The Predator feels like both a lesser Predator movie and a lesser Shane Black movie, but it’s still a Shane Black Predator movie, which makes it at least medium watchable even when it shouldn’t be. It feels a little like Black, famously murdered in his bit role in the original Predator, had promising ideas for four different Predator spinoffs and just tried to squeeze them all into one movie. The Predator ends up feeling overstuffed but exuberant, like an unmedicated ADD kid directed it, with a series of scenes that are fun individually but don’t exactly hang together as a coherent movie.
Shane Black flirted briefly with adult respectability in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. His last two movies, The Nice Guys and now The Predator, really remind you that he’s still the Wolfman Got Nards guy at heart.
In past movies, the Predator has always been essentially one thing: an intergalactic trophy hunter, hunting the most dangerous game: buff, sweaty men. Black cleverly carves up the inherent misnomer of this premise — “they call him The Predator, but a predator hunts for food. This guy hunts for sport, he’s more like… I don’t know, The Bass Fisherman” — and then justifies it in typical Shane Black style. i.e., with a smart-alecky one-liner: “We took a vote and decided that ‘Predator’ just sounds cooler.”
More importantly, Black complicates the hell out of this basic trophy hunter premise. No longer is the Predator’s motive simply to kill humans for sport. Predators (yes, plural) have long-term goals now. They can even communicate, using translator technology. There are “good” Predators and “bad” Predators; Predators with utopian aspirations and rogue Predators resisting those utopian aspirations. Those Predators then smash into humans — good humans and bad humans, humans with evil intentions, and rogue humans who resist those evil intentions. Also, there are dog predators now. Dog predators with Predator dreads. Yep, deal with it.
Suffice it to say, that’s, ah, a lot to fit into one movie. The first human to make contact with the Predators is CIA sniper Quinn McKenna, played by Boyd Holbrook from Narcos, whose gravelly voice always sounds like an affectation, like someone raised a handsomeboi exclusively on hard-boiled noir voiceovers. McKenna sees a Predator pod fall to Earth during an “op,” manages to keep from getting killed by the Predator, and even mails a couple Predator souvenirs back home, where they’re opened by his elementary school-aged son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), a misunderstood prodigy the other school kids have nicknamed “Ass Burgers.”
McKenna returns home, only to be placed in a secret unit full of veteran crazies who know too much, in an effort to discredit him, by evil government guy Traeger, played by Sterling K. Brown. The other players in the unit include Keegan-Michael Key as a wild-eyed jokester (kind of redundant since everyone in a Shane Black movie constantly does Borscht Belt one-liners), Trevante Rhodes from Moonlight as a suicidal chain smoker (cigarettes and people trying to quit smoking being another Shane Black staple), Thomas Jane as a merc with an incredibly inconsistent form of Tourette’s Syndrome (he swears and twitches at first and then stops, without explanation), and a few others. They call their Dirty Dozen-style gang of expendables “The Loonies.” Also entering into this mix is foxy biologist Casey Bracket, played by Olivia Munn, called in to try to explain a few things about the Predators, and who subsequently delivers the line about bass fishing.
Again, that’s, uh… a lot. It’s a movie about aliens pitting an earnest biologist against a warlike government, a movie about a team of expendable alien assassins (which this franchise already kind of did in 2010’s vastly underrated Predators), a movie about an Asperberger’s kid holding the key to defeating the Predators, and a long weird subplot about dogs (something I imagine might’ve come together and made more sense had part of it not been dropped on account of Shane Black hiring his pal the sex offender).