Bringing Shane Black back into the Predator fold seems like a great move. He has a proven track record in combining slick Hollywood action and sparky character dialogue. So does it pay off here? Kind of.
The film does follow the events of the previous Predator films but also works as a stand alone. The story is triggered by a Predator crash landing on Earth and being chased down by a different Predator. Our concern, however, is with the humans who get accidentally embroiled in their chase.
Boyd Holbrook plays the lead McKenna, a sniper for the US army who happens to be in the wrong place when the alien ship lands virtually on top of him. He obviously sees that an alien has come to Earth and as such, he seems to know that his government will not let him free to tell his story. But unbeknownst to them he has already secreted some alien technology and set it back home to his son; a nine year old who has an alarming amount of social freedom. That's a pretty solid set up for an action movie; McKenna has an alien pursuing him and the government bad guy trying to pull his brain out of his nose.
So what doesn't quite work about this film? Firstly, Boyd Holbrook is definitely on the Jeremy Renner end of the bland-o-meter as far as leading men go. To make up for this, he is surrounded by a dirty half dozen of kooky army misfits, each with their own special brand of wacky mental illness. Unfortunately, this dynamic doesn't quite work either, despite spirited performances from those involved. Thomas Jane is perhaps the most surprising, not least because no one has seen him for about fifteen years. The biggest issue is that they all speak in the exact same “Shane Black wacky character” kind of way, and their banter is pretty weak. But to be fair, it is exactly the kind of weak banter I would expect from a group of dickhead men not even considered sane enough to be in the US army. There is perhaps one too many of them (and it is Alfie Allen who gets lost in the mix), and the idea of mining mental illnesses for comedy fodder in a completely unironic way seems a bit out of date.
Also out of date is the film's apparent delight in murder. Characters on both good and bad sides of the story are positively gleeful in their wholesale slaughter of other people and aliens and alien dogs. The main protagonist even says at one point that he enjoys killing people. Don't get me wrong, all the good guys' killings can be justified by in-world morality and the high stakes that the film creates, but to do it with such abandon does feel out of place these days. It could be a deliberate harking back to the kill-happy days of the eighties and the original Predator, but it still doesn't really sit right.
This plays even more so with the character of Casey Brackett, played by Olivia Munn. She is a biologist that is brought on board by the shadowy government agency to help examine the Predator that they've got a hold of. Unfortunately, this storyline doesn't get much of a chance to go anywhere before all hell breaks loose. But old Dr. Brackett turns out to be a dab hand with an army issue assault rifle and she is willing and able to shoot her way out of trouble when necessary.
The final piece of this messy puzzle is McKenna's son, a young boy with autism who becomes a crucial tool in decoding the alien language. Because autism gives you magic powers, right? You all know that? You all remember that trope from back when people didn't really know what autism was and they just thought it meant you could count toothpicks really well?
The whole thing feels like a script left over from the early nineties, but it doesn't seem self aware enough to be doing that deliberately. It's lacking a striking personality in any role (the primary human antagonist's character trait is that he chews nicorette gum), which is pretty inexcusable for a Shane Black script.
However, the whole thing whips along pretty quickly and it delivers on the action front without getting carried away. I must admit, I ended up warming to the rag tag bunch of soldiers that have to band together to save the day and there is a fair bit of set up in terms of the Predator world that is obviously being put in place to pay off later in the franchise. If it ever happens.
Watchable but dated; 6/10