and the Joy of Junk Food
Director: Shane Black
Writers: Fred Dekker, Shane Black
Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Sterling K. Brown, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey, Brian A. Prince.
Who doesn’t occasionally love a decadent snack of empty calories? That’s why I’m a little perplexed right now. Having seen The Predator twice now – once in a theatre and again for this Blu-ray review – I’m still left with this question: Did I watch a different movie than everyone else?
The movie may not have been a critical darling, but what surprises me is the overall negative reaction from audiences, especially longtime fans of the franchise. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but as tasty treats go, The Predator is easily the most satisfying of all the sequels. Much more than the insipid Predator 2 and the somewhat under appreciated Predators, this one has a lot of the same unhealthy ingredients that made 1987’s Predator such enjoyable junk food, right down to musical cues from original composer Alan Silvestri’s iconic score.
Maybe my expectations weren’t that high to begin with – we ain’t exactly talking the Star Wars saga here – but I found The Predator to be a lot of fast-moving, trashy fun. While the film certainly remembers – and acknowledges – the timeline and events established by its predecessors, it isn’t simply more of the same. It has the audacity to tweak with the formula just a bit, adding an alien agenda, of sorts (kinda like extra nuts & fudge on a sundae). It turns out that Earth is more than just the Predators’ favourite hunting ground. Without spoiling the snack, they’ve come to better themselves, so to speak, and need us – one character in particular – to become more efficient killers.
Some of the new ingredients are admittedly ridiculous (alien hunting dog, anyone?), but last thing this franchise needs is the original’s basic plot rehashed yet-again. Besides, the narrative moves along at such a frenetic pace that there’s no point trying to scrutinise it until later. That’s like regretting that sundae while you’re eating it. In the moment, The Predator is by-far, the most action-filled – and bloodiest – entry in the entire franchise, unbound by anything resembling restraint.
But what really sets this one apart from the sequels is its characters. Like the original film, squaring off against the title creature is an eclectic team, this time consisting of soldiers who’ve been relieved of their duties for a variety of criminal or psychological reasons. Self-dubbed The Loonies and led by super-sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), they are an intensely likeable and amusing bunch despite their sordid histories, making them more than just typical cannon fodder. Olivia Munn is also on-hand as Casey Brackett, the biologist who-first discovers the Predators are evolving, as well as McKenna’s autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Refreshingly, Rory isn’t a token kid who merely exists to be rescued (though he eventually does need rescuing); his acute abilities make him integral to the plot (which I’ll concede is also a bit silly).
Writer/director Shane Black is definitely the right guy for the job. In addition to having a supporting role in the original, he did a lot of uncredited rewrites, most-notably the more humorous touches that later became one of his trademarks. Like other action-oriented films he’s since written and/or directed, The Predator is often very funny…even goofy on occasion. A healthy sense of humour has been missing from this franchise for a long time, though some viewers may feel Black tips the scales too much in that direction for their liking.
That being said, I enjoyed The Predator just as much the second time. Sure, it’s ultimately cinematic junk food, but so was the original, which didn’t take itself all that seriously either. In a way, the film plays a lot like a nasty variation of the Jurassic World films, more content with being big, brash popcorn entertainment than breaking new ground. Though some purists may balk at that, sometimes empty calories are just what we need.