Since its announcement, The Predator has been beleaguered by controversy. While initial reports stating that the film would have an R-rating filled Predator fans with hope, these hopes soon faltered thanks to incredibly split receptions of initial test audiences. From then on out, almost every news piece to come out about the project only raised concerns.
This predictably led to a delayed release and major reshoots (which are never exactly confidence-inspiring), resulting in key elements of the plot being cut. Despite efforts to remove the unpopular “friendly predators” and “hybrid creatures”, the shadows of these once major points still clearly remain in the film.
Prior to The Predator‘s release, it was later revealed that an actor featured in one scene, Steven Wilder Striegel, was a registered sex offender who had been charged and convicted with injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer. The cast had been unaware of Striegel’s felonies, and as a long-time friend of director Shane Black, the incident called into question Black’s motives in casting.
Olivia Munn, who shared a scene with Striegel in the film, was responsible for the scene being pulled and her subsequent treatment by the director, fellow cast members and 20th Century Fox has been widely publicised. Munn has been open about being chastised by Fox and left to make press circuits without her co-stars.
These events aren’t too far away from Hollywood’s sexual abuse scandal that came to light early this year, and show that these deep, systemic problems in the industry still exist. With the Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements still as relevant as ever, this controversy left a particularly bad taste in the mouths of many.
Several cast members have since publicly reached out to apologise to Munn, and Black has also issued a public apology. But the fact that these only happened after the public outcry and support of Munn – and that Black neglected to show up at the film’s world première – has cast a dark shadow over the film that it and its cast and crew may never recover from.
With that said, it’s difficult to talk about the film as an entity separate from the controversy surrounding it. Even if you separate the film from its creators and the months of negative news surrounding it, The Predator is just fine. Fine for a simple, schlocky action movie, but not great.
There’s a misconception about action movies that good writing is somehow less important, because the audience is there to see fights, explosions and car chases, so as long as you have those things you’re good. This is only half true, and while an action film might be able to perform better with a flawed script than some other genres, the truth is that the most iconic, long-lasting action movies tend to have a great script. Guess which category The Predator fits into?
While it doesn’t have the excellent ramping tension that Predator and Predator 2 had, it has a plot that does a great job of building momentum and peppers it with some great action sequences. That R-rating also allows for some really effective gore moments and creative deaths. When people say a movie is fun but you have to just turn your brain off and enjoy it, this is the kind of film they mean.
The predator itself is back and looks as great as ever, although by now it’ll never be as threatening as it once was. Though there were originally supposed to be many more of them, the predators that are in the film are enjoyable, if a little over-explained. One of the joys of the first Predator movie is how little you’re actually told about the creature, but how much is implied. We, and the characters, had to slowly figure out what he was, what kind of technology he was using and that he was hunting them for sport. We don’t get that in this film. Not only do we have a team of scientists and a rag-tag team of soldiers commenting on why the predator could be doing what he’s doing, but the predators themselves are even subtitled, just to make sure there’s no ambiguity.
The chief twist on the predator here was seen in the trailer and poster – as well as a regular predator, there’s also a bigger, tougher super-predator hunting it. He’s bigger, stronger, has a swaggering walk and “an exoskeleton under his skin”. While both the predator and its much bigger doppelgänger get some fun kills in, they never exactly feel “predatory”. They don’t go down easily, but our soldiers also don’t struggle that much against them.
The movie’s heroes are a group of ex-military captives led by sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), and are by far the best part of the film. While the jokes between them can sometimes feel forced, most of the time the banter feels natural and the cast have an enjoyable, band-of-brothers kind of chemistry.
Trevante Rhodes is especially great as former Marine Nebraska Williams, who manages to be badass and funny, while at the same time having a sympathetic backstory. He occasionally feels like more of a protagonist than McKenna, who makes a good enough action hero, but is perhaps a bit too stoic. His character hinges on his relationship with his son (Jacob Tremblay), and yet we never get much of a father-son moment to show how much he cares. While most people probably don’t watch a Predator movie for the emotional stuff, a little goes a long way towards making relationships feel real.
Subtlety is something this movie doesn’t seem to understand. Whether it’s jokes or plot events, the film will make sure you get the point by explaining it to you over and over again. The film’s first hour is arguably its strongest, and also has the best predator sequences. Cracks start to develop in the plot here on after, and there are some scenes towards the end where the motives of the characters (and predators) just don’t make sense.
One thing to make a note of is the film’s treatment of those with developmental and neurological disorders. McKenna’s son Rory is shown to have autism and falls into the common Hollywood pitfall of giving autistic characters heightened mental abilities, almost to superhuman levels. The difficulties he experiences at the beginning of the movie, like his noise sensitivity, disappear as soon as they become an inconvenience in the story.
Similarly, veteran Baxley (Thomas Jane) supposedly has Tourette’s syndrome, and I say supposedly because the film can’t seem to make up its mind on whether he actually does or not. He twitches and sometimes blurts out offensive phrases, which are always played for laughs, but his tics disappear when there are no jokes to be had. The fact that the film only uses these characters as gags or convoluted plot devices is insensitive at best and plain ignorant at worst.
Does The Predator do a good job of being a follow-on film set in this universe? It’s difficult to say. There are bunch of small references pointing to the other films, some of which are fun (like Gary Busy‘s son Jake Busy playing the in-world son of his character from Predator 2), and some of which are groan-worthy, like the obligatory “get to the chopper”, spat out so reluctantly you feel like even the writers were embarrassed to put it in.
Despite the effects, gore and great-looking predators, the fact is that while it can be fun, The Predator just isn’t that good. And while the controversy surrounding it may die down, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever truly be able to separate the movie from those events.
What did you think of The Predator? Let us know in the comments section below.