One of the (better) running gags in The Predator involves characters questioning whether the term ‘predator’ is actually apt. Whoa… we’ve been getting it wrong all these years? (31, to be precise, since the Arnie-armed original). But if there’s an irreverent, self-mocking chord being struck here, it’s not par for the course. Returning to the franchise as director/co-writer rather than supporting loudmouth, Shane Black isn’t out to send-up, undo or offer a radically different take on the space-beast saga. This is a sequel-slash-homage with bright green blood running right through its veins, centred on a group of guys – and one lady – taking on an alien hunter, often in leafy surroundings.
Sure, there are wrinkles. Principally the presence of a child protagonist in the form of Jacob Tremblay’s (Room) Rory McKenna, whose inadvertent acquisition of extra-terrestrial tech puts him in the line of fire. Ditto his dad Quinn (Boyd Holbrook), an ex-army ranger who forms a rag-tag unit with other veterans – and Olivia Munn’s scientist Casey – when predators arrive in town with a few days to kill. If the guys are all shooty mayhem and salty banter (leaving Munn to mostly play straight woman), Tremblay brings a fresh sense of vulnerability without devolving into schmaltz (mind your language, kid!). The positive portrayal of his autism adds a sensitive note (well, more sensitive than the blokes’ endless ‘mother’ jokes, anyway), even if it ends up being as much plot device as anything else.
What Black’s movie really has going for it is pace. It starts with a crash, followed swiftly by a bang and vast swathes of wallop. The relentlessness doesn’t allow you any time to catch a yawn, but it’s also not too conducive to tension or suspense. Frantic editing gets the pulse racing less often than the eyeballs spraining, especially during the dark, forest-set finale. The kill count’s close to infinity, yet only a few of the deaths are truly memorable; shout-out to a nicely sticky riff on one monster’s use of invisibility.
But enough about those common-or-garden predators; what about the title character, the big guy? Well, he’s, um, big (11 as opposed to seven feet). And that, disappointingly, is about it; save for a tweak that partly ‘humanises’ the alien and partly mutes his mystique, he’s more about upscaling than upgrading.
Still, the lion-like predator pooches add some variety, while the human cast proves mostly (ahem) game (though pity poor Alfie Allen, whose main contribution is a card trick). Inevitable nods to the ’87 movie (and ’91 sequel) are both kept to a discreet minimum and handled with crowd-pleasing care, and there’s a slyly dismissive attitude to the AVP movies. Yes, this is superior to those, and 2010’s direct threequel. But while Black’s film carries a ‘The’, the original Predator remains far and away the definite article.
- Release date: September 12, 2018 (UK)/September 13, 2018 (US)
- Certificate: 15 (UK)/R (US)
- Running time: 107 mins