By William Mayhew
In 1987, the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a trophy-hunting alien warrior squaring off in one of the most testosterone-filled fights in film history made the original “Predator” into a major hit. The memorable design and motivation of the alien race known as the Predators led to two direct sequels and two crossovers with the “Alien” franchise.
Despite their popularity, up until this September the Predators hadn’t preyed on audience’s wallets since 2010. But now they’re back in “The Predator” directed and written by Shane Black, who not only has an excellent track record writing and directing films such as “The Nice Guys” and “Iron Man 3”, but also served as an uncredited script doctor and actor in the original “Predator.” What could go wrong? Well, according to the critic and audience approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems that something definitely did.
The premise of the film is simple enough. A Predator lands on Earth and is captured by a secret government organization dedicated to hunting down extraterrestrial invaders. But the secret government organization seems to have spent most of its time being shady and corrupt, devoting far less time to figuring out that normal machine guns don’t work on the creatures that they’re supposed to know how to fight. Luckily, a sniper (Boyd Holbrook), a scientist (Olivia Munn), and a squad of quirky military veterans (all of whom have just found out that Predators exist) are ready to do a far more competent job fighting them. Just when they think they’ve made one Predator their prey, the heroes must contend with the dual threats of incompetent government officials and the arrival of a supersized new Predator.
On the surface, the film seems to do everything that one would expect and want from it. However, the cracks beneath the surface become increasingly pronounced as it progresses. The action scenes that make up most of it are both fast-paced and well-executed, but they never manage to match the suspense that made the original film so gripping. The characters are all quite fond of quipping and some of them are pretty good at it, but the original remains superior in the one liner department. While the original knew how to sprinkle its gruesome visuals throughout the film in a way that added to the tension, this film peaks early with one excellent one in the first few minutes.
Overall, the problem with “The Predator” is less what it does and more what it doesn’t do. Shane Black set out to make a fun action movie, and that’s what he did. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but this film plays it too safe and doesn’t surprise viewers nearly enough. Even the sequel bait revealed in the final scene isn’t especially shocking.
With a more suspenseful and ambitious script, “The Predator” could have been great, but instead it’s nothing more than an average action flick that fails to measure up the original.