Review by C.J. Bunce
Shane Black has finally delivered what fans of the Predator alien have been after since they first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger take the creature on in the original 1987 film that featured Black in an acting role as one of the marines. The movie The Predator, in theaters now, delivers exactly as promised. More Predators. Bigger and badder alien fight scenes. Great new sci-fi special effects tech. A wall-to-wall movie of rude jokes and one-liners. A squad of maladjusted, badass misfits in the realm of The Dirty Dozen (if every character was played as Telly Savalas’s character), only this time the squad isn’t recruited for a suicide mission to fight the bad guys. The surprise comes with an actual, serviceable plot that knocks the predecessor sequels out of the ranking (some elements… gasp… it even handles better than the original).
For diehard fans of the franchise who read the prequel novel (a great read we reviewed here earlier at borg) the movie lives up to the introduction provided in the book, which gave plenty of backstory for Sterling K. Brown’s pseudo-military leader Will Traeger–one of the movie’s key villains. Screenplay writers Shane Black and Fred Dekker include an ambitious, layered story with interesting subplots. One thread follows a boy played by played by Jacob Tremblay, the autistic son of star Boyd Holbrook’s tough Captain McKenna. The kid begins to play with what can only be described as “really cool alien tech” his dad sends him in the mail. Olivia Munn gets to play her most badass character yet, a biologist called in to work with the research group that has caught a Predator, being studied in a lab led by Jake Busey, who plays the son of the character his father Gary Busey played in Predator 2–Jake Busey offers a solid performance as a low-key scientist that could make it back for a future sequel. Another subplot follows the alien hunters as they each search for some secret objects. The ensemble ad hoc military unit that takes on the Predator includes a diverse team of actors pulling together a chaotic brand of chemistry: Trevante Rhoades, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, and Keegan-Michael Key. Another subplot sets up the next film nicely, a new phase for Predators this film only touches on.
The reason we see more than one kind of Predator is explained in the film, but each has incredible updated props and costumes, and the plot makes great use of both. It’s all loyal to the original. The best part of the 1987 film was the absence of the alien throughout the film, appearing sporadically, menacingly, like the shark in Jaws. We don’t see much more of the alien in this movie, but we get to see what he looks like head to toe in the lab, we get to see how his arm gauntlet and helmet work, and plenty of action scenes as in the original. One character even gets into the head of a Predator (sort of) to understand its technology and motivations.
Sure, we get the obligatory scenes of the Predator hunting humans in the forest at night, but that’s only a small part of the movie (and what is there is all good stuff, with two kinds of Predator slashing up humans just like you’d expect for your R-rating dollars). And yes, the film could have gone through a post-production shore-up to cut some unnecessary elements, language, and explain a few details that get skipped over. It fails when it could have easily added a few more women actors to the cast–Yvonne Strahovski has a few scenes as McKenna’s ex-wife, but she is seriously underutilized. It also could have had a cameo of either Schwarzenegger or included the filmed but cut scenes with Edward James Olmos as General Woodhurst. But what Shane Black puts on the screen is the stuff of better sci-fi-military action movies, elements that made the original a classic.
Kudos to the production for Henry Jackman’s score, and showing the right way to re-use a classic theme (here, that’s Alan Silvestri’s original, futuristic, pulsating Predator theme). Tish Monaghan must continue making sci-fi costumes and armor–her work here was truly out-of-this-world. Tom Woodruff, Jr.’s creature effects and Victoria Down and Ryan Nicholson’s makeup are the top of the league this year. Finding a place for the line “get to the choppers” was also a welcome throwback from the writing team.
The next must-see sci-fi movie, The Predator is in theaters everywhere.