a review by the Crow.
The Hunt Has [D]Evolved
or, about a Crow’s history with the Yautja
While I’ll spare you the dramatic diary entry from my previous review, this time around, I’m instead going to bore you with a little on my history with the Predator franchise.
I don’t know why I’m being so conversational on The Corvid Review, lately. Maybe I’ve been reading too much by the Azure-Winged Magpie while getting back into the game.
When I was but a mere fledgling, my mum would watch a lot of movies that one might find… uncommon for someone who belonged to her demographic. It was a phase I credit with desensitising me to horror (because like most fledglings, I didn’t exactly go to sleep when I was told). So imagine my surprise when, late one weekend evening, my mum said I could watch a movie with her. And what movie was it that we watched? Why, it was a slightly-sanitised cut of Predator (my mum has always been manlier than most people, but I was still only a fledgling).
A little bit of trivia, here: We watched the movie in the same room I’m sitting in — typing out this review — on our dinky old TV. And I quite liked it. I distinctly remember drawing fanart of the titular monster as well at the time. Years later, 2010’s Predators was released, and took me by surprise. It was… good. And now that I think about it, I would do well to review the movie here on The Corvid Review.
Following Predators, I went back and watched Predator 2 for the first time, and was sorely disappointed, since I’d recently — at the time — rated another movie by Stephen Hopkins (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) very highly. Following that, I begrudgingly gave 2004’s Alien vs Predator a shot, and came away refusing to ever watch its sequel.
And just to touch on it. In 2004 or so, I picked up the final instalment in the Batman vs Predator comic miniseries. It’s currently in my desk drawer as I type, and honestly, that particular book has quite a storied history, but I’ll leave it for another day.
As you can see: the Predator movies have been very hit and miss with me, but when I heard that Shane Black, the director behind Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys (a movie both the Azure-Winged Magpie and I put on our Top 10 of 2016 list), as well as an actor who had a supporting role in the original Predator was helming this movie, I was quite intrigued by the project. And then the “first look” poster was released — followed shortly by the very first trailer — and my reaction to both teasers was quite lukewarm.
News of the reshoots emerged, including stories about how negative test screenings had made the team completely rework the third act of the movie. And I must admit, I just lost interest in the project. None of this sounded promising.
Until I went to the movies the other day, and it became our second pick of the evening.
And what did I think? Well, let me tell you.
WARNING: This section contains MODERATE spoilers
Set in the present day, The Predator begins with a dogfight. In space.
Specifically, it’s a dogfight between two Yautja (Predator) ships. The one being pursued launches some form of wormhole technology, and transports itself to Earth, leaving the pursuer in its dust. It crashes, but not before its pilot makes good its escape via an escape pod.
Thereafter, we cut to Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a sniper on a hostage retrieval mission in Mexico. Their mission is interrupted, just as Quinn takes out his first target, by the arrival of the escape pod. As Quinn and his unit investigate the crash site, picking up Predator tech along the way (I guess the pilot left a door open or something), they are set upon by the Yautja hunter, who has already taken out one man (quick work). Quinn manages to incapacitate the hunter with one of its own weapons before exiting the scene. As he runs off with some of the tech he has acquired — leaving the hunter unconscious at the scene — U.S. Government official Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) arrives to clean up the scene.
Quinn arranges to have the tech he has stolen sent to his family in the States before Traeger picks him up in connection to the incident in the forest, and it is at this point that we are introduced to some of our other characters. We meet his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), a child with some form of autism, who also displays a degree of savant syndrome, his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), and Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) — an evolutionary biologist who is recruited by the government and told about the Predators.
Quinn is questioned, and then put on a bus with some other government detainees, including Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), Gaylord “Nebraska” Williams (Trevante Rhodes), and Lynch (Alfie Allen) — all of whom are troubled soldiers who have found themselves in the government’s bad books.
Dr Bracket is brought to a research facility where the wounded Yautja is being inspected. She meets Sean Keyes (Jake Busey), the son of Agent Peter Keyes (a character played by his father, Gary Busey) from Predator 2. She — in an inversion of the usual trope — calls the Yautja a “beautiful [BLEEP]”, following a lame joke about the “Predator” moniker. And it’s here that we begin to see where the plot is going.
The researchers have found something “odd” about the Yautja on the table, and just as Bracket begins to piece together the ramifications of the information revealed to her, the other Yautja ship appears in Earth orbit — at the same time at which the other detainees on the bus push Quinn into revealing the true reason for his being on the bus (spoiler alert: it’s “a space alien”).
