I was born in 1980, so the late '80s/early '90s is when I started watching the movies that kids wanted to see and also act out with their toy guns in the woods behind their house. The Terminator and its first sequel, Aliens (NOT Alien, not enough firepower for us young'ns), the Rambos, Die Hard... you know the ones. Yes, I loved horror movies, but didn't have a lot of friends who shared that interest until high school, so during those formative years (4th-6th grade) I probably watched these types more often; debates would revolve around who'd win in a fight between Arnold and Sly, not Freddy and Jason. Luckily, even if they weren't usually my first choice these films were all just as entertaining as any slasher to me, with one exception: Predator. As much as I liked Arnold in his other stuff, I found it kind of slow - I'd watch the big fight at the end, rarely bothering to watch the entire movie. I vividly remember getting into a fight with my neighbor at a sleepover because I was the only one who actually had a copy (taped off of HBO, of course) and refused to bring it over because I didn't want to watch it again - outside of a few key scenes it just never clicked with me.
I relate this anecdote because when I say the following I want to make sure you know it's not exactly clearing a high bar in my house: Shane Black's The Predator is my favorite entry in the series.
In fact, if not for the obvious tinkering I'd full blown love it as opposed to "it's a fun movie that I enjoyed more than the OK original." Fox's second-guessing and insistence on pesky "world building" was far too obvious in the film's final form, and - given their current situation with Disney - I'm guessing restoring Shane Black's original cut* is not a priority. But even the mangled version we got is still much closer to my sensibilities than any previous entry in the series; they've each had this or that thing that I liked, but I can honestly say that sitting in a (nearly empty) theater last fall gave me the most fun I've ever had watching this ugly mother f*****r decimate a group of men with its high tech weaponry. Everyone I confided this to called me crazy, and that's fine - I'm not here to argue (and I sure as hell won't be reading the comments), but wanted to use this space to tell folks who might have been talked out of seeing it that it's nowhere near as bad as some fans would have you believe.
Of course, that only rings true if you're a fan of Shane Black, which I am. Comic fans are still whining about the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, but luckily for me I don't go into a comic movie expecting it to be exactly like its source material, and found that stuff to be a delightful surprise. In fact, it's my favorite of the three Iron Man entries, and his other two directorial efforts are even better. I've been a fan of his off-kilter tough guy dialogue since I first took notice of it in Last Boy Scout ("Just wanted to break the ice." "I like ice - leave it the f*ck alone.") and was ecstatic when he started directing with 2005's still undervalued Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I hoped his increased value after Iron Man 3 would improve The Nice Guys' fortunes at the box office, but alas - on BoxOfficeMojo's list of buddy comedies, it even trails behind the likes of Taxi and Showtime. Needless to say, when he signed on to do The Predator, I was delighted - not because there would be another entry in the series, but because I figured it was a guaranteed hit.
Unfortunately, the much publicized reshoots and negative buzz killed any chance of that happening. It's the first sequel (not counting AVP) to open at #1 at the box office, but it didn't have any legs and barely scraped its way to $51m domestic (overseas ticket sales helped it save face), and the average fan was disappointed: its Letterboxd rating is a 2.4 - the same as Terminator: Genisys, if you'd like a pretty sad comparison. And to all that I say: YOUR LOSS! I had a blast in the theater and found it just as fun at home, particularly with Sterling K. Brown's wisecracking human villain Traeger, whose primary objective seems to be finding out if someone ever had sex with a Predator (I also loved the running gag about how it should be called a Hunter, not a Predator). I have zero defense for the tacked on final scene, which should have been a post-credits sequence so it could more easily be ignored, but otherwise my only real problem with the movie wasn't Black (or co-writer Fred Dekker, another guy I root for) or any of the actors' fault - it was the far-too-obvious mangling at the behest of the executives. The third act has a number of blatant edits and confusing geographical issues (Olivia Munn seems to run about 20 miles in five minutes) that are clearly the result of reshooting some parts and trying to fit them into the older material, and pretty much every death of note occurs in like a three minute chunk which I can't imagine for one second was the original plan.
Until then though, it finally gave me the joy so many others have gotten out of the original (and presumably, the other sequels - more on those soon). I found more to like with this motley group of "Loonies" than any of the series' other core groups, particularly Tom Jane and Keegan-Michael Key's characters, who were both suffering in their own way from PTSD, as well as Trevante Rhodes' Nebraska, a suicidal vet who becomes a faithful ally to Boyd Holbrook's McKenna. Granted, none of them are textbook "badasses" like Arnold's Dutch and his pals, but that's something that no sequel has really attempted (the previous two entries gave us Danny Glover and Adrien Brody as the protagonists, let's not forget) so it's hardly an issue - if they got an Arnold wannabe it'd just make us miss the real McCoy, so it's better to go in a different direction. The Predator carnage is sufficiently violent/gory, but I had just as much fun watching the humans bounce off one another, and I was happy to spend as much time with them as possible. They're funny and foul-mouthed, but care about each other and had each others' backs instead of the usual in-fighting that serves as characterization in so many modern group movies - I genuinely liked all of them and didn't want anyone to die.
