither a Shane Black Film nor a Predator Film

What the hell happened?

When news of a new Predator movie first broke, I wasn’t at all interested — was anybody? As far as I was concerned, this franchise had slowly begun its decline into first, relative mediocrity in 1990 with Predator 2 and then, absolute obscurity in 2004 with Alien vs. Predator. But later it was announced that Shane Black would be at the helm and just like that The Predator became one of the most exciting projects of 2018. After all, this is the man who wrote Lethal Weapon, the very same man who penned and helmed bold and brilliant films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3.

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With Iron Man 3Black proved that he has the ability to take an existing property with a pre-established tone, that is part of a giant universe with a pre-established inflexion, and infuse his auteurist sensibilities and sense of style, while still playing within the sandbox. Iron Man 3, my favourite of Black’s films (unpopular opinion, I know) is one of the few movies under the Marvel Cinematic Universe banner that feels like it’s crafted by an artist with a strong voice and a distinct vision — the others being Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy series, Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, the latter two of the Captain America movies by the Russo brothers and of course, Coogler’s Black Panther. Ideally, The Predator, just like Iron Man 3, would turn out to be a beautiful amalgamation of Shane Black’s wit (often polarizing, always genius) and the edge-of-your-seat type thrills the original Predator provided.

I was also open to a complete reinvention. An out of the box, balls to the wall Shane Black comedy-action, with loads of crass language, tits, hookers, cocaine (preferably cocaine ON hookers’ tits) and multifaceted characters with large personalities and loads of baggage in and around blood, violence and iconic alien specimens. Fans of the franchise (which I am not) would probably call this bastardization more than reinvention. But my point is, after five movies that range from stale to outright goat testicles, a shakeup is exactly what this franchise needed (I would’ve preferred irreversible death, but let’s not fool ourselves, it’s 2018 and Hollywood is all about unoriginality) and Shane Black seemed like the most out-of-the-box person for the job. The Predator should’ve been refreshing and unique. But instead, what we got was neither a Shane Black film nor a Predator film. A neither here nor there, watered down, semi-entertaining cash grab.

The Predator in his ship

The Predator‘s story is an incohesive one. An 11-year-old autistic boy (Jacob Tremblay) stumbles upon alien relic and accidentally summons a bunch of Predators and then shit happens. It isn’t the basic premise that is the issue here. We’ve seen uncountable exciting films with the simplest of premises. The issue is that the film is completely void of characters or plotting. There are many famous faces, all of whom are talented performers, from the underrated Olivia Munn to the highly acclaimed child actor, Jacob Tremblay to Boyd Holbrook to Sterling K. Brown, Keegan Michael Key and a few others. But none are given meaningful material to work with. Each of them has a quirk and their characters are nothing more than that quirk. This is especially true for Boyd Holbrook, Keegan Michael Key and their goon squad, all of whom are varying degrees of crazy. Sometimes they put out their cigarettes on their tongue.

These non-characters only speak in quips and one-liners. That at least some of these lines are laugh out loud hilarious, is a given. That almost none of the humour is situational or character driven is surprising considering its writer, who prior to this never missed a beat. There are no stakes and besides that one sequence very early on in the film involving Olivia Munn and a decontamination chamber, there are no thrills either. When characters die, I didn’t care, because the characters themselves don’t seem to care.

The Predator

It’s weird how nonchalant and cool the characters are is in supposedly dire circumstances. A Predator approaches, they quip. A Predator brutally (the brutality of the killings, drenched in blood and guts, is one of the positive takeaways from the film) kills someone, they scream. But two seconds later, they quip. Even a completely bonkers film like Deadpool 2 knows when to cut back on the humour and allow room for the screenplay to breathe and emotions to brew — something Black himself usually does very well. We don’t learn why the Predators, super Predator (yeap) and Predator-dogs (you wish I’m kidding. I do too) are terrorizing the city until very late in the narrative. The reveal, just like the rest of the film, doesn’t pack a punch.

I’ve read reviews saying that this would’ve been a good movie if it wasn’t titled The PREDATOR. I disagree. The problem with the film isn’t that it’s vastly different from what a Predator film is supposed to be. It has got nothing to do with the tone or the decision to be more a comedy than an action-thriller. Not to this non-fan at least. The problem is that the film is an incohesive and at times incoherent mess; Is that the characters are all one-liner spewing cartoons; Is that the action, while sometimes fun to watch, isn’t riveting. I don’t hate the film — I find it to be a perfectly fine no-brainer popcorn flick. I hate the fact that this is a Shane Black film.

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