During all this, Rory has opened the box of tech that Quinn shipped out before he was picked up. Amongst the inventory are: a Predator mask, a new version of the cloaking device that the Predators famously use, and a gauntlet with a strange device attached — a device through which Rory has attracted the attention of the second Predator ship. Edward James Olmos makes a small appearance — in Admiral Adama mode — as he sends out jets to intercept the “unidentified bogey”. In the midst of all this chaos, as the research institute is put under red alert in response to the appearance of the ship, the captive Yautja wakes up.
It massacres everyone in the lab, even though Traeger and Bracket make separate escapes (with Bracket displaying a very out-of-character familiarity with firearms). The Yautja tears through everyone in the facility, sparing only Bracket after tracking her down. While the scuffle is ongoing, the “loony bus” has arrived in the area (small world).
Seeing the Yautja escape, the prisoners take over the bus and take off, picking up Dr Bracket: Tomb Raider along the way (well, not exactly, since she jumps onto the bus). However, instead of exiting the scene, they start pursuing the Yautja. In the commotion, the Yautja manages to neutralise the threat they pose, and Dr Bracket quite literally shoots herself in the foot with a tranquiliser round. And that is when the second Yautja ship arrives, and we enter the meat of the narrative.
Fred Dekker and Shane Black have made some… interesting choices as far as the story goes. Choices I find quite unnecessary. Like the Xenomorph, I find that the mystery that surrounds the Yautja is central to the character. And that is where I must clarify something. The very name “Yautja” is a problem in itself. While I like referring to the creatures as such (there are only so many times I can say “Predator”, instead), simply keeping them unnamed, or monikered, would have been a far stronger choice to really elevate the creatures. No lore. No home planet (they call it “Predator World” — I wish I was joking). Just suggestion and innuendo would have worked just fine.
Predators handled this aspect of the lore somewhat well, and thanks to that — as far as I’m concerned — only the first two Predator movies, as well as Predators have been true canon so far. And now, along comes The Predator (could someone be a little more creative with the titles, please? Just don’t call it “Pred4tor“.), and changes oh-so much. Now, we have the Yautja talking (talking!) to our characters. We get to understand their “rationale” for coming here, we get to see more of their technology than ever before, and it’s all a lot to take in.
(In addition, it also suggests that least the first Alien vs Predator movie might be canonical through an easter egg. But I’m going to ignore that far as canon is concerned.)
I understand what Mr Black had set out to do. He had intended to change the face of the series and give it grounds for a strong push into the future. And has he succeeded? Well, yes and no — but more no than yes. Yes, there is now groundwork for stories to be told moving ahead. But none of it was really necessary. Instead of a science fiction action thriller about humans trying to make sense of — and trying to combat — an unknowable enemy whose motivations we barely understand, we now have a story that goes full-tilt into military SF territory. And that erases the entire aura of the titular creatures.
Now, they are naught but Klingons. And if you think about it, that analogy couldn’t be more apt. One could easily rework these movies into a story about early first contact with the warrior species from Star Trek.
One aspect that the movie shines in is the interplay between the characters. Some are a little more forgettable than others, but on the whole, their interactions feel very natural, “loony” as they may be. This is a feature that appears in much of Mr Black’s work, and I must applaud his team and the actors for the job that they did. But it simply isn’t enough to save the final product.
The trailers had me a little worried that the comedy might detract from the movie as a whole, but it doesn’t. It actually fits the tone of the movie quite well. Thomas Jane as Baxley was the biggest surprise of the lot. He nailed a character I’ve never seen him play the like of, and was by far the most “fun” character, embracing the cringe written into him. Sterling K. Brown was another surprise, playing a character who takes up the mantle of “slightly evil government bureaucrat” with ease. And even though I usually despise child characters like Rory (see: Iron Man 3), his character fit quite well into the movie, and I’m happy to see the angle work out.
Olivia Munn’s Dr Bracket was an outlier. Is she a scientist? Is she Lara Croft: Tomb Raider? And what the hell was up with her connection to the “space dog”? She left me somewhat confused, I can’t blame Munn for the performance. She did the job she was given. It was just a role that was a bit all over the place.
McKenna — on the other hand — is a dud. I’ve only ever seen Boyd Holbrook in Logan, so I can’t speak to his acting capabilites, but his character is both uninteresting and uninspired. He’s a sniper who’s a bit of a jerk. And he’s tough. That’s about all there is to him. And as I’ve stated before: if your protagonist is that forgettable, your movie has a major problem (and who in their right mind would disagree?).
