“Tonight, you are not watching a film, but a movie.” Those were the opening words of Shane Black, longtime Predator contributor and director of 2018’s The Predator, on stage in a room of hundreds. The world premiere of the newest installment of the monster Sci-Fi franchise made its way to the Toronto International Film Festival’s Movie Madness and already opened with an odd line, yet with such feeling of confidence. On one of the front rows with two other cinema fanatic friends, we were unsure where the night would start.
Was this meant to be taken more casually? What was this meant for audiences of all sorts here? Journeying from the opening to the credits, I finally had an idea of what he meant.
The Predator returns us to the Sci-Fi universe of our favorite intergalactic manhunters, as their usual trip to slaughter for sport turns to a different sort of journey. This time around, a Predator crash-lands from hot pursuit of another ship and has the usual conflict with humans. Unfortunately this time around, Army Ranger Quinn McKenna happened to be under a military mission with only himself as the survivor thanks to the Predator’s slaughter. While being sent to the looney bin for seeing a space alien, military personnel and scientists of project Stargazer wish to harness information of the fugitive Predator captured and sedated.
And its missing tech? McKenna might have had it transferred somewhere as evidence in case the conspiring military tries to shut his encounters down. Paired with a bunch of other odd fellows, a loose Predator on the run and a bigger, badder threat, the race for the cargo on the Predator ship and the fate of humanity rides on the shoulders of McKenna.
Characterization was a huge element that made the film so appealing. While not your typical gung-ho muscle men that the classic Predator film brought us, the eccentric Loonies that were brought together make their banter and mental quirks a very memorable presence in the film. The features and vulnerabilities of the team could have easily been exploitable tropes and tacked for very flat characters.
We often see very oddball members of a military squad to differentiate themselves in films and it’s become something of a standard in any film oriented around soldiers. Fortunately, this case has taken the approach of its great dialogue and genuine chemistry of the misfits we follow.
Thomas Jane is an epitome of a mentally damaged character done right in the squad, where his character Baxley has some of the best line deliveries and yet a sincere approach to his interactions with his Tourette syndrome. Paired with the wit of Keegan Michael-Key using that as an advantage in many unapologetic back and forths, their aggressive yet genuine relationship is one of the highlights of the film and leads to a somewhat touching end on their pasts entwined. Doing so, it gives us very genuine human characters with their weird personality traits added as a charismatic support to their presence. It hits every sort of sweet spot for the audience.
Even outside the main cast, there is a great amount of presentability in the roles outside the typical archetypes. Jacob Tremblay’s role as McKenna’s son with autism being more of a contender than just a “kid with autism”, with instead highlighting his preternatural abilities of learning language and even seen as the honorary next step in human evolution in the eyes of the hunters. Sterling K. Brown’s Traeger taking the level of his asshole behavior beyond his bad guy role yet still level headed to make the right calls when things are going at its worst. There is an interesting depth dug past typical characters of the presented genre.
Being able to fall in love with human characters we are accompanied with makes this monster movie all the more likable when we are looking past a body count. We have much of the writing to thank for that with providing the main cast with riveting personalities that entertain us. The dark humor executed in the film is reminiscent to Black’s older comedies like The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and combined with the experience of Monster Squad, Dekker adds a very charming ensemble for the main cast like his “cussing and killing Goonies”-like approach.
In addition, many Easter eggs surround itself and the commitment to detail over previous installments only brought the best of what each entry had to offer into what felt like a great homage movie for fans in addition to a stand-alone movie. Classic lines being retooled in clever ways, innovative uses of Predator technology, even unique approaches to expand the Predator mythos are uniquely selected.
That isn’t to say the moments of tensity are not present. In fact, much of the film blends itself with the perfect line of great writing in humor and the tone of the action and suspense a Predator film has always familiarized itself with. There are conflicts done on all sides with humans vs. Predator, humans vs. humans, and even a Predator vs. Predator that fills an interesting sequence to the overall plot.
There are borrowed elements of John Carpenter’s more action-oriented films like Escape from New York playing its way into the scripting with its suaveness and grit. There was never a moment of rest when every moment either screamed adrenaline with its gore and vicious combat or laugh-out-loud jokes in at least each scene.
The brutality has been exaggerated as a huge highlight by many of those close to production of the film, and those claims are not to be taken lightly at all. There is a huge bar in the current age of monster films that the mainstream has never had many moments of tackling head on, yet Black’s commitment to keeping this violent surge since his first pitch has made itself count. It brings back the feeling of first seeing such an unorthodox and gross display of violence with 1987’s original Predator film.
Even in the opening scene, there is a phenomenal moment of first unveiling the face of the Predator with the use a victim’s blood that boldly stresses the kind of ruthless impression we are to get with this rendition of the franchise. From there on, the ferocity of the kills and malevolent methods continue to stack higher and leads to some very satisfying and even heartfelt deaths.
However, there are minor faults that will hit the film from being as perfect as we would want it to be. The concluding conflict in the last act of the film lines itself to the classic Predator hunt that we all love. From there, the choreography in the dark environment grows slightly shaky with no clear indication as to what happens in the fates of some characters. While not something that hits every memorable person, it’s a true shame for the ones that do. Especially given how much time you’ve grown alongside them in either love or hate, it’s only necessary. And the final kill? The writing of the last lines before taking down the big bad felt much too tacked on and even downright corny from how it attempted to be edgy.
Although the ending did show a “kinda sorta” lead up to another installment, it’s clear it went after the same route that Predators did with their ending and left it open ended. However, the tone feels slightly offputting given how confident the film was in its identity. Instead of one implementing creatures and horror, the last scene seems to be attempting to introduce an unnecessary comic book movie element that would have been better off being cut entirely. If this was their idea of garnering for a sequel, this was not the way to market it in the genre they constructed through the last hour and half it has built. While not one to completely ruin the movie, it does leave a weird aftertaste.
However, the amount of heart and quality direction the movie has gone over overpowers any sort of negatives and is a true continuation we earned after many years. While many films may have a sequel appended for the sake of continuing a story, The Predator feels the first to live up to the spirit of the original and able to encapsulate both its independent entry and a familiar style. A bold claim for sure, but there was no better man to go through with this than one that was personally involved in the original as Shane Black. Balancing the tone, humor and fierceness in addition to some charm to the characters, The Predator leaves you nowhere but at the edge of your seat.
Because what I witnessed was not a film, but a movie.