31 years later, we’re got another “Predator” movie. That’s 31 years after the original, 28 years after the sequel, and eight years after threequel that starred Adrian Brody…because who else could step into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover? And if you’re wondering why it took 18 years to make a threequel and eight more years to make a fourquel, stop wondering. “Predator 2” and “Predators” were just that bad. Will “The Predator” break that pattern? Will the franchise at long last equal “Alien” by having a second good film? Are they ever going to do the “Alien vs. Predator” movie we all want to see with Schwarzenegger and Sigourney Weaver? This edition of KIMT’s Weekend Throwdown will only answer those first two questions.
“Predator” (1987) is one of the films that cemented Schwarzenegger as the biggest movie star on the planet for a time. I suspect the younger generation that knows him most for his forays into politics and his cartoonish persona doesn’t appreciate that he wasn’t just another action hero. He wasn’t Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal. He wasn’t even Sylvester Stallone, who basically strip mined his successes to compensate for an immense amount of failure. For almost a generation, Arnold Schwarzenegger was as successful and as famous as any actor in Hollywood history and he achieved that by starring in a string of legitimately great motion pictures…like “Predator.”
"We're men! We're manly men!"
Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the leader of a six man rescue team called down to the jungles of either Central or South America, the movie’s never quite clear on which, to save a government minister from the clutches of evil guerilla fighters. Joined by a CIA hardass named Dillon (Carl Weathers), these men of war find themselves becoming the prey of an alien hunter looking to add to its collection of human skulls. I don’t want to give away much more than that because “Predator” is genuinely one of the movies you need to see before you die. It’s the sort of film that’s so good and so memorable, it would normally be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of its star, except Schwarzenegger has got at least four movies that rank above it in his career.
One of the things I can tell you about “Predator” is that it is one of the most male-oriented motion pictures you will ever see. It is about manly men doing manly things in the manliest way possible. It is not interested in making itself appealing to women or children or couples. It gives a great big hug to masculinity and embraces all its glories and ridiculousness. This is the kind of movie where one character says without a hint of irony “I ain’t got time to bleed” and another character teases him by responding “You got time to duck?” It is about hard men doing a hard job in a hard world that suddenly turns stranger than they ever imagined.
"No one can make us take a bath!"
What makes all that machismo work is that it’s harnessed by a great story with some great performers and a great director. It’s a well-structured plot that gives you real reasons to care about its characters. It starts off at lightning speed, slows down just long enough to get the viewer invested in what happens to the rescue team, then pivots off an adrenaline-pumping action scene to descend into fear and horror, before climbing back to a peak of human triumph and its shattering aftermath.
I don’t want to make it sound like the greatest story ever told. It is a bunch of dudes with guns getting shot up by a surly extraterrestrial with a ray gun. However, “Predator” does deserve to be ranked as perhaps the best version of “The World’s Most Dangerous Game” in the history of cinema.
“The Predator” isn’t quite the exact opposite of that…but it’s damn close. It is, by far, the worst “Predator” movie ever made and when you consider that “Predator 2” was so bad they could only revive the franchise by teaming up with “Alien,” that is awesomely terrible. The story literally makes no sense at several points. Not only do characters know things they can’t possibly know but you can’t explain how characters even get from one place to another.
"We love to smell our own farts..."
Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, who will not become the biggest movie star on this or any other planet) is a sniper in an undefined branch of the military on an undefined mission to kill some members of a drug cartel when he encounters a Predator that crashes to Earth. The rest of McKenna’s team is killed. He steals some of the alien technology and ships it to his PO Box back in America so he has proof of what happened because…you know…taking a picture of it with his phone or putting it on Facebook Live wouldn’t have worked even better for some reason.
McKenna gets captured by Mexican authorities, even though he still has the alien cloaking device that can make him virtually invisible, and shipped back to the U.S. as a prisoner. Meanwhile, the government recruits Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), the world’s sexiest evolutionary biologist, to join their research project and study the Predator they somehow captured after it killed McKenna’s men. Also meanwhile, the alien tech shows up at McKenna’s old house and falls into the hands of his son (Jacob Tremblay), who is somewhere on the Autism Spectrum a little to the right of Rain Man and quickly masters the technology like it’s a new app for his phone. Also also meanwhile, a bigger and more powerful Predator shows up hunting the first Predator and the missing technology, including the first Predator’s ship which we see the alien escaping from to start the movie because it’s crashing only to have it turn up later having landed perfectly with nothing more than a cracked windshield.
"...and flexing 'til our arms hurt!"
Anyway…McKenna gets thrown in with a bunch of psychologically disturbed military prisoners and they escape and save Casey when the first Predator gets free, during which we visibly see that the super-strong hunter from the stars can’t outrun model/actress Olivia Munn. McKenna and his predictably colorful crew realize his son has the alien tech and the Predator will be after him, then the evil Predator shows up, then the evil government guys show up again, and the whole production starts swirling the bowl. There’s one truly clever bit about the practical realities of force fields but otherwise “The Predator” is one of those films that isn’t merely dumb but goes out of its way to demonstrate how dumb it is, as if Hollywood intended it as the most expensive IQ test ever conceived.
This is the sort of stupid movie where the bad guys are willing to murder a prominent scientist because she knows too much but take endless amounts of lip from McKenna’s suburban wife. This is the sort of stupid movie where Autism is treated like a super-power. This is the sort of stupid movie where Tourette’s syndrome is treated like a punch line. This is the sort of stupid movie where a vicious alien dog gets shot in the head and becomes comic relief. This is the sort of stupid movie that ostentatiously make a meta-criticism of the original film, even though lasting affection for the original is the only reason “The Predator” got made.
What might be the most striking idiocy of this forsaken mess is how little effort it makes at getting you to like or care about any of its characters. Viewers might care a little about the kid because he’s a kid and about Casey because Olivia Munn is beautiful and seems a good enough actress to be in a much better movie, but the rest of the cast might as well be sides of beef hanging in a meat locker. It’s not that they’re bad actors, though Boyd Holbrook shouldn’t quit his day job, but it’s because they’re playing people whose personalities range from indifferent to annoying and have about as much in common with living human beings as I do with the Rock of Gibraltar.
"For pete's sake, someone stop them before they start the second verse!"
One of the loudest criticisms of modern screenwriting is that the people writing scripts have never done anything but watch other movies and TV, so everything they write is a secondhand copy of somebody else’s fiction. There’s not a lot of realism in fighting for your life against an alien hunter but “Predator” showed us people acting out of believable motivations like fear and guilt and obsession. The people in “The Predator” act the way the script says they act whether it makes a lick of sense or not. The movie even acknowledges this with a scene where the other military guys have a chance to bail on McKenna and instead they join him in saving his son, even though the movie explicitly recognizes there’s no real reason for them to do it. It tries to turn it into some sort of joke but bad writing doesn’t stop being bad writing just by making fun of it.
“Predator” takes this Throwdown, not because it’s a modern Hollywood classic but because it doesn’t suck. They could have replaced Schwarzenegger with Dom DeLuise and it still would have been better than “The Predator.”
On the other hand, Olivia Munn is basically the manliest thing in the sequel.
Written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas.
Directed by John McTiernan.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, and Kevin Peter Hall.
The Predator (2018)
Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker.
Directed by Shane Black.
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busy, Yvonne Strahovski, and Brian A. Prince.
Unless you count the strange invader from another world still needing to wear a codpiece.