It's more than a little shocking how well the Predator franchise has endured over the years, considering how even some of its most ardent supporters will admit that most of the sequels and spinoffs haven't been very good. Yet, here we are, giving another sequel a try, though this time we have Shane Black, who coincidentally co-starred in the original Predator, trying to add his unique style to the brand. The result, simply titled The Predator, still isn't able to recapture whatever magic the original film created, but it is able to make for an entertaining enough sequel, which is a first for the franchise.
Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a military sniper on an assignment in Mexico when his operation is thrown into disarray due to the unexpected arrival of an alien spacecraft crash-landing practically on top of him. His unit engages with the Predator and, as one might expect, does not fare well. Only McKenna survives, and he escapes with some of the alien's technology. He's able to ship the material home before being apprehended by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and the organization he runs which has been studying the alien threat. Traeger, in turn, brings in scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to aid in the study of the Predator they captured, while dumping McKenna in with a group of military "Loonies" (Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and more) so that nobody will believe anything he says about aliens. However, when McKenna's son (Jacob Tremblay) gets his hands on the alien tech mailed home by dad, well, bad stuff is going to happen.
If the original Predator successfully blended two genres together, that of action and horror, then The Predator takes it to the next level by adding a third: comedy. The film is surprisingly funny. Some of that comedy comes from Keegan-Michael Key's Coyle having a penchant for dirty jokes, and an uncomfortable amount of it comes from Thomas Jane's Baxley (he suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, so he randomly swears, which is funny, I guess). A lot of just comes from the sort of rapid-fire one-liners you would expect from a movie directed by Shane Black. While it's hard to say The Predator feels like a "Shane Black movie," it certainly feels like a "Predator movie," just one which happens to be written by Shane Black. The humor works, you'll find yourself laughing out loud at points, even just after watching a limb being torn from somebody's body.
Because make no mistake, The Predator is still an action-horror franchise. There are lots of guys with lots of big guns and no less than two alien hunters who are skilled at eviscerating whatever gets in their way. The Predator is as bloody a movie as the franchise has ever seen, jokes or no jokes. This movie earns its R-rating.
And it's where these two ideas come together that the movie starts to get lost. The "Loonies" are an interesting bunch of characters, far more so than Boyd Holbrook's "generic white male protagonist" to be sure. Whereas the military team from the first Predator was made up of slightly different variations of testosterone-fueled macho men, this time around our heroes are a group of guys who have been to war and come back broken. This subversion feels intentional, but the movie never stops long enough to deal with it in any meaningful way.
In fact, The Predator never stops for much of anything at all. It moves from one action scene to the next, one snappy quip to the next, without taking a break. It moves so fast that it's difficult to notice at first that there just isn't much story there. Characters seem to pick up information as well as equipment with no explanation where it came from, making it clear that pieces of this movie were left on the cutting room floor. Not too surprising, since we know that entire characters were cut from this film at some point, but the result is that what's left doesn't feel quite complete.
Still, in the end, while I can't say I loved The Predator, I also can't say that I didn't enjoy the hell out of The Predator. The action and the comedy combine well, and if you let the movie just take you for the ride, you'll probably enjoy the trip. I can't shake the feeling this movie wanted to be something more than it became, but I can't say I didn't have a good time with what it was.