The problem with “The Predator” is it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, but I don’t think it entirely deserves the severe criticism it received.
“The Predator” is the latest film in the “Predator” franchise. If you haven’t heard of the franchise, you’re not culturally inept; none of the “Predator” films have been enormous blockbusters. The first “Predator” was an action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and was not particularly well received at the time, but it has gained somewhat of a cult following since. This, of course, means the new films will upset old fans (somewhat of a “Transformers” situation), but I believe the movie has merit when it stands alone.
“The Predator” centers on Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a highly skilled sniper who discovers a crashed alien spaceship while on a mission abroad. McKenna is quickly shipped off to a psychiatric institution, as the government is aware of the aliens (called Predators) appearing but doesn’t want the general public to know about them. When a drugged predator awakes in a science lab and escapes from the facility, McKenna, along with his new “unit” of psychiatric cases on “the loony bus,” break out and track the predator. Along the way, they team up with a biologist (Olivia Munn) who has an understanding of the predators, and they have to rescue McKenna’s young autistic son (Jacob Tremblay).
“The Predator” has so many interesting elements that unfortunately weren’t stitched together particularly well. The predator creatures could represent some of the darker sides of human nature; they trap humans for sport and enjoy hunting them, rather than killing them for food. They wish to take the useful parts of human DNA, and then take advantage of human weakness by invading the earth after humans are weakened from global warming. It’s implied that some predators disagree with this plan and are some sort of alien vegan activists, fighting for us to survive. All of this could be interesting social commentary if it tried to be, but these threads of the plot are too loosely tied together to make much of a coherent statement.
I thought the portrayal of Quinn’s child was a win for anyone with autism. Munn’s character points out that some scientists don’t believe autism is a truly a disability. Many now characterize those with autism as having a different brain, but not an inferior one - many autistic people may lack certain skills, like social skills, but can have extremely powerful abilities in other areas, such as mathematics. Quinn’s child eventually becomes the most impressive to the predator and the most respected because of his autism, and this part of the narrative is interesting.
The humor is exactly my kind of humor, meaning most people don’t find it very funny. Dark, nonchalant suicide jokes and one-liners are featured throughout, and Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) is particularly funny. However, some of the jokes feel forced, and it’s unclear if this film is trying to be a comedy. It doesn’t seem to know what it is. Comedy? Action? Horror? Thriller? There is so much unnecessary gore, guts and violence that did not add to the story and will certainly filter out any younger viewers from the movie theater.
Ultimately the plot is all over the place, and it can be confusing to figure out exactly what is going on or why characters are doing what they are doing, though it’s not rife with plot holes. It just seems like a missed opportunity, because director Shane Black had a chance to make us think, laugh or be entertained, and it seems by trying to do all three, he falls short of all them all. Still, this is worth a watch, and I don’t think it deserves the harsh reviews it’s received.