Why have I seen six Predator movies? Why have I seen Predator, Predator 2, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (twice in the theater, if I’m being honest), Predators, and now The Predator? I ask because the creators of The Predator seem to be wondering the same thing, out loud, during their own movie. Director Shane Black, the mythologized Lethal Weapon screenwriter who’s lately become a successful director (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys), has come home to another ’80s-born franchise, and he spends almost the whole movie making fun of how bad and inexplicable the series has always been.
This is fair: There is not a single good Predator movie. No, not even the Arnold Schwarzenegger original, which famously coronated the dreadlocked murderous aliens with heat vision and a mouth that looks like a toothy butthole. Black and his co-writer, Fred Dekker, are happy to concede as much. In effect turning the new movie into a very gruesome comedy, they have their characters try and fail to describe the titular beast (in one of the movie’s repeated gestures toward examining what Roger Ebert called the franchise’s “subtle racism,” a character describes the extraterrestrial as “an alien Whoopi Goldberg”) and argue over why it’s called a “predator” at all, since a real predator wouldn’t kill for sport. (Shouldn’t it be “the hunter”?) They seem to have as little idea as I do why people like them keep making these movies, and why people like me keep seeing them. And yet—through sheer force of weird meta gags and explosive viscera—they might have made the most fun movie in the franchise.
In this go-around, which has a very complicated plot I encourage you to ignore, a predator crashes to earth and is revealed in its invisible form by blood drizzling down from the exposed entrails of an early victim. Nice. An American sniper (Boyd Holbrook) happens to witness the raining guts and, for reasons I cannot explain, ships some predator technology to his estranged son (Jacob Tremblay, in the first of the movie’s several genius casting stunts), who can decode it because (and this the movie does explain, though you might wish it hadn’t) he has autism spectrum disorder. This sets into motion events that bring together a villainous deep-state agent (Sterling K. Brown), an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), a ragtag group of military outcasts (including Keegan-Michael Key), and predators waging an intergalactic war against each other over the future of the planet. It is as messy and absurd as it sounds, and we haven’t even gotten to the giant alien hunting dogs. Sadly, early reports that the movie would feature a female predator do not, as far as I could surmise, pan out, but there is a new predator that’s taller than a semi. Trade-offs.
The cast is sublime and largely wasted because with so many of them, it’s impossible they wouldn’t be. Take it as a sign that every actor in Hollywood has the same dumb love for this franchise and couldn’t stay away, either. But on the matter of action, Black knows the trade, and it shows: This is by far the best-looking and most pyrotechnic movie in the franchise, with an impressive array of vehicles and hacked-off limbs soaring lovingly through the frame. The budget, too, soars, to a franchise high, and even when the extra dollars encourage some regrettably digital gore—as when, say, a spaceship’s forcefield vivisects a man—the effects are delivered with unmistakable affection. Black largely pulls off the movie’s strange, very persistent sense of humor, if not its odder subplots. (As one begins: “Guys, I get it. You wanna know if someone fucked an alien.”) And while I could not in good conscience try to adjudicate a Predator movie’s politics, this installment has some … questionable ones, as when it ascribes god-like qualities to autistic people, plays Tourette’s syndrome for laughs like it’s 1999, or repeatedly jokingly insinuates that a predator, or several men, might assault the movie’s only real female character. (That Munn has been open about a dispute with 20th Century Fox over the movie’s initial inclusion of a registered sex offender does not make this any more pleasant.)
Still, after The Predator ended—about 20 minutes later than it should have, sorry to say, thanks to an interminable climax—I once again had that familiar mix of giddy satisfaction and confusion at my sad lizard brain. Then I stood in the aisle as the credits rolled, and I realized I was waiting for a last tease for Predator 7.
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