Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski, Brian A. Prince
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Directed by: Shane Black
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and crude sexual references
Running Time: 107
Date: 09/14/2018

The Predator (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shane Black's The Predator is probably not what anyone expected from a new Predator movie. It's very fast, very funny, and, as with all of Black's previous works, it gleefully embraces genre cliches and turns them sideways.

The Predator doesn't have much to do with 2010's fun reboot Predators, although it does reference the big, mindless Arnold Schwarzenegger original, released back in 1987.

This is Black's fourth feature as director, a career turn that follows his ultra-successful stint as a screenwriter (peaking with the million-dollar Lethal Weapon). But it also follows his lesser-known career as an actor, which included a role in that original Predator.

So not only does The Predator bring Black around to some kind of monstrous full circle, but he takes it one step further. His co-writer on this film is Fred Dekker, who directed and co-wrote one of Black's first screenplays, 1987's The Monster Squad.

And, of course, The Predator takes place on Halloween and features a reference to Frankenstein's monster; it actually feels far more like The Monster Squad than it does the original Predator.

The plot is a shambles, but it doesn't matter because Black's primary concern is twisting it all up and taking it in odd directions.

Essentially, two new Predators, a regular one and a bigger, more evolved one (complete with their dreadlocks and four opposing fangs), land on earth and are seemingly at odds with one another.

An Army Ranger sniper, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) teams up with a busload of military outcasts and misfits — Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes, from Moonlight), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen), and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) — and a scientist, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), to stop them.

There is also McKenna's son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay, from Room), who is on the autism spectrum and seems to be able to understand the predators. And a government agent, Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), tends to get in the way.

Black takes all these old tropes — the gifted kid, the pretty female scientist, the band of misfit fighters — and makes them seem fresh. He's aware of them, going back to sci-fi movies from the 1950s, and he understands the reasons they were ever used in the first place.

In The Predator, though, they never fall back into their old patterns. They twist and turn out from under the plot and show up at new points.

Additionally, Black is preoccupied with forms of cinematic violence, from to Martin Riggs's masochistic tendencies in Lethal Weapon on up, and, again, looks at them from a different angle.

The blood and gore is excessive, extreme to the point of parody. Death has no real-world weight here. Characters, both human and monster, can die at any time, despite McKenna urging his son at one point that killing will not be necessary.

The action moves quickly, and, as things ramp up into the third act, the action inevitably eclipses the humor. It's great fun, and the brisk, 107-minute movie never outstays its welcome, but it still grows exhausting.

Until then, the dialogue comes in equally quick spurts, and every character is funny. It's like an old screwball comedy wherein, if you spend too much time laughing, you'll miss three more jokes.

Black doesn't even spare the franchise title, with Bracket positing that the monster is more like a sports hunter, "like a bass fisherman," than a predator.

Traeger responds with, "well, we took a vote and 'Predator' was cooler."

As with Black's Iron Man 3, — which softly parodied the superhero genre with a fake villain, an army of empty suits, and a helpful, genius kid — the writer-director has again climbed into the armor of an impenetrable franchise and subverted it from the inside out.

He's like a revolutionary infiltrator, and frankly, we need people like him to keep people on their toes, to keep Hollywood from getting lazy. This Predator's prey is itself.

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