Thursday, 13 September 2018

Review: The Predator

The Predator (3D)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Shane Black / Trailer

While the opening day, 6PM screening of Shane Black's The Predator wasn't sold out at my local, there was nevertheless no room in the auditorium for my cautious cynicism, which stood relegated to the foyer, chastened for the duration. Reader, I cannot remember the last time I was this happy to be proved wrong.

From the opening frames, Black's movie goes straight for the money, knowing there's no sense in a gradual reveal at this stage in the game. We open in the depths of space as a frantic game of cat and mouse results in a scout-ship crash landing on Earth and its pilot crossing bloody paths with special-ops assassin, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). Having secreted some of the alien-tech away as 'evidence', Quinn finds himself shipped off by his governmental superiors to a special holiday camp for People Who Know Too Much, while his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) finds himself with a new box of toys to play with. And someone wants their toys back. The rest, as they say, is hysteria...

This production has a lot of love for the Predator series as a whole, and it shows. While there are nods in the script to the events of the first two movies specifically*1, Shane Black and Fred Dekker's screenplay also expands (or more fittingly, evolves) the ongoing mythology of the creatures visiting Earth for sport. Not that it's all heavy exposition by any means, the film gleefully earns its 15 certificate (ie the blood splatters but never pools) and hares along to its inevitable conclusion at a brisk rate. Interestingly, The Predator makes a point of beginning in a suburban environment following a ship-crash, moving through government/military labs and ending with a blazing woodland showdown. In other words, this is what Aliens vs Predator: Requiem could - and should - have been.

To its credit, The Predator never tries to be more than it is - a fun disposable sci-fi action callback to a purer, if slightly dumber, era. Which is what the property really needs to separate it from its morose stablemate, if we're being charitable. Henry Jackman's romping score is an homage to both the franchise itself and 80s action movies in general. All in, The Predator is funny, self-effacing and crowd-pleasingly explosive (a lot of loud laughter in the room I attended). It's not necessarily a smart piece, but since when has that been a requirement for the series? And it's almost brutally lean, too. Shane Black is not fucking about here, making almost precisely the movie he intended to, thankfully. 

This could be the most fun we've had with a Yautja since Dead End.

But it's not all plain-sailing, of course. Although the storyline has a robust central (and more importantly, easily portable) macguffin, the screenplay has too many characters running around in its wake. The groups of which these people are a part (hero's family, band of mercs, various government agencies) are all well-established archetypes for a movie like this, but the sheer quantity vs run-time means that the audience has forgotten about some of the characters by the time they reappear for their inevitable farm-buying scene.

And speaking of the players, while Boyd Holbrook and Jacob Tremblay make the best of a script designed for ensemble delivery, there's the feeling that both actors have been cast for a 12A version of this movie, rather than the 15-rated one we got. Holbrook's basically fine but not quite suited to the 'rough diamond' role he's meant to be playing, being a little too screen-friendly. Similarly, having 11yr old Jacob as his genius son uncovering a box full of Predator tech feels a little 'Jurassic Park', and not in a good way. The safety-net of what you can and can't do with younger characters in harsher action movies means that things are never going to get too fraught, and although the claret (and the guacamole, to be fair) is on-tap here, everything's nerfed down to action-levels rather than ramped up to visceral.

On a presentation front, this is pretty much what the trailer was selling. The 'guy in the suit' Yautja in the first half looks and moves far better than the (necessarily) CGI version in the second. And a word of warning, the 3D is mostly pointless (a lot of this film takes place at night, so bear that in mind for your lenticular light-loss), although there are a handful of well executed moments in the first and third acts (mostly of people being well executed).

But above all else, The Predator remembers it's there to have fun as a love-letter to 1980s action cinema, and the value of that really can't be overstated.

How many other movies can you name which slip in blatant references to E.T, Blade Runner and Ghostbusters with a straight face..?

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Tonally, Predator 1 and 2.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Oh hell yeah.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Oh hell yeah.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say in Shane Black's case as he has a high bar already. The cast are all solid, but it's not the kind of screenplay where any of the characters can really shine.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well that depends how wrong your opinion is.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard. Plenty of opportunity, too. I mean plenty.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Olivia Munn's in this, and she was in Iron Man 2 which was directed by (and starred) Jon 'Rio Durant' Favreau.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The screenplay goes to the point of referencing the creature-visits of 1987 and 1997 (for obvious reasons the characters would have no knowledge either way of Predators which happened off-world), which means the Xeno-skull aboard the ship at the end of Predator 2 is still canon for this arm of the timeline. Which is like Shane Black going round to Ridley Scott’s house and putting a brick through the window with a picture of Michael Fassbender taped round it. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. So many people I know have a real downer on it, but I have a soft spot for anything Predator...