Vets With PTSD Save the Day in ‘The Predator’
All Predator movies are bad, but at least this one is fun
Face it. All Predator movies are bad.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love me some Predator. I’ll never get tired of hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger yell “get to the choppa,” seeing an alien perform first aid in an old woman’s bathroom or watching Topher Grace and Walton Goggins traipse around a jungle.
The stand-alone Predator films are dumb fun, but they’re all bad. So it was that I met the latest installment in the decades-old franchise—The Predator—with low expectations. I had a blast.
Writer-director Shane Black’s The Predator is a perfectly competent movie. It delivers on the science-fiction action, doesn’t ask the audience to think too hard and is full of charismatic Black-style side characters. And it’s those side-characters, a motley crew of section-eight vets who’ve seen too much and fear too little, that makes The Predator shine.
The plot, such as it is, follows U.S. Army Ranger Quinn McKenna as he encounters a predator in South America then runs afoul of a government agency trying to cover it up. The feds label McKenna as crazy in order to cover it up and stick him on a bus with other vets on their way to the loony bin.
Cue an alien attack that leads McKenna to take the disgraced veterans and form them into a new squad. Along the way he’ll team up with scientist Olivia Munn, spar with his estranged wife and get to know his autistic son a little bit better. People explode. Aliens blow things up. It’s fun.
Black, the creator of Lethal Weapon, has a flair for buddy-cop dialogue and The Predator’s cast of mentally ill veterans is a treasure trove of comedic interaction. Thomas Jane plays a Marine with Tourette’s who saw something terrible in the Middle East. Keegan Michael Key plays a haunted man who tells inappropriate jokes and takes care of Jane. Trevante Rhodes plays a Marine who tried to shoot his commanding officer—himself.
Key stirs everyone up, Jane is the heart and Rhodes keeps everyone in line.
On its surface, The Predator’s emotional journey is about McKenna reconnecting with his family. But the more compelling emotional arc runs through these side-characters who fall in line under a new commander—McKenna—and learn to fight something other than themselves. They redeem themselves by fighting an alien.
It shouldn’t work, but it does thanks to clever writing and an excellent cast. But I’m also forgiving the movie its multiple sins.
In the opening scene, McKenna first sees the Predator when the disemboweled body of one of his Army Ranger buddies pours blood over the monster’s invisible head, revealing piercing yellow eyes in a gore-soaked monster face.
It was at this point that The Predator won me over. But, there’s a lot of bad here.
The movie runs just under two hours and bits of it feel rushed and poorly edited. Subplots disappear without resolution and side characters vanish. McKenna’s wife is around for the middle of the film, but disappears when a Predator attacks her home.
We never see her again and it’s possible she’s dead, but we’ll never know. There’s an adorable pit bull that befriends McKenna’s son only to vanish without a trace. The film treats McKenna’s son’s autism as a superpower. The list goes on.
But hey. This is a Predator movie.