The series has always struggled to surpass 1987's glorious original Predator, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his career as an action star.
This latest movie doesn't quite reach those dizzying heights, but it comes surprisingly close, standing out as the second best in the series. It's better than Predator 2 and the slightly dull Predators, and infinitely better than the two lame Alien vs. Predator spinoffs. If you're a fan of '80s action movies and fast-talking macho silliness and don't want to think too hard about the plot, you'll want to see this reimagining.
Director Shane Black -- of Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fame -- has plastered his style all over the film, making a movie of his own instead of trying to stick too closely to the intense tone of the original (in which he played Hawkins, the ill-fated radio operator).
That means plenty of dark humor, mostly in the form of quippy dialogue and stylized violence.
A brief opening CGI space chase sets up the movie's relentless pace nicely, ending with a crash to Earth and introducing our slightly forgettable hero, mercenary sniper Quinn McKenna (played by Boyd Holbrook, of Logan) as he encounters the titular hunter for the first time.
This battle sees the Predator captured and falling into the hands of a stereotypically clandestine government research organization. From here, we quickly meet a civilian biologist (played by Olivia Munn) who's inexplicably skilled with firearms and gets virtually no character development, but has plenty of fun moments. Many of these come from her interactions with the team of burned-out former soldiers played by Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera.
This dysfunctionally functional team is the heart of the movie. Their dialogue is as quick as Black's fans would expect, and easily the best aspect of the movie, with Rhodes, Jane and the ever-delightful Key (known for his comedy in Key & Peele) providing the most laughs. The latter pair have a surprising, delightful relationship that'll stick with you long after the end credits roll.
As a result of these regular doses of levity, The Predator never gets too lost in its mythology or takes itself too seriously.
Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the overall plot, which centers on a vague quest to retrieve items of Predator technology and never really settles enough to be engaging. There's also a half-baked comedic thread centering on a canine ally that never manages to hit the mark or make much sense.
The soldiers soon find themselves in conflict with an unethical government agent played by the amazing Sterling K. Brown, who alternates between friendly and venomous. Brown, who's best known for playing pretty stoic characters in The People v. OJ Simpson and This Is Us, is clearly having fun.
The audience gets a little more time to breathe as the movie improbably segues to a suburban setting. McKenna's estranged son Rory, who has Asperger's syndrome, comes to the attention of the Predator after a wildly improbable series of coincidences. The excellent Jacob Tremblay portrays a kid with Asperger's with nuance and sensitivity in a loud, silly movie and easily holds his own when the charismatic older actors come to town.
The Predator itself remains as striking and timeless as it's been since 1987 -- with its cool armor, deadly gadgets and terrifying physicality -- and feels like a serious nemesis throughout the movie. We get some surprising revelations about its race as the threat level grows.
Most of the action is kinetic and fun; the series' signature violence is ever-present and fans will no doubt find it satisfying in a visceral way. A lab escape and suburban chase sequences are highlights, with each feeling visually and tonally distinct.
Unfortunately, the final action sequence is surprisingly messy and confusing due to some overly shiny, plasticky CGI and overly quick cuts. It's a pity after the tight action in the rest of the movie.
It's perhaps a little obvious who'll survive, but those lead and secondary characters who die generally get the send-offs they deserve. There're plenty of gross-out kills and nasty deaths, but Black keeps the disembowelings playful enough (usually only lingering for a few seconds) that the audience is unlikely to be truly disgusted for long.
Henry Jackman's score pays suitable homage to Alan Silvestri's militaristic, horn-driven original, and gets suitably overblown for the many macho set pieces.
Black also manages to strike a nice balance between forging his own reinvention and nodding to the franchise's history. Jake Busey has a small role as the scientist son of the NSA agent played by real-life dad Gary Busey from Predator 2, but this is more of a nice Easter egg for fans than a major plot point. There's also a very smooth reference to the original's most quoted line.
We also get some intriguing sequel setup that could see major changes in the next installment in the series.
The Predator opens in the US on Friday, the UK on Wednesday and Australia on Thursday.
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