Friday, 14 September 2018

IN THEATRES: The Predator

During an encounter with a Predator, black ops sniper Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) manages to steal some of the alien's advanced equipment. Fearing that the government will want to keep the incident under wraps, he send the tech to his hometown as insurance.

What he does not know is that another Predator is enroute to Earth, intent on destroying the technology and anyone that stands in its way.

With a band of ragtag ex-soldiers-turned-convicts, and a scientist (Olivia Munn) with knowledge of the creatures as allies,  Quinn is in a race against time to get home and protect his family from the evil ET. 

I was really looking forward to The Predator. Not because of the franchise, but because Shane Black, of Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys, was taking up the reins. Sadly, it is the second-worst thing Black has done this year.

A sure hand with action flicks, the filmmaker and co-writer Fred Dekker (of Monster Squad fame) are completely adrift here. Black's hand with hard-bitten characters exchanging barbed, self-reflexive dialogue is barely in evidence, and the movie is weighed down with a dis-jointed story populated by under-written characters.

Particularly in its early scenes, it feels like key scenes have been cut out; characters are introduced and events happen with no build-up or real context. Not to say it is confusing, but there is a rushed quality to proceedings that makes the movie feel unfinished. There is little of the easy flow and relationship-building of previous Black movies. The Predator is in too much of a rush to set up all of the story pieces.

In terms of genre and tone, the movie never lands: is it hard-bitten action flick? A kids movie from the 80s? An alien-government conspiracy thriller? Is it trying to be scary? Is it trying to be funny? Is it aiming for pathos? It never figures itself out.

The set pieces also feel off - there is little build-up or suspense, and an over-reliance on CGI. The would-be show-stopper of the movie, the 'Upgrade' Predator never gets the kind of treatment it needs to come across as an effective threat.

Watching the super-Predator stomp across screen, you really appreciate the physicality and grace that Kevin peter Hall brought to the role in the first two Predator movies, as well as the limitations of technology, which forced the filmmakers to use the creature sparingly. One of the great aspects of the original is the fact that we do not see the Predator until the finale - and that was because the filmmakers literally scrapped the original design for the alien and had to come up with a new one.

In Black's film, the Upgrade Predator is treated so perfunctorily it reminded me of the Alien's inauspicious return at the end of Alien Covenant last year: while there was probably some mo-cap involved, the film's villain is just a computer-generated creation with no weight and little personality. 

The film also suffers from a lack of clear narrative POV.  The focal point is meant to be Boyd Holbrook's hardbitten sniper, but we also have Olivia Munn's scientist Dr Casey Bracket, Holbrook's son (Jacob Trembly) and a busload of military prisoners (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera).

Holbrook's fellow soldiers are more interesting than the bland protagonists, and the scenes of them bonding are the closest the movie gets to being fun. They are just types, but the movie would have been better served by being an ensemble piece.

In light of how the male cast have abandoned Olivia Munn following her revelations that Black had hired a convected sex offender without informing the cast or studio, there is a bitter aftertaste to watching the team try to reconnect with their humanity and become heroes. Combined with the shakiness of the story-telling, knowing about their (in)actions offscreen just reinforces how ineffective they are as 'badasses'.

As Holbrook's offspring, Room star Jacob Trembly fills in the cliche of the super-powered disabled person. As with the other characters, he has no real characterisation, and it is hard to believe or understand his relationship with his father. His part of the plot feels so rote and cliche - and considering how rote the rest of the movie is, that is saying something.

Even the basic premise - a predator fleeing to earth pursued by its comrades - could be cool. It is surprising for a filmmaker like Black, who has displayed an ability to turn conventions on their head, to overlook the potential for playing the story out from the title character's POV.

The movie tries to add detail and shading to the Predator mythos, but the aliens have never been that interesting by themselves - they are designed to hunt other beings. It is hard to find pathos in that makeup. Plus, by revealing more about them, the Predators lose any real sense of danger, and it just draws attention to how silly their mythos is. 

The movie is not without its good points. Jake Busey shows up playing the son of his father Gary's character from Predator 2. There is a great set piece involving our heroes holding onto the outside of a spaceship as its shields activate. The space dogs are fun, and deserved far more screen time (like everything else).

The Predator is not an outright disaster, but the sloppy execution frustrates any attempt to really engage with it as a fun night at the movies.


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