The Predator, co-written and directed by Shane Black, is a bewildering, nonsensical mess that left me confused, conflicted and struggling to understand the reactions I was having to it. There were elements and moments to this film that I liked, and I’ll definitely talk about them in this review. But there was a lot in this film that I didn’t like, and I’ll perhaps go as far as to say I hated, but more than my likes and my dislikes there was in general a lot about this film I just didn’t understand. Whether it was decisions made by the characters, decisions made by the writers or decisions made by its director, The Predator is a film that left me utterly divided on how I felt about it, what I had watched and if I actually enjoyed it. This will be an interesting (difficult) review to write so let’s get to it and see if I can begin to get a grasp on the various bizarre elements of this film and how I truly felt about it.
A group of unpredictable, unreliable ex-soldiers, a science teacher, and a secret organisation known as ‘Stargazer’ all get wrapped up in a blood-filled chase to track down and eliminate two predators who are warring it out on Earth. Why are they here and what do they want, and more importantly, is it interesting or competently told? Well, I’ll leave that one to you to figure out.
If I was to do my best to describe The Predator, it would be to say that it’s as if people assembled in a board room and began bounding around ideas for what the story of the film could be, they settled on three decent ideas but couldn’t decide which one to move ahead with and so made a movie incorporating elements from all three ideas. Then once they’d filmed that and realised how incomprehensible it all was, they butchered it in an editing room, thought it was good enough (or saw no way of salvaging it) and then put it out into cinemas hoping we’d all somehow not realise the total mess before us and they’d (hopefully) get away with it and make a lot of money. That’s how I have to imagine this film came about, because any other way leads me to think there were people deliberately sabotaging this project from behind the scenes. It’s just a total mess!
The editing, the structure, the pacing, the tone; they’re all shockingly unbalanced. The film jumps around from plot point to plot point with no coherent thread running between them. Scenes begin, stop halfway through while the film shifts to another part of the plot, and then out of nowhere drops you back into the previous scene, but many minutes have past and you’ve completely fallen out of the rhythm of that previous scene. I found watching this film – primarily in the beginning when its setting everything up – to be a very jarring and continually confusing.
It doesn’t help that the actual story in The Predator is harmfully dumb, completely nonsensical and totally unnecessary in the larger scope of the predator franchise. The simplicity of a group of elite soldiers being hunted and picked off one-by-one in the jungle has been replaced by branching storylines, interspecies wars, genetic manipulation, global warming(?) and a whole host of other elements that don’t go together or work within the context of a predator film. Much of what happens in this film will leave you questioning why it just happened, how it just happened and where it’s going with it. This is very much a film where if you completely switch off your brain and allow for no rational thought then you’ll probably have an enjoyable time, but I’m always of the opinion that if you have to switch your brain off to enjoy a film then that’s a film that has failed.
So not only is the story bloated and unnecessary but even worse is that it’s wholly terrible. Do you know what’s great sometimes? Simplicity. A group of elite special forces soldiers being hunted by an unknown creature and slowly falling apart physically and mentally. A cybernetic life-form coming back from the future and hunting down the mother of the resistance leader; wiping him from history before he can even exist. An alien getting loose upon a cargo vessel and killing off the crew one-by-one. A shark in the water. Sometimes you don’t need a complicated, universe spanning plot, but for some reason The Predator – a franchise that has succeeded on playing it simple – has an encumbered, overly-complicated plot that quickly gets away from itself and never offers anything intriguing or compelling.
It’s made worse by the fact that it’s spread out over many different characters, who all feel like they’re taking part in different movies. There are moments in this film that will genuinely boggle your mind because of how stupid they are. And most of the time it will try to mask the stupidity with some woefully delivered exposition that we’re just supposed to accept as good reasoning for why things are happening. It’s laziness on a whole other level. With how Shane Black likes to operate both as a writer and a director, I do have to wonder if this is all one big practical joke on his part. He’s seen the state of big blockbuster films and wanted to see how much he could troll the audience with a truly dumb movie.
Speaking of Shane Black: His particular witty, comical style falls flat in this film. There are a few moments that got a chuckle from me – Shane Black will always find a way of tickling the funny bone – but for the most part the comedy in this film felt outdated, out-of-place and quite uncomfortable. Watching as a super-Predator (that’s how I refer to the new CGI monstrosity) eviscerates people and then in the very next scene there are jokes at the expense of people with Tourette’s, autism or PTSD just felt bizarre. It’s a further factor in this film feeling wildly confusing and continually difficult to keep up with.
But it’s not all bad all the time. There are a few enjoyable elements to The Predator. One of them is the eclectic group of soldiers who all come packaged with their own little quirks. When it’s them in a room with their unhinged bantering and their penchant for shooting something, the film is quite fun. I wish the film had been solely this group – with the inclusion of Olivia Munn’s character who also brings a good dynamic to the group. Take away the questionable dialogue and focus on this unique group of characters chasing down a predator and you might have had a good film, but as I’ve now pointed out a number of times, this film piles plot point after plot point and character after character onto one another and inevitably crumbles under its own weight – a fate that it very much its own fault.
Another shining element is when the classic predator is in action. This is perhaps the best the practical suit has ever looked and operated. There’s a particular action sequence involving the classic predator that’s fluid in its movement and satisfying to watch. So it’s a shame that it’s quickly pushed to the side in favour of the new super-predator, which is completely CGI and never once looks realistic or threatening. It really robs the film of any significant threat when you’re watching your main character tussle with an 11-foot CGI predator that looks cartoony and dumb. In general, the visual effects in this film are bad. From CGI predator dogs to some really dodgy looking effects; the film suffers when it tries to go big with its special effects.
And I suppose you’d hope that even with a bad story, too many characters and poor decision-making with the predator that there’d still be some satisfying action to fall back on, but I’m afraid to say that the film even fails in that area as well. Apart from one, maybe two scenes, the action in this film is difficult (if not impossible) to follow or see and most of the time is really unsatisfying to watch. There are no clever kills by the predator. There are no moments where a gory death results in a shockingly gratifying smile. It’s a lot of dark scenes with characters unloading bottomless clips at something neither they or you can see.
So with The Predator, its good qualities are sparse and difficult to find. There are certainly elements to this film I found enjoyable, but for the most part the positives are nearly always overwhelmed by the negatives. I left this film confused with the reactions I was having to it. The moments I enjoyed where making the rounds in my head and making me think I had a good time, but as I’ve had more time to think about the film and dive deeper into different areas of it (in part thanks to this review) I’ve realised just how bad this movie is. I’m almost tempted to say it’s insulting to both the predator franchise and to those who watch it hoping for a new worthy addition to the franchise. Discounting the AVP films, this is undoubtedly the worst of the predator films. It’s so disappointing that this is what we got.
I DO NOT recommend The Predator. At first I was thinking I’d tell you to go see this film as it’s one of those ‘it’s so bad it’s good type of experiences’. That you should see it so that you could witness a truly horrendous movie and laugh with the rest of us at its failings. But that would involve you paying money; supporting this film and making the people behind it think we want more of this type of experience, and I don’t want that, and trust me, neither do you! DO NOT see this film, PLEASE! I promise you it’s not worth it.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of The Predator, and my review of it, so please leave any opinions, thoughts or feedback you may have down in the comments section. Liked what you read? Then please consider following both/either my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I want to end by saying a sincere thank you to you. I love writing, talking, thinking about films and this blog is my chance to do that and you stopping by to read it helps support that, so thank you. Have a wonderful day and I hope to see you return.