When I heard Shane Black was directing a Predator sequel I was excited. I hoped he could shoot a killer follow-up that mixed action and his trademark, quippy dialogue and character interaction. The Predator as it made it to theaters is disappointingly just OK, thanks in large part to some curious writing decisions and what I assume was plenty of studio interference. The first half of the film promises greatness, but when Black and company move toward the climax, editing coherence, world building and franchise reverence go out the window. The Predator is an entertaining, messy disappointment that had all the makings of a classic. Genre fans will appreciate the return of the Predators to Earth, but Black's film falls perilously closer to Alien vs. Predator territory than the land of the original classic.
The film opens on a Predator ship evading destruction and crash landing on Earth. Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his team are dispatched to retrieve the stricken aircraft, and are attacked by a Predator during the mission. McKenna escapes with his life and steals some of the Predator's armor, which he mails home to his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and son Rory (Jacob Temblay). Government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), who heads the self-explanatory "Stargazer Project," has Quinn arrested, and asks evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to study a seemingly incapacitated Predator at a government lab. The creature awakens and kills a host of employees, before breaking free and heading back into the world to continue its hunt, where it encounters an even deadlier Predator.
Black, who starred in the original Predator, feels like a natural choice to helm a violent action flick full of rough, fast-talking characters. The first reels of the film work, for the most part, thanks to snappy dialogue and rapid action. Also on the short bus of military prisoners are Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes), a former Marine officer; Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), an unhinged prankster; Baxley (Thomas Jane), a veteran with PTSD and Tourette syndrome; Lynch (Alfie Allen); and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). As Traeger and Bracket attempt to track down the Predator, the rejects contemporaneously help McKenna find his son, who unwraps the Predator armor and inadvertently triggers a deadly super Predator's travel to Earth. In these scenes there is plenty of time for the characters to bullshit back and forth, and this is when The Predator is at its snarky, violent best. Unfortunately, there are a number of other problems to come.
Those problems involve Black and Fred Dekker's script, and what I assume is Fox's meddling into the production. Black makes a number of interesting, unappealing choices for his characters. Chief among them is (spoilers ahead) making Rory's autism part of a stupid plot point that the Predators are mining planets for the best genes, so Rory apparently represents advancement in human evolution. This plot device will offend some, and at minimum it's an unnecessary, eye-rolling idea that I am surprised Black chose to express. The misfits and McKenna are varying degrees of annoying, too, particularly Jane's Baxley, who mostly just curses and yells throughout the film. There are moments of Black brilliance in the dialogue, but this movie feels like a dumber imitation of the director's style. Despite the questionable characters, the acting is actually quite good, particularly from leads Munn, Holbrook and Brown. They appear to be having fun with the material, and provide energetic performances.
Another problem here is the editing, which is some of the worst I have seen in a major studio release. From the introduction of Munn's character, which comes out of nowhere thanks to the excision of an introductory scene after Black came under fire for hiring a friend on the sex offender registry to play a bit part in said scene. The second half of the film reeks of studio interference, too, as plot threads are picked up and abandoned at will. Characters get to different locations in different vehicles without explanation, and you could easily convince me an hour of plot development was somewhere on the editing room floor. And don't get me started on some of the awful effects involving the Predator dogs and super Predator, which appear downright unfinished. It may sound like I'm completely trashing The Predator, but I actually had fun with it despite all these problems. Black could have made a new classic, but something went wrong during the process.
Fox's 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is expectedly excellent. Shot on Arri Alexa digital cameras, the film looks fantastic in high definition. Fine-object detail and textures are abundant, and wide shots are crystal clear and stretch for miles. Other than the aforementioned CGI hiccups, the film looks fantastic in motion throughout. Skin tones are accurate, colors are bold and nicely saturated, and black levels are strong, particularly for digital photography. The Predators in their practical suits are believably realistic in the scope of the story, and the image offers sharp, clear visuals without major flaws.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is completely immersive, with robust effects blending, full surround action and LFE support. The rapid-fire dialogue is crystal clear and balanced appropriately with effects and score. Action effects, like gunfire, Predator combat and explosions, roll through the surrounds and shake the subwoofer, and all this unspools without distortion or overcrowding. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a striking, reflective slipcover. Extras include a few Deleted Scenes (6:55 total/HD); A Touch of Black (10:28/HD), a look at the director's style; Predator Evolution (20:11/HD), about the antagonists, both old and new; and The Takedown Team (16:14/HD), which spotlights a number of the actors. You also get Predator Catch Up (9:07/HD), which is a pointless reel of scenes from other franchise films; a Gallery (1:50/HD); and Theatrical Trailers (6:06/HD). None of these features hints at any of the reported behind-the-scenes drama.
Shane Black's The Predator is a hot mess, but at least it's a relatively entertaining one. Studio interference, bad editing and questionable plot lines abound, and take away from the entertaining action and occasional moments of Black character-interaction brilliance. Genre fans may want to add this to their collections, but I suggest everyone Rent It first.