The Predator is best watched with expectations checked. Writer-director Shane Black engages in cinematic cannibalism, lifting numerous tropes from past installments, as well as falling back on some of his go-to moves, up to and including a precocious moppet (twist: this one’s autistic), a squad of bad-ass soldiers (twist again: they’re all insane), and a holiday setting (minor twist: it’s Halloween instead of Christmas). He even lifts from Iron Man 3 in the closing scene.
That said, Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad) largely stick to what made the original Predator work: a solid core of engaging, over-the-top characters and wild action beats.
This time around our hero is Quinn (Boyd Holbrook), a sniper assigned to a military looney bin after an narrowly surviving an encounter with the titular alien. He’s conveniently on a transport bus with several other mentally unfit veterans the same night that all hell breaks loose in suburban California, and Quinn leads his newfound squad into interstellar conflict: Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), chill on the outside, haunted on the inside; Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), a manic crude joke machine; Baxley (Thomas Jane), an traumatized vet with Tourette’s Syndrome; Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), a brain-damaged chopper pilot with boundary issues; and Lynch (Alfie Allen), a minimally defined British guy who does card tricks. Picture an A-Team in which everyone is “Howling Mad” Murdock and you largely get the idea.
Per his modus operandi, Black keeps the pace moving smoothly and briskly enough to keep us from noticing too many of the plot holes or lapses in logic, and their combined knack for dark humor and cartoonishly graphic violence helps as well. He and Dekker tap that unique vein of late-’80s movie machismo to the extent that they have created a near-perfect throwback, so much so that one could be forgiven for expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger to show up for an unexpected rematch. (No such luck.)
The series’ premise never really set up much of a mythology; Black and Dekker succeed in expanding its scope, and a few new details are added to the mythology. On the downside, some stick more than others and most are contrived. Also, that aforementioned ill-conceived final scene sets up a questionably gonzo sequel that just might derail it again.
It’s largely a fun big-dumb-and-loud action flick; but it’s also one that doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Black is basically coasting on attitude here. Still, a mediocre Shane Black movie is better than most action fare, even when it comes up a little short.
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