Expert vs Newbie: The Predator

Hello, and welcome to a new series on No But Listen! In this series, we’ll be looking at entries into long-running franchises from two points of view – one from that of a newbie to the series, and one from an expert. Our inaugural entry into the series is a look at Shane Black’s The Predator, the latest entry into the Predator cinematic series. To the reivew(s), you son of a bitch!

Expert

On paper it seemed like Shane Black was the perfect choice to helm a new Predator movie. The Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys director has history with the franchise, with his role in the first movie as cannon fodder for the titular predator onscreen, and as a script polisher offscreen. It’s safe to say that this guy knows what makes a great Predator movie, and for two thirds of The Predator, that promise is fulfilled.

In reality, Black’s job was much harder than we thought. After all, we haven’t suffered from a lack of Predator movies since John McTerinan’s classic sci-fi actioner. Whether it’s the Danny Glover-led sequel (which is much better than you remember), the disappointing Predators, or the Alien vs Predator abominations, the fact is that Predator has become such a familiar monster that it’s an uphill challenge to make this alien seem scary and new. The Predator, and indeed the trailers that showed far too much, fails in this regard, as the Predator of old is quickly replaced by an ugly CGI super-predator.

Black seems to understand what a good Predator story needs: lots of gore, a ragtag cast of characters (preferably soldiers) that we can relate too, and a tone that has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The Predator, at least most of it, has these components in spades, with a narrative that takes place over the course of one crazy night.

On hero duties is Boyd Holbrook’s Quinn McKenna, a special ops sniper whose mission is interrupted by an alien spaceship falling out of the sky. Like any good soldier, he takes what he can get from the ship, which includes a bunch of Predator weapons, and mails them home by accident (never trust the post office) so he can prove that what he saw was real. This doesn’t quite go as planned as a special alien recovery team, led by constant scene-stealer Sterling K Brown, puts Quinn on a bus full of soldier with severe mental health problems. This group, nicknamed The Loonies, along with Olivia Munn’s scientist, is the ragtag group that this movie needs, and most of the best moments come from their interactions.

So, from a writing perspective, The Predator has everything it needs to be a hit, and Black’s trademark humor and consequential violence lends fits like a glove. Except you need more than this to be a good Predator movie. What The Predator gains in humor and characterization, it loses in action. There’s the problem of the CGI Predator and, minus one solid action scene in a school, the movie lacks the raw power of the original. In the fist Predator, a group of heroes that would win easily in any other action movie, are all killed, apart for Arnie, in brutal and scary ways. That horror is nowhere to be seen in the Predator as when people finally start dying it’s mostly played for laughs.

What we have here is a Predator movie that resembles a Marvel movie more that the 1987 masterpiece. A movie with a rubbish update of the main villain, and a typical CGI clusterfuck of an ending. This could have been something really special, but The Predator is just another diminished sequel to add to the pile.

By Kevin Boyle

Newbie

I’ve never seen a Predator movie. I know, I know: given my penchant for cheese and shit, you’d think I would have stumbled across them at some point in my fevered consumption of Every Bad Movie Ever Made, but up until now, I’ve just never reached them. And honestly, walking into The Predator, I thought that would be a bad thing – but I’m starting to think it was actually a good one.

Not to say that this was a masterpiece or anything: far from it, in fact. You’d think Shane Black, after all these years, would have a better idea of how to direct a coherent action scene, but most of the action in The Predator was chaotic and confused. I was also pretty taken aback by how utterly shit the Predator(s) looked: it wasn’t just that the CGI was at sub-video-game-cutscene levels, which it certainly was, but damn, is this what everyone’s been talking up all this time? It just looks seriously daft, and nothing about it feels genuinely unsettling or iconic – it feels like someone just hucked together a bunch of semi-cool looking prop leftovers from better movies, stuck some dreadlocks on it, and called it a day.

Because here’s the thing, I actually really dug The Predator. The chemistry between the actual rag-tag bunch of unlikely heroes was strong, Boyd Holbrook made for a solid, tongue-in-cheek lead, the tone was pitched pretty well between po-faced action and sly genre self-awareness. I hate to get all social-justice-warrior on your butts, but it’s not small thing that a movie from a franchise as notoriously, screechingly macho as this one should feature so many male leads dealing with mental health problems which weren’t the butt of the joke. Sterling K Brown looked like he was having a ball as the villain, lampshading all the ridiculousness of the movie with a sneer and an eye-roll, and it was just…fun. Sure, it had it’s faults, but it got away with them by placing its tongue firmly in its cheek and keeping it there from start to finish.

Oh, and not throwing in a bunch of pointlessly oversexualized women, which is a low bar, I know, but one that most R-rated blockbusters fail to vault. Even if Olivia Munn, the sole female cast member on this movie, was chewed out by both the studio and fellow members of the cast for not wanting a sex offender in the film, so, you know, less points.

A lot of the criticism I’ve heard against this movie has revolved around the fact that The Predator feels more like a parody of the movies that came before than an entry to the canon in its own right. And maybe that’s true. But the fact is, coming to this movie knowing nothing about it, I came away from The Predator pretty happy with what I had sat through. I’ve seen a lot of shitty blockbusters this year – especially ones that claim to be jabs at the very genres and franchises they’re born from – and The Predator was far from that for me. With no expectations for this movie at all, it worked for me. Is that much of a statement, given that this comes as part of a franchise and most of the people seeing it are looking for an extension of that? Not really. But if you’re coming in fresh, The Predator does the job, and for that, I can only be grateful that it was my first introduction to the franchise.

By Louise MacGregor (You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!)

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(header image courtesy of Immonline)

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