By Alex Harrison
The Predator aims to revive the titular franchise with a fun, foul mouthed, ultraviolent adventure from writer/director Shane Black. There’s blood and guts, witty one-liners and memorable characters wrapped inside a solid plot, but the film ultimately falls short due to some glaring technical difficulties.
The Predator does a lot of things right. It drops the previous films’ violent thriller genre and replaces it with an action adventure romp. Anyone familiar with Shane Black (the writer behind Lethal Weapon (1987), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016)) will undoubtedly recognise his trademark dialogue (think Tarantino before Tarantino), memorable characters and satisfying story structure. The Predator’s screenplay is undoubtedly its strongest asset. Characters are likeable, the ping-pong dialogue sings, and story elements are presented and brought back satisfactorily. Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes and Boyd Holbrook lead a decent cast that give solid, funny performances throughout; the combination of good performances with strong character writing feels refreshing to see in a franchise film these days.
However, the film’s strong script and performances are ultimately let down by nearly every other element on display. It’s plain to see that Shane Black can write a great screenplay, but his direction of the film really leaves much to be desired: camera movement is unmotivated and boring, the pacing feels rushed and what should be great character moments are often let down by hasty editing (there are points in the film that are cut so quickly and carelessly that it’s difficult to follow what’s going on). Larry Fong’s cinematography also looks flat, more akin to television than to film, and the score from Henry Jackman sounds recycled to the point of it becoming background noise. The visual effects on display look cheap and unconvincing outside of a few moments of real blood and guts prosthetics. The sound design is also flat and unimpressive, with many big moments feeling small due to some lacklustre production and attention to detail.
The most glaring problem however is Black’s direction; it seems strange that his writing can feel so original and fun, and yet his blocking of scenes and set pieces is so unoriginal and bland. What should have been fun, tense shootouts and set pieces were left limp, due not only to the previously mentioned uninspired technical elements in the film, but also down to how mundane the audio-visual storytelling is. Sure, Black gets the job done and moves the plot along, but the way in which he chooses to tell the story, in his choice of camera movement, lenses and blocking of actors is so disappointingly bland that it is perhaps the main culprit for The Predator’s ultimate failure. It’s a real shame that great characters and dialogue have been wasted on a production that ultimately lacks any real heart or love for the world its trying to bring to life. It seems rather difficult to care about a film when it’s so plain to see that the filmmakers themselves don’t seem to care at all.