Friday, September 14, 2018

Film Review: The Predator (2018) - Teaching me that I could be a screenwriter, too!

I hate to lead this off with a series of statements like, "I saw the first Predator in 1987, and was genuinely surprised because I actually had no idea it was a movie about an alien vs. Arnold,"* and that in 1990 when the Predator 2 came out I was more or less on my own for an entire summer between semesters and saw that movie like seven times in the theater. Then when Predators came out it was one of the first movies my wife and I saw before we turned into parents, and we had a lot of fun with it.

I guess the point is I like Predator movies. They are fun, engaging B movies with a certain style and theme. Each one has slowly but surely built on the foundation of prior movies with small but distinct reveals. In the original it is enough to know that a species of alien hunters comes to Earth and is responsible for Central American legends of jungle monsters. In Predator 2 we know they visit often, and have done so for a long time, and also hunt on other worlds (including possibly an alien xenomorph). In Predators we learn that there are factions which fight one another, and they also have game planets where they drop off carefully picked prey (and that planet has a derelict starship in which a mad Morpheus lurks....for a while).

If you count the Alien vs. Predator movies in to the mix, then you also know the Predators are responsible for a lost civilization in Antarctica, bred alien xenomorphs on Earth, and are very sloppy about this business when hunt time comes. Most fans regard the AvP movies as their own special "non-canon" What If universe at best, and as atrociously poor fanfic headcanon brought to life at worse.

So.....yeah. Where does 2018's "The Predator" fit in to all this? Is it one of the good ones, adding to the lore of the movies while providing a gripping sci fi action/horror hybrid, or is it something....else....?

Let me put it this way: I love these movies, I love their style, pacing, and focus, and I love that they are great B movies....but only B movies. So I am not expecting them to be amazing; I am expecting them to be good films for what they are.

The Predator is....well......godamnit I don't even know. Here's the best I can put about it:

My son, who is turning seven soon, will LOVE this movie. We have reserved tickets for a 3:30 PM showing tomorrow. My wife was kind enough to let me sneak off to see it tonight, thus why I can write this.

It has things which my son wouldn't just find cool, but he'd find them Super Cool. Like, stuff that he has actually come up with using his alien, predator and other action figures. And video games, especially the Alien/Predator Minecraft mod, and Who Knows What Else.

So from this angle, it's a good movie. It will amaze him, I predict....I'll follow up on that after he and I catch it tomorrow, just to confirm my suspicion.

(UPDATE: Yes, he loved this movie. My wife's opinion is that the film was all over the place and was tonally off, and the new lore made no sense to her; but she's studied a lot of biology as a teacher and I think she's sick of this idea Hollywood has that DNA is this thing that aliens can just absorb as they see fit).

I suspect I would have enjoyed it when I was 15 as well, the age I was when I saw the original movie. I will point out that in 1986 a movie like this would have been amazing no matter what.

But me, at age 47, in 2018? I am wondering how the living fuck this movie was ever green lit. Like.....who thought this movie should ever have been made the way it was? There are so many things wrong with it......okay, gotta stop, just take a break, don't be one of those know, the kind who think The Last Jedi killed their's JUST A PREDATOR Movie....okay, calm......

Unfortunately, the film makers, in the process of trying to get as many decapitations and loathesome swearing and bad jokes squeezed in as possible accidentally made a PG 13 movie for kids in to a R rated movie that will accidentally confuse adults into seeing it. And the core't be able to just go see this movie. That sounds weird to say about  Predator film, I know....but this isn't quite yer daddy's Predator, trust me. I'm a daddy.

So, unlike the deliberate deconstructionist attitude that The Last Jedi took toward it's franchise, which either caused the lamentation of the fan elite or the kudos of those who were impressed that it dared to do what it did....The Predator does none of that. It does what literally any fourth film in a B movie franchise ever does, which is basically just throw some new stuff in, get a little self referential and overly ironic, put cool stuff in just because it hasn't been seen before, and then get handed off to a screenwriter(s) who aren't even that keen on how to do a Save The Cat script let alone a B Movie horror-action film, pair it with a director who's really not qualified to direct, out the film through development hell, recut and refilm to the point where obvious continuity and plot issues just seem to percolate through in every scene, and then release it around the time you need some Halloween movies to flood the market for a fast buck.

I actually feel like maybe I should try writing some screenplays now, because apparently they'll buy anything.

Here's the plot:

A sniper who is either working as a private merc or on some job in Mexico for some reason is at the wrong place when a predator ship crashes. He has a brief excursion with a predator, escapes with the predator's gear, and then goes on the run because --reasons?-- I guess he wasn't sanctioned to be operating in Mexico? He figured that encountering an alien automatically means he's on someone's shit list? I got nothing.

Oh, and right before they grab him (implied off camera) he ships the alien stuff to his address in Everytown, USA. Naturally it ends up in his autistic son's hands....and as we learn later, if you're on the autism spectrum then you're the future evolutionary linchpin of humankind and understanding predator gear is totally normal.

