I should start by making something clear. I’m not a fan of the Predator series. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the films, but I’ve just never been invested in the films, their lore, or their characters. I think they’re fine, and I thought Robert Rodriguez was onto something with 2010’s Predators, but I don’t really have any skin in the game here. So my take on Shane Black’s new film is going to be from the vantage point of a casual fan who can take or leave the series.
Let’s start with the positives.
Director Black put together a very impressive cast for The Predator. One that includes Boyd Holbrook, who was a standout in Logan, as well as Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Alfie Allen, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, and Yvonne Strahovski. That’s a ton of talent, and they all came ready to work. In fact, it’s their performances and chemistry that makes the whole film work at all.
And, as is to be expected in a Shane Black movie, the script gives many of these actors a bunch of great lines and moments to shine with. The writer-director has always had a knack for snappy dialogue filled with colorful vulgarity and brazen insights into the twisted psyches of his characters.
The film also moves at a nice, brisk clip. It’s an action-packed ride that shifts gears constantly, keeping you on your toes as the backdrops for its hyper-violent mayhem keep changing. So it’s pretty impossible to get bored during The Predator because it’s packed to the brim with stimuli (put THAT on your poster, Fox!).
And that about does it for the positives.
Because while Black’s signature wit and penchant for hilariously over-the-top violence are on full display, what’s missing here is any semblance of character development or stakes. For a film about an alien hunter stalking its prey while protecting some mysterious cargo on its crashed spacecraft, there’s never, ever a sense of danger, concern, fear, or genuine intrigue.
The film feels incomplete in that sense. Like, perhaps, it was originally a half hour longer and the studio decided to cut out the 30 minutes of connective tissue that would’ve made us actually care about anything going on. Because Black’s scripts, while rarely in-depth character studies, usually reveal what’s at the core of its characters; What motivates them; And they typically give them somewhere to go, emotionally. This is the first Black movie I can honestly say feels completely hollow.
Each character is two-dimensional. Every plot line is explained and defined in very bare bones terms. Anything that could resemble genuine human drama is merely hinted at but never meaningfully explored. And that’s all made all-the-more frustrating by the fact that you can tell there’s elements of this story we’re supposed to care about. There are issues of fatherhood, the true tolls of war, growing up with a learning disability, and the bonds of brotherhood that are forged in desperate times.
Yet all of those humanistic elements seemingly got chopped away and tossed onto the editing room floor in favor of more quips, more action, and zero contemplation.
In that way, The Predator almost feels like you’re watching a movie in fast-forward- just skimming through, only stopping when the next action set piece begins, then rushing to the next sequence.
And while we’re discussing negatives, something has got to be said about the score. Composer Henry Jackman’s work on this film is pretty weak. While it can be argued that he was directed to compose something that felt like a throwback to 80s bombast, it really just feels way too on-the-nose. The film is filled with generic crescendos and hammy motifs meant to convey “Something heroic just happened,” “Something scary is going on,” “This is a tender moment,” instead of actually accentuating or enhancing what’s being shown. It’s auditory hand-holding, and while I would’ve found it acceptable if this was a spoof of movies like The Predator, this is actually the score for the movie and it pulled me out of it. Constantly.
On that note, considering that the film seems like a throwback at time, I wonder if the entire thing would’ve been a more pleasurable experience if it leaned into that more? Because the last trailer for the film almost made it feel like a grindhouse ode to schlocky 80s action/sci-fi movies. More of that tone may have elevated this movie in a way, because then it would at least have its own unique style and voice.
All in all, The Predator is a very weak film that’s held together by a very charismatic, game cast, and breakneck pacing that doesn’t ever allow you to really sit and think about how half-baked it all is. That’s why I’m willing to still recommend it, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s 105 minutes you’ll never get back, but thanks to the film’s saving graces you won’t want them back. It’s not one of those films you’ll regret seeing and hate the entire time you watch it, because it is- indeed- fun in its own manic way.
So as long as you go into it with a mindset akin to “I’ve got two hours to kill and $15 burning a hole in my pocket, so why not?” you’ll be fine. However, if you go into the theater wanting to see something that truly honors, evolves, and elevates the Predator mythology, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There is absolutely no meat on the bones for any intergalactic hunter to devour here, only popcorn.