Here we are with yet another classic film franchise struggling to find a foothold in today’s marketplace. The Predator series has always been more of a cult favorite than a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Not a single film featuring the creature(s) has cracked $100 million in domestic box office receipts, including the two films shared with the Alien franchise (though the original film did well, for its time). I recently featured the original Predator in a #ThrowbackThursday column (which you can find here) and found it to be a bit of a chore, only truly worth the time due to the memorable climax. I’m not sure what gives Fox the confidence to keep trying, but I’m always willing to give it another shot. The Predator design is just too cool to pass up. My hopes for this third attempt at reinvigorating the property were for an all-out, hold-nothing-back, action extravaganza that would take full advantage of its buzzy, rising star-filled cast.
Taking the helm for this installment is Shane Black, who made a name for himself by writing action films in the eighties, most notably Lethal Weapon. But here’s a fun fact: Black was actually one of the stars of the original Predator, playing Hawkins alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has since worked his way into the director’s chair, with his most successful film thus far being Iron Man 3 (but his best being The Nice Guys. And here’s my review of that one.). He also co-writes this film with his UCLA classmate Fred Dekker and, boy, does it show. Black’s signature twisted, slightly off-color sense of humor permeates nearly the entire film. It’s not for those who are overly sensitive and unable to separate fiction (and the need to characterize) from reality, but it will in general likely end up generating more authentic laughs than many pure comedies did, this year. I didn’t care for his take on Iron Man, but Black’s sensibilities just work for this particular film. Predator needed a jolt of energy and Black provides it on all levels.
But he isn’t alone. The aforementioned cast add much to the film that previous casts have failed to do for the series. Black fills the movie with popular character actors and other assorted talents, including Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane, and Yvonne Strahovsky. While none of these actors are quite at the level of being household names, each of them have a following from their assorted prior projects (I’ve been with you since “Attack of the Show”, Olivia!) and their combined appeal might be enough to give the film’s box office take a minor boost, at least. Taking the lead is the lesser-known Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna. Holbrook is fine, but the others are each more charismatic and possess stronger screen presence. Any given viewer should have no trouble finding a few performances to enjoy, here.
But all of that is a bonus. What most people want to know about is the action. Black uses the R-rating appropriately, delivering the brutal, take-no-prisoners style of violence that has become synonymous with this franchise (though the Predators still have a penchant for throwing people. What’s the deal with that?). And there’s a lot of it. The whole thing feels like a throwback to the decade that gave Black his start – not in content, but in style. The film is paced well, starting off quickly and never slowing down. If the Predator isn’t mauling people, then the talented cast is keeping things interesting with their banter.
The film also feels big. It begins with a spaceship and concludes with an epic battle, with no slowing down, in-between. Part of this can be contributed to Henry Jackman’s score. It’s not often that scores are discussed but it’s also the case that they usually go unnoticed. But when a good score is present, it’s hard to miss. Jackman’s music (which incorporates Alan Silvestri’s original theme) has a touch of wonder and magic to it that elevates the scale of the entire picture and shouldn’t go unmentioned. But the narrative supports that notion, with big action, big stakes, big twists, and big personalities.
The critics haven’t been terribly kind to the film. I’ve noticed that their criticisms have been as wildly inconsistent as one or two of them have accused the film of being, making me wonder if many of them didn’t decide that they needed to dislike it in order to preserve their reputation. Most don’t do that, but some certainly do. I don’t know what to say to them. People will dislike it, I suppose, but I found the whole thing to be relentlessly entertaining, and I, myself, went into it not wanting to dislike it, but expecting to, after being disappointed by the series as a whole, so many times. Black isn’t aiming for Cinema Paradiso, here, folks, and it’s unfair to expect that. I wanted entertainment. I got it.
For me, this was the Predator film I always wanted to see, but had never gotten. Innovative, witty, and confident, the film delivers on its promises and then provides a little more, just for good measure. I can’t swear you’ll like it. I seem to be in the minority on this one. But I had a blast with the movie and enjoyed every aspect of it to one degree or another. If you think you’ll like it, don’t hesitate. If you’re on the fence, give it a shot. If you clicked on this hoping that I’d be ripping it a new one, you’ve already made up your mind. Don’t bother. I don’t know if this will be the first Predator film to really make an impact on the box office since the original. My gut says it won’t be. But I hope it does because I’d like to see Black continue with the franchise and I’d enjoy seeing the (surviving) characters return, as well. If nothing else, I had a much better time than I expected to, so that’s an easy win for me.
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