The Predator is the second-best entry in the franchise behind only the original. It’s smart, fast-paced and has some ideas you don’t usually get from a science fiction/action movie.
Since pretty much everyone who’s seen a Predator movie is likely to see this one – and anyone else who buys a ticket will have at least some idea of a Predator is – director/co-writer (with The Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker) Shane Black opens with a space chase, as a Predator gets away from a larger Predator ship and comes crashing to Earth.
Not too far away, sniper Captain Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan, Morgan) is at work – assassinating someone at a secret meeting in the middle of nowhere (Columbia).
The others in his team run afoul of the pilot of the ship and McKenna does enough damage to survive contact – taking the Predator’s discarded helmet and gauntlet for proof of the encounter. Not being stupid, he puts it in the mail, but unfortunately, the contents of his p.o. box are taken to his estranged wife’s home due to failure to keep up payments.
McKenna’s son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay, Room), opens the package and proceeds to figure out how they work.
Meanwhile, scientist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn, Six, Ocean’s Eight) is whisked away by helicopter to a secret base that has a heavily sedated Predator tied down – and a host of its equipment on display. (Tying down a Predator may not be this secret organization’s smartest move…)
McKenna, of course, finds himself interrogated by that secret base’s boss, Traeger (Stirling K. Brown, This Is Us) – then shipped of to said base with a group of soldiers who refer to themselves as ‘the Loonies:’ Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, If Loving You Is Wrong), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele, Playing House), Baxley (Thomas Jane, The Expanse) and Lynch (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones, John Wick), Nettles Augusto Aguilera, Chasing Life).
Black introduces these characters and their stories in enough time to have us like us (Lynch, for example, has Tourette’s Syndrome, and Coyle had a meltdown following a tough situation and now cracks jokes to distract himself), but not so much that we’re crying ‘Get on with it!’
Jake Busey has what amounts to an extended cameo as Keyes, the head of the brain trust at the secret base, while Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale, 24: Live Another Day), plays McKenna’s estranged wife, Claire – a good mom and a tough cookie in her own right.
The situations being developed take on another level of OMG(!) with the arrival of a much bigger Predator and his dogs (yes! Predator dogs!). If that brings back unhappy memories of Ang Lee’s Hulk dogs, don’t worry, Black & Dekker have that figured out. Trust me!
As plot threads weave all the characters’ arcs together, things get more and more dire and there’s lots of blood (red and green!).
While punching up with some big ideas (the reason for the huge Predator, for example) and tense action, The Predator never strays into the horror area as some of its predecessors did. The emphasis here is on the action and science fiction creatures and toys; less on scaring the crap out of the audience.
Black and Dekker’s script has the requisite one-liners and gore, but it’s also very smart in the way it shows us each initial thread through a well thought out point of view character.
Tremblay is very effective (I swear the lad is incapable of hitting a false note) as Rory, who is on the spectrum but no less curious than boy his age. A subject of bullying at school, he gets a little payback in a terrific Halloween sequence.
Munn also stands out as a scientist who capable of being pretty badass – earning some appreciation from McKenna and the Loonies.
Brown is a really good villain – Traeger is a first-class nasty of the ‘I’ll kill women and children if it helps my position’ ilk. And almost gleefully so.
Holbrook’s McKenna is good at his job and while not a great husband, he’s also a good dad. When Rory worries that his da might be disappointed because he wasn’t growing up the way he wanted, McKenna confides that he hasn’t grown up the way he wanted, either.
Little details like that make The Predator a bit different than the preceding entries in the series – and a little more in tune with life in the real world.
Between the solid characters, the vicious action and the genuinely human moments, The Predator works far better than I was expecting – and almost as well as I’d hoped.
Final Grade: B+