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Friday at the Movies: The Predator Review

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Please Note: This review contains no spoilers or inferences to the overall plot.  Non-specific themes, however, are discussed.

These days franchise movies like to stay safe in creative decisions.  Often there are no overtly offensive factors, fans are catered to, and the story continues on for better or worse.  The Predator doesn’t play it safe with a drastic shift in tone that is largely humorous, but also gives you plenty of action and violence to remind viewers they’re still watching a movie in the franchise.  If my mentioning a heavy basis on humor concerns you, don’t be worried too much yet.  It’s not Gremlins 2, which abandoned almost all its fearful themes in return for a slapstick comedy for kids, but rather a blend of genres.  As such, The Predator is also not afraid to make some offensive lines that add to the dark comedy vibe of the whole feature, but more about my thoughts on that later.  If you are one of those fans who takes keeping the cannon alive and preserving the brand as your highest priority, you will no doubt have plenty of issues with this film, but rest assured nothing here is more problematic than the damage already done by the two previous sequels.

From a timeline perspective we’re dropped somewhere after the second film but well before the events of the third film, which take place in the distant future, and thought it’s not specified I’d put The Predator taking place in the present.  There’s no dismissal here, all of the events that took place in both the original Predator and Predator 2 are fully accounted for.  Penning the script is writing duo Shane Black and Fred Dekker, whom I don’t think have worked together on a screenplay since 1987’s The Monster Squad, which in full disclosure is a movie I dearly love.  Fun fact, 1987 was also the year the original Predator released and Black was actually in that film strutting his acting chops as Hawkins, although he had no involvement in the script as far as I know.  If you’re a fan of their previous work, you’ll notice some similarities here, although the comedy has gotten darker and a bit more mature.  What I appreciate most about the story is that it’s not afraid to take its current timeline and run with it in all kinds of ridiculous directions, one of the most significant being the ending.  Black and Dekker are also not afraid to fill in gaps to the Predator lore, an easy feat given how little we still know about this alien race if you’re only watching the films – I’m well aware there is a lot more in both the comics and novels.  As mentioned, the comedy can be offensive, taking jabs at everyone in what I feel is an attempt to prove that they intend to offend no one.  Here’s where some audiences will take issue and others will not.  There are characters that have mental disorders, personality issues, one is “on the spectrum” (a reference to someone with autism), and plenty of others are just plain jerks and bad-asses.  Everyone is fair game to be picked on, and in every case I can think of they all become targets at some point, not to mention some raunchy word-play humor and yes even racially offensive statements.  While I can’t condone this dialogue in regular conversation, I am of the mind that humor, whether effective or not, gets a pass in the interest of trying to make someone laugh at something they have no business laughing at.  You may disagree with this and find the lines of this film offensive, which is your prerogative.  I would like to mention that violent murder is also an activity that I don’t tolerate out of any human in the real world, but you’d be lying to yourself if you claimed to be going into a Predator film not expecting to see that, so semantic as it may be I was able to let it all slide.  Granted, I liked the humor.  Finally I was most appreciative that The Predator takes plenty of opportunities to rag on the previous films, down to the title of the original movie itself, and point out how absurd and problematic the whole story is.  I didn’t know this was all building up to explain/excuse the events that were unfolding, but I found it clever and refreshingly self-aware for a 2018 film.  In short, the plot and themes work for me, immature and ridiculous as they may be.

A few notable actors get to show their chops, including a surprisingly good performance from the typically mediocre Olivia Munn.  She’s no standout, but I have found her quite unbelievable in most roles and view them as “Olivia Munn playing <insert character here>” and that’s not the case in The Predator.  Having not checked the cast list before seeing the movie, I didn’t even know for sure she was the female lead and had to check the credits at the end.  Boyd Holbrook, who plays soldier Quinn McKenna, also delivers a decent performance as the male lead, but it’s a far cry from much better dramatic roles in films like Milk and Gone Girl.  The standouts are really the squad that accompany McKenna due to their ability to portray characters that could become tragic examples of misrepresentation and instead come off as real people.  It’s a real mod squad of unique individuals that as an ensemble really escort the plot into being what it is, yet another shining example that you’re watching a film from the writers of The Monster Squad.  Probably the two best characters are Rory McKenna (played by Jacob Tremblay, who was great in Room) for being able to portray a strong character in the face of adversity, but also remains vulnerable like a kid in a Predator movie should be.  The other is Traeger (played by Sterling K. Brown, known mostly from TV) who plays a dark-hearted commanding officer and anti-hero of sorts, that you just love to hate as the events unfold.  The movie doesn’t focus on any one person, or creature, for too long and that’s again the ongoing theme that has survived all three films before it, which is a great strength to the franchise as a whole.

So is The Predator worth your time?  That all depends on how open you are to have the series somewhat re-invented.  With this latest installment what we know about the aliens that visit Earth to hunt for sport, what humanity’s role is, and the tone expected is all up in the air.  The original Predator was somewhat of a beautiful accident combining B-film action and science fiction while following the formula of killer-based horror movie.  The sequel tries to embrace those themes, but in moving from a lonely jungle to a crime-ridden people-filled “urban jungle” much of that is lost in the mix.  Sure, Predator 2 has some redeeming traits in preserving the creature’s attributes and history, it also had decisions in the casting – mostly the roles of Danny Glover and Gary Busey – that garner divisive opinions.  The third falls off completely from a plot perspective, although having studied the many transitions of the script it’s no surprise.  Predator 3 was supposed to be a juxtaposition of an aged Dutch on the creatures’ home world and hunting them much like humans were hunted in the original, but ended up being a humbling ensemble cast with a brittle looking Adrien Brody leading a team of mercs.  It got back to concepts of the original, but didn’t sell me, especially knowing what the original script could have been had Arnold not been made governor and couldn’t be in movies anymore.  If you are content with that somewhat of a mess I just described and that’s your Predator timeline you can be happy with, there’s no need to see this film.  If you, like me, let out a deep breath and admit that there’s probably not much to destroy here then go see The Predator with an open mind.  You may not agree with the decisions, or even the humor, but rest assured it’s a fun and familiar ride into that world.  Thanks to this fresh set of eyes and a pair of writers who feel nothing is sacred in the cannon, I may have to say that this film saves the franchise.  What it turns into, however, may not sit well with longtime fans or new moviegoers alike.

The reviewer was not given a press screening for this film.  He paid his own way to see it at a Thursday night advance screening.  It was seen in a Dolby Cinema, which contains Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos surround sound, but this film is also presented in IMAX and standard theaters as well.  

Written by Fred Rojas

September 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Friday at the Movies

Tagged with ,

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