Populated with every imaginable cliche, the best this film can hope for is to spawn a few memes
This month, Patrik Sandberg is at Toronto International Film Festival reporting for Dazed on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
If you go to the theatre to see Shane Black’s The Predator, something funny happens. Within the first ten minutes, the characters are so hackneyed and the direction so pedestrian that it becomes super ironic and the audience begins to laugh, searching for a solid rationale behind the archness, wanting to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Could this be the self-aware send-up of bad ’80s sci-fi horror that we didn’t know we wanted? Quite dismally, the answer is no: it’s the quasi-Marvel chucklehead action comedy that we knew we didn’t want, but somebody made it anyway.
We meet McKenna, a sniper in the jungle, who’s – you know what? No. The plot is generally secondary to the mundane incessance of pompous stepdad humour, so why even bother to explain? The film populates itself with every imaginable cliche, played by a startlingly prestigious cast in what can only be described as a concentrated effort to demean their careers. Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) has long held major leading-man potential, and he seduces us through the movie ably which is miraculous considering his character’s lack of depth. The by-all-means-incredible Sterling K. Brown grunts, rolls his eyes, and says the N-word in unexpected situations. Our ye-olde band of merry alien-fighting soldiers is a band of merry, alien-fighting soldiers. They came off of a loony bus, led by Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, misunderstood but dangerous, Keegan Michael Key as one of the Jerky Boys, Thomas Jane as a man suffering from Tourettes Syndrome who screams “eat your pussy” for laughs when nothing else is going on, and Jacob Tremblay as Holbrook’s bullied son with Asperger’s Syndrome. The child savant spends his days learning every language, memorising all maths equations, and it turns out he is some kind of key to the future of civilisation! Etcetera ad nauseum ridiculum maximum.
“All of this is peppered with the sort of dialogue you might find in a Seth MacFarlane fan fiction forum: the usual gay panic, “your mom” jokes”
The film contains such set pieces as a pair of CG space dogs getting blown to smithereens; a scene in which Olivia Munn (she’s in this too) gets shot in the foot with a tranquiliser dart and it paralyzes only her foot; a pair of matching impalements that lead to a symmetric murder-suicide (played for laughs); a motorcycle crashing into a stunt double, who gets knocked into a backflip and lands on his feet; Olivia Munn jumping onto the Predator’s back just slowly enough so that you could basically see the cables in front of the green screen. All of this is peppered with the sort of dialogue you might find in a Seth MacFarlane fan fiction forum: the usual gay panic, “your mom” jokes (not even new ones...the ones you’ve heard before), mockery of people with developmental and neurological disorders, and the word “fuck” inserted into every sentence – including those spoken by children – for cheap laughs from the adolescent-minded and those easily aroused by vocabulary that was considered shocking back in the Clinton era.
“If only a few memes serve as the collective memory of this movie for all posterity, it will have been a victory”
In terms of style, the original Predator offers much to work with, and The Predator of 2018 simultaneously ignores that gift and swings it around with such blunt trauma that it can’t help whacking the bullseye every so often. If only a few memes serve as the collective memory of this movie for all posterity, it will have been a victory. While this film answers the question of “What would it look like if we introduced some early 2000s C.G.I. to the wardrobe department at Nickelodeon?” there are moments of sublime aesthetic genius: the entrails of a bisected soldier bleeding onto the invisible Predator, which then opens its yellow, cartoonish eyes in the dark. Or the scene in which the alien whips its head so dramatically in the laboratory that its dreadlocks give a fabulous hair-flip, evoking an imperial pop diva from the 1980s. (There is a joke in which the creature is referred to as ‘alien Whoopi Goldberg’. I thought of Al Jorgensen mixed with LaToya Jackson.)
From the movie’s introductory scene in bitchy outer space, where one poorly rendered spaceship sideswipes two others to crash and burn on planet earth (with a fierce sense of kamikaze drama and that savage manicure on the joystick) we are treated to such copious eyefuls of the antagonist that he becomes cute and funky, and is therefore never scary.
The original Predator was an exercise in style that made use of the alien’s infrared P.O.V. and the set up of his traveling through the trees to create a sense of mystery. It stimulated a fear of what was lurking just outside the frame. Set in the Central American jungle, the movie also had aesthetic touchstones that helped it to become one of the most memorable action movies ever made. By relocating the story to the suburbs on Halloween, to military bases, to a high school, and back to the jungle, without any real sense of space, purpose, or travel time, Black opts to throw everything at the audience and by underestimating our taste and intelligence, see what sticks. This may be the director’s best attempt at an alien invasion, but no matter how many grenades he throws, nothing ever lands.