Predator movies haven't had the best time of it over the years, but if you're of a certain age and disposition the first film in the series will likely hold a special place in your cruel, twisted heart. When Arnie and his buddies trudged through the jungle, getting picked off one by one by a human-killing space-faring trophy hunter, it started a series that would eventually blend with that of Alien, and return periodically in one form or another for years to come. There have been video games, graphic novels, action figures, all that jazz. The only thing that's been missing is a sequel that's as good as the original and with Shane Black at the helm of the latest attempt we had high hopes that 2018 would be the year. Alas, it isn't.
Don't get us wrong, it's not a terrible movie, but in the grand scheme of things, we'd probably go with 2010's Predators as the film that we like best after the original (with the caveat that our memories of the second are somewhat hazy). This new entry is closer to AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem in terms of setting and delivery, although we will concede that this latest stab at bottling lightning is better than the formulaic slurry we endured back in 2007.
But that's enough about the past, let's instead dwell on the here and now. The Predator is out in cinemas and it's got a lot going for it. Big budget special effects, a reasonably decent cast, and a story that doesn't completely suck. It starts off as these things often do, with a predator landing in a jungle. This forest just happened to have an eagle-eyed American sniper in it and their first encounter is the catalyst the starts a series of events whereby people die, aliens shoot things, and quick-witted one-liners are fired faster than the bullets - it is a Shane Black movie after all.
For all of the comedic side-alleys that Black takes us down, it's the relentless pacing of the movie that kept us engaged for it's near two hour running time. It's a little breathless at times and the plot often moves faster than the exposition, and it feels like there's a good half an hour of scene-setting on a cutting room floor somewhere. As it stands we're given a touch too little a touch too quickly, and there are moments where the brevity of the storytelling leads to a feeling of incoherence. We're not here for the dramatic turmoil of the characters, so it's not really a killer blow - but in an ideal world, we'd have liked a few more dots to join together.
Leaving the jungle behind the story finds its way to modern civilisation, where the aforementioned sniper bands up with a team of ex-military psychiatric patients. While it's nice to see mental health issues given prominence on screen, the dynamic of the group is just a little off in our humble opinion, and once or twice we're invited to laugh at the characters rather than with them. A couple of them were genuinely likable, but that wasn't the case across the board and some of their chatter wasn't as funny as they obviously thought it was.
Old snipes has a son who finds himself embroiled in events too, and early on we're given the impression that the boy is floating somewhere near the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum when he starts stimming during a fire alarm. His gifts and struggles otherwise lead to his ability to crack alien technology, but that's really as far as Black is prepared to go with this extremely light examination of the subject. And let's not mention the fact that this poor boy's mother is super cool with him hanging out with sniper-dad while he goes alien hunting.
The more we write about this the more we're talking ourselves out of a higher score, so let's go back to what we enjoyed about The Predator. The action. There's lots of it, and it spills out in all sorts of different directions, with more spines plucked from bodies than you'll see anywhere else this year - guaranteed. We're in the forest for some of it, naturally, with the predator hopping between trees as he likes to do, but we also end up rolling through suburbia, and there's even the odd stop off in a secret government lab. This ragtag group of soldiers lurches from location to location, blasting away at the thick-skinned predator in pursuit, and some of the sequences are actually pretty exciting, even if they are a little silly.
Boyd Holbrook and Trevante Rhodes had plenty of chemistry as brothers in arms, and Olivia Munn's ass-kicking scientist basically summed up the film for better and for worse. The whole cast does a reasonably good job, in fact, and they certainly did about as well as they could with the script that was handed to them. Black's personality came through via the steady stream of jokes and his punchlines had us chortling away every few minutes, it's just a shame that they didn't all land.
The Predator is one of those films that gets worse the more you try and dissect it, but if you're after a nonsense movie to watch while you shovel popcorn into your mouth, then you could do worse than spend two hours in its company. Credit to the team for trying a few new ideas and for making an entertaining stab at a modern Predator movie, but upon reflection, we're frustrated that some tone-deaf jokes and rushed storytelling took the edge off a film that could and should have been good enough to rival the 1987 original.