Yeah so anyway: after an interrogation our hero McKenna is put on a military prison bus with a bunch of screwball, wisecracking idiots that we're supposed to like (I think). Meanwhile, Dr. Bracket is a bioscientist who's apparently on the "call me" list for alien contact and they bring her in to where the predator which McKenna enountered is now in captivity....sort of. Really he's just in a white lab, mildly sedated, and out in the open. They are all freaked out because it turns out he has --wait for it!-- human DNA!!!!!! Pesky predators have apparently been stealing the DNA of their best foes to make them stronger.

Just roll with it. This is far from the strangest twist in a story straight out of the junior action figure adventure camp.

Okay, so the rest of the movie is a lengthy sequence in which wisecracking, unlikeable assholes work with the unlikeable hero to fight a super predator which shows up hunting the captured predator. Some predator dogs show up (which look nothing like the much more dangerous predator dogs from Predators) and after one is lobotomized it becomes Dr. Bracket's friend. There a lot of stuff that goes on. Wanted criminals somehow get a lot of military gear, including grenade launchers, but it is unclear where or how. Police and military remain ridiculously ineffective.

Around the tail end of the movie there's a ten minute sequence where the film stops feeling like a wacky asshole roadtrip comedy and starts feeling almost like a predator movie, or at least a film that pretends to have some sense of threat or menace to it. This fails as the sequence is woefully short and we are asked to care for a bunch of guys who are just plain unlikeable. Painfully so.

Then CGI sequences with impossible jumps and bizarre turns of luck ensue (involving the super predator's ship) and the super predator is at last defeated.

Then the movie ends with a sequence which somebody actually greenlighted. I'll spoiler alert you here, but yeah.....this happened:

So, the big plot bit for the movie is that first predator (who is captured) actually is working with the insane dipshit private mercs/black ops/science dudes (or government dudes? movie never really seems to care to elaborate on who they all were; EDIT: second viewing its clear they are government spooks, although maybe it's hard to buy in to that given that the lead spook is such a psychopath; if you get all your info on how the government works from conspiracy theories then it probably looks legit) to deliver some sort of cure for the problem: predators stealing human DNA to make themselves tougher. The plan is apparently to let Earth turn in to a hothouse or something (the predators aren't doing anything, they are just waiting for humans to do it to themselves; EDIT: on second viewing, all of this info is just the lead spook Traeger played by Sterling brown deciding he's figured it all out; problem is, we know that he's the movie's "voice" and the film progresses as if his imaginings are correct) then colonize the planet. The "good" predator who everyone captured was delivering a solution to this. In the very end, the new team who is working for the Black Ops Spooks (but now with more good guys I guess?) opens up the surviving capsule and it contains what is basically a Power Ranger suit that turns a human in to a fully armored Predator Killer.

The movie ends on this note like it's screenwriters thought they were really clever or something.

In the film's defense, my son will love loves this. He's going to want to be a predator killer for Halloween, he has confirmed I bet (or Spider Man). He has been telling me about his plans to make a movie one day called "Super Predator vs. Super Alien." (EDIT: I heard a lot more about it after today's second show).

He will love this movie. He loved this movie. Yep.

Dad, however, is going to just hand the torch over. I think, if we're lucky, this will be the last Predator movie. I will be shocked if it does well; this isn't just a bad movie if you like Predator films, it's a bad movie even if you like just any old films at all.** Maybe in a few years they will reboot the entire franchise, and this one will be buried in the non-canon pile with the AVP films. Or, maybe, my son and his generation will eventually enjoy a bizarre Ready Player One meets Predator style VR mashup in the distant future, Lego Dimensions style. This may, ultimately, be the highly meta future that we are plowing in to...and this film may be one of many symptoms of what that will look like.

Okay! I predict an A+ for my son, but Dad has to go with a C- (it was slightly more interesting to watch and follow round two) D-. If you don't have a kid who loves these movies, you may just want to go back and re-watch the original, or the sequels...especially Predators. Or even better, re-watch Predators after seeing The Predator; it will really make that movie look much better than you remember it.

If you see this movie: remember, when the predator dog goes FULL CUTE, that they stuck that in a Predator film. Yeah.

My kid will probably have the Predator Dog toy by close of day tomorrow. Just sayin'....they put that in there, I expect a damn plushie, you know?


I'm a good dad. I will see this movie with him tomorrow, and I will not say one disparaging thing. If he has fun, it will be worth it. (We saw it. It went as I expected, but even my son commented on a couple of the Obvious Plot Holes, especially in the beginning when MacKenna departs his military op for inexplicable reasons having to do Government is evil even though he IS the government???? MacKenna appears to a cipher for today's modern independent American Dude, convinced he's simultaneously a badass soldier and out to fight The Man, never realizing he is The Man).

*In the good old days before the internet this was actually possible.

**Here's how bad it is: it makes me think Alien: Resurrection was okay, after all. It makes me think AvP isn't as bad as I remember it. That bad.

Post Script on Second Viewing: I'll probably do a follow up blog to talk about the poor story choices in this film. It could have been a tighter, more interesting story, it really could have, but the choices they went with were just so.....stupid, and so many, that I am baffled at what sort of behind the scenes script smashing must have gone down to have arrived at this final result.

No comments:

Post a Comment