The Predator review: “big, noisy, busy and brash”

Shane Black's spin on the alien-hunter series is brimming with 80s action-movie nostalgia – just don't expect anything more

The poster for The Predator (Fox, HF)

★★★

Just like the original Predator in 1987, co-writer/director Shane Black’s franchise reboot succeeds on the slam-bang visceral level thanks to lashings of tough-guy machismo, spectacular stunts and gory dismemberment. If only it made sense and wasn’t so enervating to watch.

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Well done to Black and co-writer Fred Dekker for putting a new spin on the militarised monster mayhem by placing it in an urban environment. But, and here comes the inevitable Black & Dekker joke, their one-note amusement ride feels very do-it-yourself. Fuzzy plot points and zero-credibility characters trip over one another in the misguided effort to make proceedings feel anything else but a retro throwback to 1980s attitudes and action, the era Black seems most comfortable with, having scripted Lethal Weapon and cult horror The Monster Squad with Dekker.

The sixth Predator movie in the franchise (if you count the smackdowns with the Alien) posits the fact that Predators have been coming to Earth for a while now and aren’t quite the secret they used to be. The government has established a defence agency dedicated solely to protecting humans from the intergalactic hunters and Project Stargazer is where the incarcerated beasties are studied.

The film begins in zippy Star Wars style, with two Predator craft battling in deep space until one escapes through a wormhole to Earth, where it crashes in a Mexican forest just as retired Special Forces army ranger-turned-mercenary Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is about to terminate members of a drug cartel.

Anticipating a cover-up, McKenna steals a state-of-the-art alien helmet and gauntlet from the spaceship and sends it home as evidence before the Stargazer outfit apprehend him for debriefing. In a suitably secret underground lab, he learns the Predator passenger has been sedated and biologist Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) has been seconded to provide her genetic expertise, as the subject has human DNA in its body.

Just as McKenna is about to be shipped off to maximum security with a dirty half-dozen of other military outlaws, nicknamed the Loonies, the Predator escapes. Of course, he needs his lost equipment, but that is now in the possession of McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, star of Room and Wonder), who somehow understands the alien-tech owing to being on the autistic spectrum. An invaluable talent, as it turns out, because the captured Predator is only an hors d’oeuvre for the real Predator to arrive with an agenda spelling dire consequences for the human race.

With the Loonies, sinister agency head Traeger (Sterling K Brown), Bracket and Rory either against each other or suddenly working together – you figure it out! – the incoherent, over-the-top slaughter spirals out of control in a welter of energetic face-offs that are neither scary nor suspenseful. Through it all, though, the bio-mechanical creatures still impress with their invisibility cloaking devices, heat-sensitive vision and ability to kill with their range of superior weaponry. The arrival of the giant, super-sadistic Predator ratchets up the knuckle-headed thrills, though his pit bull pets look like they’ve wandered in from an old Resident Evil film.

The humour is utterly Neanderthal, the dialogue unbelievably cheesy and the blatant exposition is of the “lousy husband, good soldier” ilk. For easy laughs, one of the Loonies, Baxley (Thomas Jane), has Tourette syndrome, so the pointless vulgarity is often as quick-fire as the machine guns. But even this quickly becomes tiresome.

The best to be said about this big, noisy, busy and brash comic-book affair is that there really is never a dull moment and there are many fun nods to the previous Predator films (including Lawrence Gordon Middle School and Jake Busey as the son of his father Gary’s character in Predator 2). You just wish the super-charged action adventure had been given a sharper narrative focus to deliver something more than a superficial wallow in flippant 80s pulp nostalgia.

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The Predator is released in cinemas on Wednesday 12 September