There was no need for The Predator, a vague sequel to iconic action potboiler Predator and 1990’s dated, vulgar bloodbath, Predator 2, starring Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Harrigan, a weird old man who has no friends but does have a healthy obsession with oversized handguns and phallic metaphors that illustrate he might actually not know how penises work. As with most things in 2018, there was no need for a reboot, or sequel, or whatever, yet it exists anyway, and in the more-than-capable imagination of Shane Black, The Predator works—it works hard—to hybridize the many foundational successes of the Predator franchise. Aping the plot structure, humid aura of testosterone and ‘80s action-thriller chops of the original, as well as the meta-violent, tone deaf vulgarity of 2, The Predator is a funhouse of “fuck”-leaden witticisms and grotesque CGI bloodletting, an old-fashioned franchise staple infused with Black’s voracious knack for crafting the best the Hollywood machine has to offer.
Which also means that it’s too often barely coherent. Like in Nimród Antal’s off-world Predators, the tête-à-tête between man and alien here balloons into an ensemble action-adventure, Black relishing the chance to have a bunch of skeezy bros make fun of each other relentlessly, picking light fun at action movie tropes by treating human life like disposable flesh bags ready to hilariously erupt into rooster tail after rooster tail of bright crimson corn starch. Characters are introduced, then summarily dispatched; details about the aliens are discovered, then never used; a biologist (Olivia Munn) with a strictly academic background demonstrates skill in both heavy arms and hand-to-hand combat; Jake Busey is here playing the son of his dad’s character from Predator 2. None of it needs to make sense, but all that viscera would be so much more satisfying to see blanket the ground of our dying earth if it did.
We meet Covert American Sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) right as he’s set to blow the skull off some drug dealer’s neck, which he does, but not before the sky opens up with a UFO crash landing, ruining McKenna’s operation and liquidating his crew. As both witness to the return of yet another Predator and thief of some of the Predator’s gear from the wreckage, McKenna’s eventually apprehended by sinister government officials, led by the smirking, mint-popping, obviously psychotic Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, literally chewing the shit out of everything around him). Meanwhile, the aforementioned government officials invite the aforementioned biologist, Casey Bracket, to their secret government facility, where they’ve got the sedated Predator recovered from the crash very pathetically strapped to a table. Casey is there because she wrote a letter to the POTUS when she was 6 years old or something? It hardly matters, because the Predator breaks loose (duh), murders everybody (no, Jake Busey!) except for Casey, who learns that the Predator doesn’t kill naked humans, because she has to get naked—don’t ask—a lesson which doesn’t really hold much bearing on future events, except that maybe the Predator won’t hunt prey who are physically weak or don’t provide a suitable challenge? Regardless, blood covers every panel of this sterile futuristic lab, and Shane Black understands the horny joy of hearing an alien shank repeatedly sink into some army schmuck’s kidney.
McKenna inevitably ends up on a military bus shuttling a crew of misfits and criminals to, most likely, army jail, wherein he meets a murder’s row of PTSD-suffering dudes, each with a harrowing story of how their lives were ruined by service. Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, lightyears away from the tenderness of Moonlight) went AWOL in Afghanistan with an opium addiction; Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) lost his shit and fired on his own platoon, though is never without a searing clapback; Baxley (Thomas Jane, looking his age) suffers from a stutter brought on by time in both Afghanistan and Iraq; Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) spouts religious doomsaying due to a brain injury from his tenure as a helicopter pilot; and Lynch (Alfie Allen) has an accent: Despite the pages of banter, all pretty damn funny, they toss each other’s way, Black etches their characters with sadness, never shying from the effects America’s military presence in the Middle East has had on their frail psyches. It’s a surprisingly poignant take for such a hyper-masculine movie, leaving little doubt where Black stands regarding American military intervention—until The Predator abandons all that commentary in its final minutes and ends on a note of American exceptionalism yet again.
Once all these characters come together, the film’s manic, disjointed first act settles in for some seriously rollicking ’80s-esque hijinks, replete with brand new Predator aliens and a healthy dose of worldbuilding that touches on today’s every hot button issue, from climate change to genetic modifications to anti-ableism that’s actually probably just ableism. Black’s an exciting director and an even better writer (here joined by The Monster Squad co-writer Fred Dekker, obviously out to make a decade-specific, nostalgia-heavy flick together), but the weight of his many ideas begins to cripple his storytelling when one too many plot anomalies and characters disappear entirely from the film with no explanation or resolution. McKenna’s autistic (read: genius) son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, who only plays “special” prepubescents) becomes a key player in this global game of cat and mouse, though Black’s attempts to inject some father-son bonding time only emphasizes how much more leanly The Predator could have moved without him.
The Predator ends with obvious intentions for a sequel and a closing line that so shamelessly does not give a shit about anything you might leave the theater feeling like you just got royally trolled. Still, it’s difficult to deny that the film is a loud, bloated mess, wistful about everything in the Predator series except for the movie that began it all, John McTiernan’s bare-bones-and-sinew ode to the Platonic ideal of the male body, smeared in mud and galloping through the jungle. The Predator, instead, is an ode to the success of that first movie, to making movies simply because one can, not because one should. Here’s to hoping they make another.
Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Jacob Tremblay, Sterling K. Brown, Alfie Allen, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.