Warning: This review contains SPOILERS.
Boy… this was kind of a disappointment. And really not in the ways that I was expecting.
Okay, for anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a pretty damn big Shane Black fan. I love his characters, his quick-witted dialogue, his plots, his strange obsession with Christmas, everything. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite movies of all time and The Nice Guys was one of my Top 5 favourite movies of 2016. So when I heard that he was taking the directing seat for the new movie in the Predator franchise, I was pretty excited for it. Admittedly, I’m not going to claim I’m a massive super fan of the Predator series, but I enjoyed the first one well enough and wanted to see where Black would take the franchise.
Unfortunately, the resulting product was… well, kind of a mess. And one that I’m somewhat hesitant to place the blame entirely on Shane Black’s shoulders, because this movie really carries all the signs of a last minute emergency executive rush-job. Now, of course, this is obviously entirely just speculation on my part, since I don’t know much of what happened behind the scenes, and maybe said rush-job was needed because of something Shane Black screwed up (like that ‘casting a sex offender’ thing that was in the news a few weeks ago), but the movie really doesn’t feel like a Shane Black movie. In fact, it carries a lot of the hallmarks of the hasty editing/reshoot job I saw in Suicide Squad back in 2016. Again, it’s just speculation on my part, but the fact that I’m off-the-bat comparing it to that trash pile is never a great start.
Now, the biggest problem for me with this movie, right off the bat, was the editing, especially in the first act. Scenes are awkwardly cut together with bland dialogue that feels like 90% generic exposition yet still somehow leaves you feeling like they haven’t explained enough (another reason why I suspect behind-the-scenes shenanigans since fun dialogue is basically Shane Black’s thing.) Don’t get me wrong, it starts to find its footing by about partway through the second act, but it’s the sort of incompetent editing that, again, heavily reminded me of Suicide Squad. It’s that same awkward transition and empty feeling scenes without any kind of proper flow or timing that really gave neon warning signs to my brain that something went wrong during the making of this film.
As for writing wise, usually one of Shane Black’s strong points, in this case it feels like they’ve jammed about two or three different drafts together without bothering to integrate them properly because there are soooo damn many elements and would-be Chekov’s Guns to keep track of. There’s the weird computer device thingy, the invisibility ball, that glowing green fluid Olivia Munn stole, Jacob Tremblay’s character apparently learning how the Predator computer works, the Predator dog, the regular dog that turned up once or twice but never got an actual payoff, the Predator sparing Olivia Munn when she’s naked and helpless which also doesn’t get a payoff (in spite her really awkwardly bringing it up out of nowhere at the school) and probably many more that I’ve forgotten. And nearly half of Sterling K. Brown’s actions (as well as the first Predator) in the first half/third of the movie make zero sense with the motivation that he’s eventually given.
On the positive side of things, I actually did enjoy the action a fair amount. It had a lot of great gore and violence and, as much as I complain about the abundance of Chekov’s Guns all over the place, the action at least did have fun and inventive ways to use it. I will agree that some of the nightime stuff in the third act is hard to make out, to the point where I legitimately did not realise that that one shot killed Sterling K. Brown’s fairly major antagonist until I saw a forum post after the movie explaining it (I thought he’d just vanished and the movie had forgotten about him), but I still ultimately enjoyed it. I’m not going to claim it’s anything outstanding, especially considering the quality of the action we’ve had in a lot of recent action blockbusters, but as far as fun Predator action goes, I was satisfied. Although the fight with the dogs was hilariously bad.
I also really liked the Loonies, the ragtag group of PTSD veterans who band together to fight the Predator(s) and who were easily the best characters in the film. Honestly, a lot of their scenes, interactions and character moments were the only parts that actually made the movie feel like a Shane Black movie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when they’re introduced is just about the point where the movie starts to pick up. They were easily one of the best elements in the film. Sterling K. Brown has fun with what he has, even if a lot of his character motivations/action make little sense. Olivia Munn is… there. Honestly, her entire character is mostly superfluous, kinda feels shoehorned in in a lot of ways, but I digress.
But yeah, this was still a pretty heavy mess. I won’t say it’s completely awful or not worth watching if you’re a massive Predator fan, there’s a lot of neat action and gore and ideas and stuff, but it feels like a movie that fell back into heavy last-minute reshoots/editing, to the point where it doesn’t really feel like the Shane Black Predator movie I was hoping for. More just… a not-very-good Predator sequel lightly flavoured with Shane Black. Which frankly ain’t really good enough.
Overall Grade: C-