The Predator, an alien beastie that can only be described as a humanoid reptile with icky mandibles, pseudo-Rasta dreads and a seriously bad attitude, has been popular since 1987’s original Arnold-Schwarzenegger-starring Predator, and has also appeared in 1990’s chaotic Predator II (set in the then-future of 1997), 2010’s Predators (mostly set on their home planet) and the chronologically problematic (and altogether dire) Alien Vs. Predator double-header. Here the co-writing and directing chores are taken over by Shane Black, who appeared in (and was bumped off early in) the first film and has since demonstrated his love of graphic violence in films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys (which he co-wrote and directed) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (which he wrote). He’s been wanting to get into the Predator franchise for years but this was a troubled production, with radical reshoots, an overhauled ending and more, and the finished result is really only notable for its grisliness, a nasty sense of humour and some deeply cynical views of humanity’s future.
A Predator (Brian Prince under the rubber) crashlands its spacecraft and is apprehended by the US government, who have seen them before and want to study the thing (and surely restraining it so they can cut the creature up is a very bad idea indeed). They call in a scientist (Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket), who knows about space stuff, and the soldier (Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna) who saw the crash and smuggled out some extraterrestrial technology is carted off in the ‘loony bus’ to meet an uncertain fate.
Naturally the Predator gets free (fancy that!!!) and Casey must team up with the loonies to save herself from the monster and, more scarily, secret American forces, and there’s a little fun to be had from the diverse misfits Quinn winds up working with. Leader Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) is merely quirky, but the other guys are sincerely nutty, with Thomas Jane almost memorable as Baxley, a Tourette’s syndrome sufferer who offers lots of lascivious observations about Casey when he manages to squeeze the actual words out.
Naturally there’s a bit of a twist here and it’s been betrayed everywhere else, and yes, it hinges on the fact that this Predator isn’t actually ‘The Predator’ of the title. But this isn’t a monster movie like Gorgo where the baby beast is saved by its bigger and meaner Mum: oh no, it’s far too jaded for something as simple as that.
With eyes shot out and hands blown off, blood spurting, guts slithering and a double decapitation, this is scarcely subtle and all a bit of a mess (the tricky, pricey fiddling-around is obvious), and yet a sequel is guaranteed anyway, which seems odd considering how the whole idea of the Predator thing is mocked at length here. A genuinely funny line crops up when the Predator’s ideology is explained to Munn’s Casey (ie. they hunt not for food or vengeance but for fun), and she responds, “But that sounds like a bass fisherman!!!”