In this edition of The Silver Lining, we’ll be covering Shane Black’s underappreciated 2018 sequel/reboot, The Predator.
The Predator franchise has always walked the line between action and horror, with most of the films being structured like sci-fi slashers where the victims are just badass enough to have a fighting chance. This is obviously a delicate balance, and I don’t think any of the sequels have quite managed to replicate the legendary thrills of John McTiernan’s 1987 original.
That being said, some entries have come close, and I’d go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a truly bad Predator film. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way, and that’s why I’d like to talk about Shane Black’s The Predator, a controversial sequel that deserves a closer look despite its negative reputation.
Originally announced back in 2017, The Predator became a hotly anticipated blockbuster when it was revealed that Shane Black (who played Rick Hawkins in the original film while also serving as a back-up screenwriter) would be returning to both co-write and direct a high-concept sequel. Fans were even more ecstatic when it was confirmed that the film had earned a hard R from the MPAA, basically guaranteeing a bloody fun romp helmed by someone who helped to kick-start the franchise.
When the trailer dropped, it looked like the hunt was finally on for Predator fans who had been waiting for a proper adult-oriented action flick.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
Grossing a fair $160 million at the box office while scoring a mere 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Predator didn’t actually lose any money, but it was certainly a critical flop. While the film found an audience in international venues, most viewers seemed to dismiss it as a messy cash-grab with a bloated budget and barely coherent script. The flick also stirred up some controversy due to its misguided depictions of autism, not to mention the hiring (and subsequent firing) of a convicted sex offender.
Long-time fans of the series seemed to be divided by the film’s tone, which was surprisingly lighthearted and comedic despite the hard R rating. Part of this can be explained by Black’s trademark humor, but it was later confirmed that The Predator was intentionally shot in a way that would make it easy to create kid-friendly cuts for overseas audiences. This resulted in lots of easily removable digital blood splatters and plenty of jokes for padding.
Critics also pointed out that the suburban setting was a poor substitute for the dense jungles (both concrete and otherwise) of previous films in the series, and the same went for the main cast of military misfits. The actors themselves were great, but this rag-tag band of outcasts wasn’t exactly what fans of the series were expecting.
These strange creative decisions were only exacerbated by the over-expansion of Predator lore, as the film boasts yet another super-Predator with a ridiculous backstory and action sequences more reminiscent of CGI-heavy superhero flicks than the old-school thrills of John McTiernan’s film. This also leads to a couple of sci-fi excesses like the previously mentioned autism fiasco and an unexpected twist about global warming.
Of course, one of the biggest issues was how the film was clearly reshot to hell, with shifting release dates, bizarre editing and ADR indicating that this absurd story was stitched together in post-production. Judging from behind-the-scenes photos and interviews, it appears that the final act was completely reworked before release, possibly against the director’s wishes. While some have claimed that this was due to the original cut of the film being literally too dark, Shane Black has gone on record with another story. The director claims that these reshoots were actually the result of negative test audience reactions after a focus group watched a rough workprint with incomplete visual effects.
THE SILVER LINING
It’s often said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I guess that’s why all the things people seem to hate about The Predator are precisely what I love about it. It may not hold a candle to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original run-in with an intergalactic hunter, but Black’s sequel has a lot of fun turning modern blockbuster tropes on their heads.
In some ways, Black’s film is more of a satire of modern action flicks than a proper Predator sequel. Knowing that the studio wouldn’t want to back a grounded horror/action hybrid like the original, the director decided to have a bit of fun with this big-budget monster flick, and I think the film’s irreverent approach is much more interesting than simply rehashing what came before.
In fact, the movie almost feels like a live-action version of one of those silly 80s cartoons that attempted to turn R-rated properties into kid-friendly toy commercials, and I mean that as a compliment. Hell, the movie even features a friendly Predator dog and an ecological message behind the action. If that doesn’t scream 80s cartoon, I don’t know what does.
I also really enjoy the creative casting here, with Black choosing to subvert the franchise’s established macho-man expectations by making our protagonists victims of warfare instead of cold-blooded killers. Having the audience care about the victims in a creature feature is incredibly difficult, and I’d say that The Predator does a great job of making you root for the humans. Boyd Holbrook is compelling enough as our protagonist, with Olivia Munn and Keegan-Michael Key standing out as memorable characters. But Thomas Jane is definitely the most entertaining as Baxley, a Marine veteran suffering from Tourette syndrome. This is a cool personal touch by the director, as Black actually suffers from this illness in real life.
Despite the messy storytelling and questionable additions to the lore, Shane Black’s The Predator remains a thoroughly entertaining entry in the franchise and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself when things get out of hand. While I’m certainly hyped for Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey, which promises to bring the mandibled hunter back to its origins in a self-contained thriller, I still think The Predator is worth revisiting as an odd B-movie that’s just as fun as it is ridiculous.
Watching a bad movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience. Even the worst films can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we’re trying to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror flicks.