Naturally, most of them do, and on that note I should stress that Black delivered on the action too - the big bus escape/breakout scene is a blast, and even though it gave me unwanted flashbacks to Requiem, the football field/school scenes are engaging, showing how the team starts to work together as a unit. Even the climax (not the final scene, F that noise) is pretty good despite all the wonky editing - I love the idea of a ship's shield being a threat to our guys standing on top of it, and seeing a bad guy get his comeuppance (albeit too quickly) via a stolen Predator weapon. Also, for what it's worth, it never drags - one issue I had with the first film is that it comes down to Arnold and the Predator with about 30 minutes to go, so it got a bit repetitive not to mention largely suspense-free since Elpidia Carrillo's Anna was already off the playing field (the same thing happened in Predator 2, with Danny Glover's last man stand against the creature spreading to three locations before it finally concluded). But here, Munn sticks around and the kid (Jacob Tremblay) needs to be rescued, so there's a chance Holbrook might sacrifice himself to save them, giving it a bit of tension the others lacked.
Speaking of the other sequels, as I mentioned each had something to offer but never really came together for me either. 1990's Predator 2 is the weakest of the lot, if you ask me, as we spend a full hour waiting for our new heroes to catch up and learn what we already know - that a Predator is the culprit behind some recent gang slayings, not a rival gang member. I get the appeal of the basic idea, and it has its moments (the old lady is a hoot) but it's a fairly listless entry that I almost suspect helped make the first one look better and contributed to what I see as a somewhat inflated reputation. Things improved with 2010's Predators; I liked the idea of the hunters bringing people to their planet in a Most Dangerous Game kind of deal, and the characters were distinguished (perhaps even moreso than in the new film) while also probably introducing audiences to great actors like Walt Goggins and Mahershala Ali (also, we got to see Laurence Fishburne having fun as a nutcase). However, the third act twist with Topher Grace's character was a fatal flaw, and it really could have used a break from the jungle/forest setting, something that Black and Dekker clearly understood by confining such locales to the opening and climax while setting the rest in a small town, lab, etc. It may be another planet, but for the most part they might as well have been back in Central America.
Nope, this is where it all clicked for me. Oddly, part of that admiration stemmed from knowledge of the series' history - the kid trick or treating as the Van Damme version of the Predator is one of the most genius sight gags in years. Alas, the film's failure at the box office has likely killed the series for good, and if anything we should be grateful that Fox even bothered to put any bonus features on the Blu-ray, as it could have easily been dumped onto a bare-bones disc so they could be done with it once and for all. Instead we get a rather thorough look at the creation of the suit that performer Brian Prince wore, the cast, and Black himself, as well as a recap of the three previous entries (again, the AVPs are ignored) and a handful of deleted scenes that don't really clear up any of the movie's issues (though one explains where they got their weapons; I just assumed McKenna had some in his house but now we see Alfie Allen's character buy them from a redneck in the motel parking lot) but do provide a few more funny lines for Brown's Traeger. In short - the disc won't change your mind if you were a hater, but should satisfy those who agree with me that it was a solid addition to the series.
Over the years I've tried to give the original another chance, hoping "this time" will be where it clicks, but it never takes. Alan Silvestri's terrific score aside, it's just "OK", and I can't ever get too involved with it it; the first act is just generic action stuff, with McTiernan falling back on "let's just cut together a bunch of shots of people firing guns and stuntmen flying/falling" instead of his usual tight, motivated action, and then you just watch the Predator make short work out of everyone until Arnold was the only one left to actually put up a fight (I definitely get the "it's a slasher movie with badasses" defense - I just don't think anyone was intending that). Even seeing it with a crowd didn't help; I've changed my tune on other movies after seeing them with a receptive audience (as opposed to by myself at home) but when they showed the original at Beyond Fest I found myself waiting for it be over so the Arnold Q&A could start - his stories about making the movie were far more entertaining to me. Again, I'm not telling anyone they're "wrong" for liking it (if anything I feel bad I can't join them), so don't yell at me or feel the need to defend it - I know I'm in the minority here and that's fine. I just wanted to thank Shane Black and his team for finally making a Predator movie for ME, and daydream of a world where every franchise was lucky enough to be "ruined" by his touch.
* Minus the sex offender scene, of course - I'm guessing that'll rightfully never see the light of day, though I'd like to entertain the notion that if the movie was a hit and Fox was in a better mood these days that they might pull a Christopher Plummer and reshoot that scene with a new actor in order to give Munn's character an actual intro.