The latest instalment in the Predator franchise, The Predator, is, above all, a film that made me feel tired.
It’s fitting, at least, that Shane Black is the one behind the camera this time, having had a supporting role in the Schwarzenegger-starring 1987 original, though part of the problem here is that Black and Fred Dekker, his co-writer, seem to have thrown everything on their minds onto the wall to see what will stick. The result is a movie that, while it has its strong points, ultimately feels rather uninteresting.
The Predator is fairly effective in its immediate goal of, well, thrilling. But the final product is a film that is at once both formulaic and unrelentingly cynical.
To Black’s credit, he gets the setup and initial story right, delving into the lore behind the Predators’ species, culture, and internal politics — a term that is applied very loosely here, but still sort of fits. He explores interesting character dynamics, settling into a groove of doing what he does best: writing characters who are most entertaining while having casual conversation. Unfortunately, it’s mostly downhill from there.
Black’s filmography is full of underrated films. The Nice Guys is wonderful, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in particular is incredibly charming. However, the key to his charm is his irreverence.
The flippant, even rude conversations between his characters, plot-related or not, are the real centrepieces of his movies. It’s hard to explain, but watching actors rattle off Shane Black dialogue is often just really fun. His dialogue is how you wish you talked to people.
The Predator, designed to be a franchise entry from the start, is anything but irreverent. The gonzo ridiculousness of the original Predator is slightly present, but the impact of the Marvel/DC comic book movie industry is here too.
Mixed with the earnestness of a franchise movie, one in which the focus is designed to be the plot and the fight scenes, Black’s irreverence just comes across as overbearing cynicism. The characters veer away from flippancy and more toward being genuinely unlikeable.
This points to a broader problem within male-driven action filmmaking: the increasing popularity of confusing ‘damaged’ characters with well-rounded ones. Nobody is saying you can’t have both. But rather than rely on Black’s trademark dialogue to carry them through the movie, the characters of The Predator, alarmingly, use post-traumatic stress disorder as a crutch to explain both character motivations and personality traits.
Sometimes this is played for laughs — which might be even worse — but this confusion of motivations is what makes The Predator seem cynical. Of course, not all characters have to be subversive, and sometimes it is nice to ‘turn one’s brain off’ and watch a movie like The Predator.
But being damaged is not a character trait, and characters who are defined by this trait — perhaps attempting to emulate the antihero-driven storytelling style of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, seem empty.
The Predator was also notoriously marred by editing problems, and it certainly shows. At one point, several characters show up in an RV, but its procurement is never really explained. The same thing happens with a dog featured on screen, and certain characters change clothes a few times without explanation.
The third act bears a general sense of incoherence: the dialogue doesn’t fit and it all seems rushed. It is fairly clear that even brilliant editing couldn’t have saved this movie. Black’s cynicism simply doesn’t mix with how formulaic the movie actually is.
There are alluring moments in The Predator and it’s certainly not an unbearable movie. At some points, the action is genuinely fun, and the art direction and creature design often goes in fun and inventive directions: The Predator has hunting dogs now! But I found myself waiting through most of the fight scenes to get to the conversations or the next interesting tidbit of Predator backstory.
Among other issues, The Predator is just too confused by its identities as both a franchise film and a Shane Black movie. Even if it gets some things right, it’s ultimately a slog.