First things first: The Predator is an unmitigated disaster.
It’s the worst sequel to a box office cult classic since Speed 2: Cruise Control.
It makes Predator 2 seem like The Godfather: Part II, which is really saying something, because I’m pretty sure whoever suggested having Lt. Murtaugh battle an unstoppable interstellar killing machine is still getting whipped behind the woodshed.
In short, two venerable scholars of cult cinema (Shane Black and Fred Dekker) have completely shit on the legion of Predator fans by doing the unthinkable: They somehow made a movie about an 11-foot-tall super-Predator that is not only super-boring, but nearly fucking unwatchable.
Here’s the thing — you would be hard-pressed to improve on the original 1987 film, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and was directed by John McTiernan. It set up everything you need to know: Predators are from space, they are highly advanced, they have really cool body armor and weaponry, they hunt anything they can and they’re virtually impossible to kill.
The 1990 sequel, which is a guilty pleasure, tried to insert a Predator into late-'90s Los Angeles in the middle of a gang war. While it tried to expand on the mythology of the aliens, it really only succeeded in making viewers laugh instead of cheer.
You might as well forget the two spin-offs, 2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator and 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. In fact, everyone should forget those two films altogether. Or even Nimród Antal's 2010 Predators, which was actually not bad.
The Predator gives shout-outs to the original film and its sequel, if only to ensure that the U.S. military doesn’t look completely incompetent. As a result of the events of the first two films, the government has established Project Stargazer, a top-secret, underground laboratory and stronghold dedicated entirely to studying Predators in preparation for their next visit to Earth.
But before we can get to the sort-of-cool lab, first, Black and Dekker (yes, I know) open The Predator in space with a dogfight of sorts wherein one Predator ship goes through a wormhole and crash-lands in Mexico… at exactly the same time that a covert black ops mission, led by decorated sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), is about to surprise a drug cartel execution.
McKenna wounds the Predator pilot, steals its helmet and a weapons gauntlet (because, otherwise, who would believe him?) and narrowly escapes before another covert team, this one from Project Stargazer, arrives to confiscate the wounded Predator. That team is led by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, who seems to think he’s starring in the sequel to Commando).
McKenna mails the Predator tech back to a small town in the Midwest, where his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, not taking Robert Downey Jr.’s advice from Tropic Thunder) and estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) still live.
McKenna gets arrested and remanded back to the federal government, which decides to silence him by institutionalizing him with a bunch of other crazy combat veterans, including Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera).
Meanwhile, Traeger is busy apprehending Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), who apparently wrote a letter as a child to the POTUS telling him that she wanted to help America if ever the world made contact with an extraterrestrial (I wish I was joking), and whisking Bracket off to Project Stargazer, where the injured Predator has been sedated, but not restrained (?!?). There, she meets Dr. Keyes (Jake Busey, a nice callback to Predator 2, which starred his father, Gary), who launches into a lightning-quick Cliff's Notes rundown of everything the government knows.
I’m sorry. This should have been the fucking focus of the film all along. Instead, we get super-fast nuggets of information — such as Predator DNA including human DNA.
What? Hold up. That seems like a really good plot point to build upon.
Instead, Bracket says to the room: “Guys, I get it. You want to know if someone fucked an alien?”
Oh, and right about then, the wounded Predator wakes up super-pissed and kills basically everybody but Bracket and Traeger. Maybe the giant alien being should have been restrained. Just saying.
Oh, and Project Stargazer gets word from NORAD that another, bigger Predator spaceship has just entered our atmosphere.
Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, Rory McKenna has received a box shipped from Mexico. Surprise, the kid is a genius (Black returns to the well from Iron Man 3 because all movies need a pint-sized Einstein), in addition to being on the spectrum. He immediately understands how to operate the super-advanced alien technology. In case you’re wondering, many jokes are made about Rory being the R-word, which is both offensive and unnecessary.
Because it’s Halloween, Rory decides to put on the Predator helmet and gauntlet and go out trick-or-treating. This activates the tech, which sends a signal to the second Predator ship and to the wounded Predator as to the location of the missing gear. Rory also accidentally kills someone with the gauntlet, but don't bother focusing on that moral quandary, because the script sure doesn’t.
Suddenly, just as dad Quinn arrives at Project Stargazer, and the wounded Predator escapes, Quinn somehow intuitively knows that the big bad alien is going to head straight for his kid. So, he enlists the help of the other crazy soldiers, and Dr. Bracket, to go save his son.
I think it’s fair to point out here that Black and Dekker (it just never gets old!) use the soldiers more as comic relief than as an organized fighting force, and much of the humor lands with a thud. There is one really good joke, though, which I’ll share, and it’s delivered by Keegan-Michael Key, of course:
“If your mom’s vagina was a video game,” he tells Baxley, “it would be rated E for everyone.”
By the time everyone arrives in the Midwest to locate Rory, our heroes learn that the bigger Predator ship is carrying an even bigger Predator, a genetically modified 11-foot super-Predator who has two Predator pit bulls in tow.
Trust me when I say that as much as you will want to love the Predator dogs, they come off about as well as Jar Jar Binks in terms of cinematic coolness. In short, they are a waste, and they become a recurring gag for the remaining 40 minutes of the movie, which also makes zero sense.
Let's see, a bunch of stupid stuff happens after that. Quinn saves his kid only to lose him again. I kept checking my watch. And then Black and Dekker (last time, I promise) decide to try to reinvent the jungle-fight ending of Predator, which is a fool’s errand, at best.
But wait, there’s more.
At some point in the muddled, overly loud cataclysm of a third act, someone (I forget who because I really had stopped caring) informs the team why the first Predator was trying to reach Earth: He was bringing a warning and a weapon to defeat his evil and ambitious brethren, who believed that global warming was about to make mankind extinct and Earth ripe for a hostile takeover.
Again, I say, wow, there’s a really nifty plot point to hang a movie on, and likely a much better movie, at that.
What was the weapon? Well, you have to wait until the final two minutes to find out, but again, the weapon is so much cooler than anything you’ve seen in the previous 105 minutes that it just serves to piss you off even more that it wasn’t the focal point of the whole damn movie to begin with.
The film makes mention of its forebears but fails to bring anything new to the table in terms of mythology. It fails to advance the franchise in any way, despite hinting at several really cool ideas that would have made for a possibly great popcorn movie. It fails to deliver a hero that measures up to Schwarzenegger’s indomitable Major "Dutch" Schaefer. It squanders the introduction of new creatures. It mocks special-needs children. And, despite a gratuitous amount of gore, it completely screws the pooch when it comes to making an 11-foot-tall Predator remotely terrifying.
It’s fitting that in the days leading up to The Predator’s release, Munn was successful in cajoling Twentieth Century Fox to excise a scene from the movie that featured a friend of director Black’s, who also happens to be a registered sex offender, as an extra.
(It’s also telling that the majority of the male cast is now shunning Munn because she spoke out.)
If only she had convinced Fox to scrap the entire movie and cancel its release, then no one, especially longtime fans of the Predator franchise, would have any room to complain.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter .