2018’s “The Predator” lacks in character development, but exceeds in bloody carnage and explosive action scenes

Courtesy of rogerebert.com

Director Shane Black’s “The Predator” is a wildly inconsistent film that entertains despite bland characters, hit-or-miss humor and generic plotting. While losing the balls-to-the-wall spark that made the 1987 original compelling, the film’s bloody carnage and self-awareness make it perfectly watchable, if not particularly noteworthy.

The film centers around Quinn McKenna, played by Boyd Holbrook, an army sniper who comes into contact with the titular space alien during a combat mission gone horribly awry. McKenna is then taken captive by shady government officials because of his knowledge of the Predator. Accompanied by a team of mentally unstable soldiers calling themselves “the Loonies,” played by Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane, among others, as well as an evolutionary biologist, played by Olivia Munn, McKenna and gang set out to kill the Predator once and for all. To make the situation more urgent, McKenna’s autistic son, played by Jacob Tremblay, becomes a target.

Black has quite a history of making dark comedies, most notably “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” in 2005 and “The Nice Guys” in 2016. It should then come as little surprise that Black has attempted to lend his signature wit to the “Predator” franchise.

Unfortunately, this didn’t go exactly as planned. All the characters in “The Predator,” no matter their importance to the plot, are packed to the brim with quips that only hit their intended targets about 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent of quips are insensitive, in poor taste and, occasionally, physically cringe-inducing.

That’s not to say the 1987 original didn’t have its fair share of off-kilter remarks, but they seemed to better fit the personalities of the misogynistic central characters, whom viewers weren’t able to spend much time with before they were killed off. 2018’s “The Predator,” on the other hand, never fully justifies itself for nearly every character’s sarcastic outlook on life-or-death situations.

Despite the film spending tons of time with “the Loonies,” only a little character development occurs. Each member’s backstory is sped through at a rapid-fire pace, leaving me emotionally disconnected. Only Key’s character, with his hyper, seemingly cocaine-induced enthusiasm, leaves a positive impression. McKenna himself never stands out from other similar characters I’ve seen time and time again, made even less memorable by a dull performance from Holbrook. Some of the other characters, especially the government operatives, have poorly explained motivation that never quite makes sense.

Even so, if viewers approach “The Predator” with low expectations, the pervasive comedy and forgettable characters won’t detract much from the film’s entertainment value. I don’t expect films like “The Predator” to have much dramatic or emotional depth. I pay money to watch explosive action scenes and a film that doesn’t take itself seriously. In that respect, “The Predator” delivers just enough to earn a recommendation.

The Predator itself has never been as brutal and hideously violent as in this film. Disembowelment, decapitation and, of course, spine-removing goodness make a welcome return, providing the rawness that any reasonable moviegoer would expect. It’s a shame so many of the film’s action scenes take place in poorly lit darkness.

By relying on the Predator’s knack for gory kills, though, Black sacrifices the horror potential of the creature itself. Compared to the first film, in which much time was spent seeing through the Predator’s perspective –– making certain scenes stressful and white-knuckle –– the 2018 version’s action resembles any other big-budget action film you’d find on cable.

The Predator is also –– either intentionally or unintentionally –– turned into a creature that’s practically as self-aware as the central characters are. Instead of being a stealthy, intimidating antagonist that strikes fear in viewers, the creature seems ripped straight out of Michael Bay’s mind-numbing “Transformers” franchise. Subtlety is thrown out the window, and so is any sense of fear.

For die-hard fans of the franchise, “The Predator” doesn’t provide suspense anywhere near the level of the original. For action fans, the reliance on clichéd, blockbuster bombast throughout will cause eyes to roll and eardrums to be shattered.

Well then, who is this film for? Perhaps nobody. But for casual viewers looking to shut off their brains and watch some over-the-top violent antics unfold on the big screen, “The Predator” will likely satisfy.