It’s been more than 30 years since audiences were first introduced to the universe’s deadliest hunter in 1987’s “Predator,” a testosterone-fueled action flick that helped define the over-the-top tone of the era. Since then, sequels and crossover films have failed to capture the interstellar reptilian magic of the original. Now, we can add the latest addition to the series, the remake “The Predator,” to the “nice try” list.
Directed and co-written by Shane Black, who played one of the squad members in the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring original, the story follows Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who has a close encounter with a predator when its ship crash-lands. The alien hunter kills McKenna’s squad, but he escapes and is interrogated about the incident by a shadowy government group that has worked to keep the predators’ existence a secret.
Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), a biologist with a penchant for aliens, is summoned by the group to investigate a captured predator, which is believed to have human DNA. Known as the Fugitive, that predator is on the run from a larger, more-advanced predator known as the Upgrade — a hulking, 11-foot-tall monster with bulletproof skin and plenty of aggression. Ever the warrior, McKenna joins a squad known as the Loonies — a group of downtrodden military veterans — to stop the Upgrade and save the world.
For an action movie, that’s pretty complicated, and as a result it suffers from serious tone and pacing issues. It doesn’t feel as much like the earlier “Predator” as it does “Rambo” with space aliens. If the rule in the 1987 film was to show the monster as little as possible to build suspense, the order here is to show the monster early and often. Black makes up for the lack of tension with plenty of gore.
Another problem is that the movie isn’t sure if it wants to be a comedy or not. The characters — a suicidal ex-corporal (Trevante Rhodes), a man with Tourette syndrome (Thomas Jane) and another veteran who copes with PTSD through humor (Keegan-Michael Key) — spew endless quips. While the original had a sense of humor, it wasn’t front-and-center like it is here.
The film moves at such a quick pace that any character development is impossible, jumping to gunplay too quickly for any real growth to occur. Many characters are killed off so nonchalantly that you might have to go back and check to make sure they died.
As the token female lead, Munn’s characterization actually regresses. She begins as a wholly formed character, but as the film marches on she becomes just another person firing a weapon. These days, backing off the development of a strong female star stands out as a blatant half-measure.
That is to say nothing of the new predator. A monster movie at its core, “The Predator” mostly will be judged on how intriguing its main creature is, and the Upgrade is a scary version of reptilian hominid we have come to know and fear. At least, that’s the case initially. Sure, he’s huge, angry and pretty much impervious to bullets, but so were all the other predators before him. Eventually we come to realize that this one is just a little bigger and angrier, and while it’s neat to see another addition to the “Predator” universe, the payoff doesn’t feel like it was worth the decade-long wait.
“The Predator” is far from the worst of the series. That honor belongs to 2007’s “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.” Callbacks to previous films — like Rhodes’ use of the classic “Get to the chopper!” line — are in ample supply. For fans of the series, maybe that’s enough to make the film a box office success. After all, it’s not often that a new predator comes around. Sooner or later, they’ll have to get it right.