The Predator is a movie that feels like it’s been put through a meat grinder and then put through numerous cycles in a blender. Good luck keeping track of where characters are or why crucial plot points are even happening amidst the ramshackle editing that renders the whole movie choppy & frequently incoherent. The disastrous editing isn’t all that goes wrong here though in this motion picture whose extremely low level of quality is tragic to see. You’d think pairing up Shane Black, the mind behind Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys, with a new Predator movie (Black had previously appeared in the first Predator film in a support role) would be the easiest recipe ever for surefire entertainment, but The Predator is instead a total waste of potential that rarely feels like a Shane Black movie, and I’m not just saying that because it doesn’t take place at Christmastime!
Up to this point, there’s been an elegant simplicity to these Predator movies that recognizes that there doesn’t need to be a whole lot of set-up to make a movie about aliens hunting down humans work. That simplicity goes out the window with The Predator, which squeezes way too many plot threads and characters into its 107-minute runtime. As the initial scenes rolled on and clumsily introduced numerous seemingly unconnected characters, I found my head already swimming trying to keep track of things, which is strange because some of these characters do end up having major connections to one another. For instance, sixth grader, Rory (Jacob Tremblay, a talented actor who tries to make do with one of the most thinly-sketched kid characters Shane Black has ever written), is the son of protagonist Quinn, but they’re initially separately introduced with zero indication that they’re related, a bizarre mistake that heavily undercuts late-in-the-game attempts to wring pathos out of their father/son relationship.
Amidst all the clunky introductory matters, something resembling a plot emerges. Quinn has just witnessed a Predator attack and now the government, namely Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), want to make sure he doesn’t blab about it, so they send him on this military prison bus filled with military individuals who have comitted some sort of criminal activity. While on the bus, a Predator breaks loose and Quinn, along with the other quirky individuals on the bus plus scientist Casey (Olivia Munn), team up to fight the Predator as well as a larger version of the Predator known as the Super-Predator. That’s the gist of what goes down in The Predator but the actual film makes sure to pile on numerous elements to make things as convoluted as possible.
If you just wanted to see aliens violently tear apart people, well, The Predator is too busy trying to figure out if it should like or mock its lead characters to deliver on the only thing people watching a Predator movie actually. That specific indecision on how The Predator feels about its lead players relates to the various quirky people on the military prison bus that Quinn eventually teams up with. Despite some of them being played by talented actors like Trevante Rhodes and Keegan-Michael Key, they end up just being a collection of quirks and disorders that the viewer can’t connect with, a problem that emerges because these characters keep being used as just punchlines the movie wants us to laugh at. This is especially true of the character of Baxley, a veteran whose Tourette’s Syndrome is used as the butt of numerous uncomfortable jokes. The Predator clearly wants these guys to be like the Guardians of the Galaxy, a ragtag band of misfits who the audience eventually roots for, but The Predator is too busy mocking these characters to come up with reasons for us to root for them.
Even worse than this poorly handled group of lead characters is the pervasively sloppy way The Predator approaches its assorted storylines and characters, though, to be fair, this problem seems to lie more in how existing footage has been edited together rather than with Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s script. Throughout the story, seemingly pivotal characters (namely the main human villain Will Traeger) keep vanishing for prolonged periods of times for no reason before abruptly popping back into the story while a number of key plot elements just happen for no rhyme or reason, most notably how the character of Traeger comes to know in the third act that the character Rory has crucial Predator-related information he needs. Easily the worst piece of editing has to be a shot of a pit bull that Rory has befriended running towards the main human characters, a clear indication that he’s about to join them for the rest of the adventure. However, the pit bull not only doesn’t join the characters for the rest of the story, we never even see the pit bull again after this shot! What happened to the pit bull? What was that shot supposed to even indicate?
The dismal editing doesn’t just render the story impossible to navigate, it also undercuts the woefully few action sequences something fierce, particularly a nighttime firefight climax in the woods that was already gonna be difficult to make out visually due to the lack of lighting. The fight scenes that occur later on in the movie were always gonna be difficult to make work though because they make use of the Super-Predator character, a version of the iconic aliens that frequently ditches practical suits for an all-CGI alien that does not blend well into live-action environments at all and the same can be said for the also all-CGI alien dogs (creatures that first appeared in the 2010 entry of the franchise Predators) the Super-Predator brings along with him to Earth. The tangible menace that the practical suits brought to the Predator creatures in prior movies is gone now and replaced by a whole bunch of derivatively designed CGI monsters that never inspire fear but do inspire my desire to know how much longer this damn movie is gonna drone on for.
In case you’re wondering why I’ve made it to the last paragraph of a Shane Black directorial effort without once talking about great examples of trademark Shane Black dialogue, that’s because there’s very little in The Predator, in regards to dialogue or anything else in the film, that feels like it comes from a Shane Black movie, though credit where credit is due, Will Traeger at least feels like the lone character who seems to have wandered off from an actual Shane Black movie and Sterling K. Brown is excellent in portraying that character. Otherwise, the zip, the fun and the creativity that could be in Shane Black’s other movies isn’t here. It’s been replaced by laziness (most notably in the super tired and stereotypical way the movie depicts the character of Rory as being on the Autism spectrum) and editing kneecaps the entire movie. Putting Shane Black in charge of a Predator movie may have sounded like a surefire recipe for success, but somebody must have read the recipe wrong when making this movie, because The Predator has come out of the oven borderline inedible.