The “new Predator” is just plain weird. This new-and-improved model comes with a form of subdermal armour and all sorts of in-built prosthetics which give him all the benefits of the traditional “hunter gear”, without the need to put them on.
And of course: because the movie has to amp things up, our two Yautja must fight. And fight, they do. You’d imagine it would be closer to the end, but it’s a lot sooner into the movie than even I expected.
The visuals — for the most part — are alright. Nothing special, but nothing drab, either. The movie downplays its effects unlike most movies of its kind (in a similar vein to Predators), but still manages to have a few moments which feel very out of place. Maybe bringing the titular predators to suburbia wasn’t the best of choices. There’s something about flashy CGI set against a backdrop of the next-town-over that just doesn’t mesh well together. Like I said: the effects themselves aren’t bad, it’s just that something seems lost in editing. It’s not terrible — it’s just… middling.
The scenes with Rory stick out like a sore thumb, as do the scenes of the predators in ‘human spaces’. The new predator is such a far cry from the iconic 80s monster that it almost feels out of place. Everything is there: the arms, the legs, the mandibles — everything. But it just looks so bizarre, especially considering it spends most of the movie effectively naked.
Its (the new predator’s) base motivations are understandable: it’s part of a sort-of “Space Alien Insterstellar Criminal Polic Organisation” (SINTERPOL, anyone?), and it’s here to stop the first Yautja from doing… something, and to blow its crashed ship up so that the humans are unable to acquire more any technology from it. But as the movie goes on, it gains a further motivation — and it’s dumb as rocks. The whole speil the movie explores in regards to human evolution and global warming hit some of the right marks on the surface, but end up being played to some very silly lengths. And no. I’m not forgiving the movie for allowing the newer, larger Yautja to speak to humans. Its lines were terrible as well, to boot.
The choice to play the initial Yautja off as Predator-Prometheus is downright stupid, in my opinion. The character goes on a life-threatening mission to provide humans with a “gift” to aid them against an impending Yautja invasion — which is built on shaky ground as-is; see: the global warming lines in the movie. Things are terrible, but not as terrible as the movie makes it out to be. If this was set a few decades in the future, I might’ve had an easier time buying it.
And just to ask the question: if the Yautja are so certain about the impending extinction of humanity, why is the rogue Yautja even bothering to deliver this “gift” to humanity? It’s gift has nothing to do with turning back the clock on global warming. Surely that’s the more pressing issue as far as humanity is concerned in the story.
I didn’t enjoy The Predator. The movie is just one huge missed opportunity. There is a movie that could have been salvaged from the premise and themes explored, here, but at the end of the day, it isn’t good as it stands. Even the action seems lacklustre, and this is a Predator movie we’re talking about. It’s not all that great-looking, and while the humour and character-interplay is solid, there is a very shaky plot for everyone to work with. The lead is boring, and so are the Yautja of the movie.
Thomas Jane steals the show during his brief scenes, and I’m not really sure what to even make of the “space dog” and the subplot (…?) revolving around it. The kid wasn’t as annoying as I believed he would be, but his character was just a simple plot point. And that, I found annoying. The movie features far too many questionable scenes — such as the build-up to the conflict between McKenna and Traeger — that go nowhere and leave Chekov’s gun unfired. That’s just plain bad writing, or it was something that was lost during the rush to construct a new third act. All-in-all: shoddy work.
I left out all mention of the final scenes of the movie, but I will say this: it’s absolute garbage. I have no idea how this sequence even made it into the movie, but whoever okay-ed it needs to be fired. Whatever they were attempting to set up, I hope it never comes to fruition, since it will certainly wreck the franchise.
Two more points:
- Power to Olivia Munn for standing up for what she thought was right.
- It was disheartening to hear how tired Mr Black was in the weeks leading up to the release of The Predator. If he wants to step away from the green-screen and CGI-fests to concentrate on smaller movies: I’m all for it. That’s where he shines. I’d rather have him focus on what he’s good at rather than these sorts of projects (yes: I disliked Iron Man 3 as well).
Hopefully, some day, the Predator franchise is revitalised. I’d like to see a follow-up to Predators, actually, but I doubt I will. Let’s just not continue the series off the back of this movie.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 1.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 4/10
Here’s the official poster: