To paraphrase the great Joe Bob Briggs, "you can always tell whether or not you’re watching an A-Movie or a B-Movie depending on if they kill the dog. If they off the poor mutt, it's definitely a B-Movie." Well, Shane Black's The Predator kills the dog, then it goes after the kid, the mom, and then slaughters pretty much everything else in its path before arriving at a climax so utterly over the top and ridiculous, you feel like you just watched five mini-Predator pictures back-to-back. Each of its acts crams as many insane ideas and vulgar one-liners into its rotten, day-glo green stew until you can't take any more, becoming a crass concoction of wanton juvenilia. But that’s also what renders it one helluva time at the movies.
In fact, had The Predator been released immediately after Stephen Hopkins' Predator 2 ('90) – existing in that post-'80s action arena where oily muscles had given way to rumpled, plainclothes everymen just getting by with a machine gun and their wits (also known as the McClane Transition™) – it wouldn't feel out of place sitting on the rack of your local video store (in-between The Last Boy Scout ['91] and Sniper ['93]). This is the distinct work of two former roommates who co-wrote The Monster Squad ('87) together – while respectively penning Lethal Weapon ('87) and Night of the Creeps ('87) on their own – getting to play with action figures in a big studio sandbox. They bang their army men against buff aliens while making “pew pew” gun noises with their mouths, muttering “fuck” if their moms aren't looking in a merrily envisioned playpen built out of clandestine VHS tapes kids watch at their friends’ houses during sleepovers. Welcome to the Splatterdome, the serious need not apply.
Granted, Shane Black and Fred Dekker's approach to their screenplay for The Predator also explains why it's one of the shaggiest summer movies we've seen in years. This is a genre romp that begins with a spaceship ripping open a portal in the galaxy to escape from another spaceship, before crash landing on earth. Unfortunately for a group of mercs attempting a hostage extraction – headed by the lethally trained Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, of Logan ['17] villainy) – everybody's favorite space hunter emerges from its downed craft, ready to just fuck shit up. After making quick work of the commander's squad, McKenna escapes, only to be deemed a crazy person and loaded up with a team of of "loonies" that the government's ready to "examine" (read: lock up in a Nowheresville asylum and toss away the key).
These crazy commandos are all basically R-rated GI Joes, beamed in from some blue parallel dimension's take on the old Saturday morning staple. Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) is an ADD iteration of Black's character Hawkins from the original Predator ('87), telling off color "your mom" yuk-yuks and generally acting like a jackass. Baxley (Thomas Jane) is afflicted with Tourette Syndrome and can't stop shouting "pussy". Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) is a man of God who believes everything (especially aliens) is a sign of the End Times. Lynch (Alfie Allen) is an explosives expert. Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) is the closest they have to a leader: a smooth-talking suicide case who missed his brain with the self-inflicted bullet. Combined, they're a dirty half-dozen who nobody would trust to complete even the simplest mission, let alone save the world from marauding space invaders.
Nevertheless, a mission is going to be assigned to these men, whether they like it or not. The dreadlocked, saber-toothed extraterrestrial (that rarely wears its cool-ass helmet in this sequel) has also been pulled from the wreckage of its crashed craft and is currently being studied by a cadre of shady scientists, led by giggling government psycho Traeger (a scene-stealing Sterling K. Brown). The head of this clandestine R&D op. – that's even staffed by Jake Busey, presumably playing the son of his father's bisected character from Predator 2 – recruits biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to dissect the monster and see what (if any) applicable data they can mine from its glow-in-the-dark blood.
Unfortunately for all the players involved in these two nearly disparate storylines, Quinn's on-the-spectrum son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) starts fooling around with the Predator tech the solider mailed back home (to make sure he had proof that he'd seen the beast out in the jungle). This hardware activates a beacon that renders the boy a target for more than just stock school bullies, as a massive Super Predator (or Apex Predator) is sent to earth to retrieve both its predecessor and the weaponry it unwittingly handed over to the humans. Now, Quinn and his new crew have to get to the kid before either of the hunters do, as the lab’s prisoner breaks free from the it’s mad scientists' restraints and heads off to beat its incoming competition to the punch (for reasons we’ll learn in a final act twist).
Thus begins a series of muscular action set pieces that mangle a nigh innumerable amount of bodies in many, many colorful ways. The Predator combines copious splatter with a half-cocked attempt at a Spielbergian adventure cinema tone, with the iconic movie monster deploying every last tool of its trade to totally annihilate the human form (though there's sadly no self-triage scene in Black's belated sequel). When the combat is contained to close quarters, these muscled motherfuckers from a galaxy far, far away choke slam opponents (and then each other!) like pro wrestlers in the middle of a Royal Rumble, knowing the only one left standing is going to be the champion. It's gloriously gross, and you can practically sense Black pointing at the monitor for everyone around him to come check out the mayhem he’s concocted. There are even Predator pitbulls, in case you ever wanted a cuddly hunting companion who eats human faces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Though the herky-jerk storytelling can be mostly waved off due to The Predator's ecstatic highs, some of the glaring technical flaws may be too much for some audience members. From any real objective perspective, Black's film is a mess – a series of scenes strung together into oddly sequenced A+B=C blocks by Editor Harry B. Miller III (whose TV background could somewhat explain the episodic feel). Meanwhile, the buckets of blood may be thick and seemingly bottomless, but the other digital SFX are janky and sometimes distracting (as the finale aboard a flying spacecraft is littered with wonky green screen work). Is it enough to tank the movie? Possibly, as one can't help but wonder how a major studio allowed this sort of shoddy big stage craftsmanship to escape into the wild. The publicly noted massive reshoots the movie underwent are present and accounted for in the visible seams, and whether or not that kills the picture dead is going to be up to the individual viewer.
Yet for those willing to overlook the somewhat shoddy filmmaking on display – not to mention the chaotically blocked and cut violence – there's a ton of fun to be had on The Predator's dime. Black and Dekker are howling obscenities and killing off characters with such reckless glee that it feels like they just got their first issue of Fangoria and are trying to one up the gags they discovered in its pages. This is an adherence to form for the sci-fi/action franchise as – if we're being truly honest with ourselves – they’re all pictures that prove Joe Bob’s “killed the dog” rule correct (either literally or figuratively). These are glorious B-Movies crafted on an A-Level, readymade for repeat Sunday afternoon viewings when nothing better catches your eye from the shelf. All the The Predator’s missing is a mock Carolco Films logo to clue you in on the joke.
The Predator hits theaters now.
This article is part ofB.M.D. Guide To: THE PREDATOR