Have I ever mentioned how much I love Predator? Maybe. I definitely mentioned how much I love Predator 2. Hell, I even talked about how much I like Predators. So when it comes to a reboot of the franchise, it better be something amazing. I’ve heard so many bad reviews of this movie — directed and written by original writer Shane Black with help from Fred Dekker — that I avoided it until it came out on DVD.
The truth is, it’s fine. But for a Predator movie, it better be way better than fine. It’s a movie that has trouble trying to figure out if it’s a buddy comedy, an alien movie or an action film. The original film went up against those odds and knew when to subtly go from a testosterone-fueled epic to a horror movie. This one doesn’t manage that quite as well.
It all starts with a Predator ship crashes on the Earth in the middle of Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna’s (Boyd Holbrook) team’s hostage rescue mission. You know how snipers work in the field in the middle of hostage rescue instead of being off on their own taking out targets. That isn’t the only military error here — Nettles discusses flying Hueys when the Army discontinued their usage in 1984 and switched to the UH-60 Blackhawk.
But anyways, McKenna hurts the Predator long enough to send its armor to his PO Box so that he has proof of alien existence when he’s taken by government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and sent to military prison.
Meanwhile, evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) has been recruited to study the Predator alongside Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes (Jake Busey, whose dad Gary played Peter in Predator 2). The alien wakes up and wipes out the lab, except for Casey who finds the bus full of military prisoners and escapes.
Those escapees include former Marines Gaylord “Nebraska” Williams (Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight), Coyle (the always welcome Keegan-Michael Key), Lynch (Alfie Allen, brother of Lily), Baxley (Thomas Jane, this character was named for the stunt coordinator of the first movie and whose Tourette’s was as a tribute to Black’s wife) and Nettles. They go to find McKenna’s ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski from TV’s Chuck) and son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, who was amazing in Room), an autistic child who found the package and has already used to blow up a house on Halloween.
When they arrive, the Predator’s dogs ambush them. Just when they are about to give the alien his armor back, a larger Predator arrives to kill the first and lets them go. Soon, however, it realizes that the stolen alien equipment it seeks is with the military men.
Because no one can leave well enough alone, it turns out that the Predators are taking DNA from different planets and using it to make themselves better, faster, stronger and more like the Hulk. This goes against the theme of the Predators looking for sport in their hunt, which is presumably why the first Predator was here to give something to humans.
The big green Predator kills just about everyone other than Quinn, his son and Dr. Casey before they figure out how to take him out. In the end, Rory is helping the government translate the Predator’s language and it turns out that the equipment is a suit of armor that can kill Predators.
There were two different reshoots of the film, with the entire third act being reshot after test screenings hated the original finale. Black wanted there to be two versions of the home release — Predator AM and Predator PM, as the film’s original ending was during the day — but the studio didn’t want to pay to complete the special effects.
The original ending had the military prisoners and the army teaming up with even more good Predators to fight the upgraded Predator and other hybrids, which the fugitive was trying to steal and keep from the upgraded Predators. Edward James Olmos was a general in these scenes, as are plenty of moments in the trailers, which were all cut. Supposedly this third act was too talky, but cutting it out resulted in plenty of holes in the story and continuity errors.
Sadly, the original script ended with Quinn, Casey and Rory healing after defeating the upgraded Predator when a helicopter lands. Dutch, played by Arnold himself, would step out and say, “Come with me.” Sadly, Arnold read the script and turned it down.
Behind the scenes, this wasn’t without controversy. Director Shane Black hired his longtime friend, Steven Wilder Striegel for a minor role, despite Wilder being a registered sex offender since he pled guilty into trying to lure a 14-year-old girl into having sex over email. A few days before the film was finally edited, Olivia Munn learned of this and asked that he be removed from the film. At first, Black defended his actions until the backlash forced him to go back on his arguments. Of the actors in the film, only Sterling K. Brown initially stood with Munn.
The other issue is that there’s a thesis in the film that kids with Asperger’s and autism are actually the next level of evolution, which would be nice if it had any science behind it. I’m certain that parents of these children may not agree with this story.
I wanted to enjoy this movie. I did, but throughout, it felt like a failed opportunity for one of my favorite film series to be essential. Instead, it’s a throwaway that I won’t remember for long. And that’s pretty sad.