Director – Shane Black
Cast – Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Sterling K Brown, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Trevante Rhodes, Yvonne Strahovski
Rating – 2.5/5
There is a scene towards the end of director Shane Black’s The Predator, the latest attempted reboot of the journeyman action franchise, in which a character attempts to board a fleeing alien spaceship. Before you say anything; no, this is not a spoiler.
Sensing the attack, the alien pilot deploys a force field to keep the man out, and succeeds. The man freezes as the force field quickly envelops the spaceship and gushes towards him, gruesomely severing his body in half. His limp torso falls off the airborne craft, while his legs remain trapped underneath the shallow blue vapour of the force field.
There couldn’t have been a more accurate metaphor for this movie.
Watch The Predator trailer here
The problem with it – and it remains to be seen how non-Shane Black fans react to this – is that The Predator feels like it’s caught between two worlds – the mindlessly violent, sweaty jungles of the Predator series, and the tongue-in-cheek irreverence of Black’s filmography. And perhaps in an effort to please both audiences – fans of ‘90s action cinema and fans of ‘90s action cinema written by Shane Black – it clumsily ends up getting itself severed in half.
In addition to limbs, several heads are decapitated in The Predator, a bunch of people are pulverised by bullets, more hands are chopped off than shaken, and in an apparent tribute to the original films, spinal cords are ripped clean out of human bodies.
There’s a reason for all this violence, in case you’re wondering – and it’s not just the success of the similarly R-rated Logan and Deadpool. The film is populated almost entirely by busload of soldiers, and even those who aren’t PTSD-ridden, trigger-happy vets are more than willing to bear arms.
The Predator is back for more action.
All of them – the ragtag group of soldiers, a biologist and the kid from Room – unite when a new batch of Predators arrives on Earth to engage in another round of their favourite sport: human hunting. As fans of the series would know, our planet has on many occasions served as a hunting ground for the dreadlocked aliens, who are – and the sheer stupid genius of this premise never gets old – simply looking to bust some stress.
As you’d imagine, no one with more than one X chromosome is welcome to this party. At one point Olivia Munn’s character, the aforementioned biologist – one of only two women in the entire movie – literally says the words, ‘grow a pair’, to the Iraq War vets next to her. At approximately the same time, several miles away, the only other female character (played by Yvonne Strahovski) is busy cocking shotguns and threatening FBI agents.
In all fairness, it’s no surprise that the movie is aimed at guys. The Predator is, after all, the spawn of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film from the ‘80s. For it to essentially cater to a very specific (and dwindling) category of male moviegoers is more annoying than it is problematic. But it’s not really a bad thing, though – for instance, it has been scientifically proven that no man has seen any Kathrine Heigl film after the year 2007.
And therefore, I have decided that The Predator is the Katherine Heigl of dude-centric cinema – aggressively in your face, stubbornly exclusive and desperate to be liked. It is also the absolute worst film Shane Black has been a part of, in whichever capacity — and this includes his uncredited cameo in the 1986 horror film, Night of the Creeps (thanks, IMDb).
Strangely enough, the humour works better than the violence in The Predator.
It’s clear that actors want to work for him. He’s assembled a terrific cast here – besides Munn and Strahavski, we have Boyd Holbrook, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Sterling K Brown, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane and Trevante Rhodes – each of whom belongs to the same unenviable club of solid B-listers just waiting to break out. But while they’ve all been dealt a bad blow by Black’s thinly written script, no one has it worse than Jane, who literally gets the short end of the stick.
And that’s the risk of hiring a filmmaker with such a strong voice to work on a franchise with established boundaries. Marvel did it once with Iron Man 3 – hiring Black remains their riskiest move – and they’ve never done it again. They came close with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, but neither Taika Waititi nor Ryan Coogler were given the freedom that was handed to Shane Black, who – if you’d notice – hasn’t been invited back.
Boyd Holbrook also starred in Logan and Narcos.
You know how a lot of Bollywood films have separate credits for screenplay and dialogue? This is an exclusively Indian thing, but by God does The Predator feel like it belongs to this category. Were Black’s trademark quippy dialogue to be edited out of it, I’m willing to bet that the script – as lean as it is – would come in at under 20 pages.
It feels like a hastily written first draft, satisfied with having come up with a new spin on the material and somehow mistaking this for a sign to stop trying to make it better. It’s extremely rudimentary in its plotting, which makes for a pacey story, but the Black-isms can’t help but feel like they belong on a different planet.
Black’s scripts have always covered up for whatever shortcomings he may have as a director, but even injecting this with Arnie couldn’t save it.
First Published: Sep 14, 2018 08:54 IST