Unlike its counterpart and occasional crossover property the Alien series, each of the Predator movies has been essentially standalone, their only common thread the titular extraterrestrial. While the Alien series’ best entries undoubtedly surpass those of the Predator franchise, it’s also stagnated thanks to uninspired diminishing returns after Aliens. Meanwhile, Predator’s sequels have proven to be a more eclectic and interesting bunch, never content to self-plagiarize their celebrated predecessor. After the jungle-bound antics of the first movie, Predator 2 moved the action to the city and expounded on the aliens’ lore, while Predators had a similar structure to the first film but flipped the script by dropping its band of warriors on predator turf.
The globetrotting continues with The Predator, which takes the logical next step from the first two movies and moves the predator to the suburbs, though it unsurprisingly finds its way into the woods before the movie’s end. This time our heroes are led by Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), an army sniper who manages to narrowly escape a run-in with the predator at the movie’s start and decides to mail a piece of its high-tech suit to his suburban home. Soon after his close encounter, a shady government agency takes McKenna and the predator to a secret facility. When the beast inevitably escapes, it’s up to McKenna and a ragtag crew of fellow prisoners to stop it before it can reach McKenna’s son (Jacob Tremblay), an autistic child who’s discovered the package containing the predator’s armor.
As relatively involved as that description sounds, The Predator is at heart a rather straightforward action-horror movie. In the tradition of its first and third predecessors, it pits a squad of tough guys against a technologically superior alien foe and mines thrills from the tense, bloody results. To its credit, The Predator makes an effort to put some twists on the increasingly familiar formula. For one thing, the human protagonists (with the exception of McKenna), are no longer a squad of in-their-prime badasses, but instead a VA hospital’s PTSD therapy group self-dubbed “The Loonies.” This likable crew of misfits, each with their own demons, is easy to root for from the start. A few of them, like pyromaniac Lynch (Alfie Allen) and pervy pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) get lost in the shuffle, but the rest get compelling backstories that give the group some welcome emotional heft.
Also enlivening the movie is a uniformly strong cast. Holbrook makes for a credibly larger-than-life action hero, delivering on the physicality the role requires as well as the irreverent attitude. But as good as he is, it’s the supporting players who end up stealing the movie. Sterling K. Brown is clearly having a blast as grinning, sociopathic government heavy Traeger; while the standouts of the good-guy camp are Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane, who form a hilarious, endlessly quotable buddy act as jokester Coyle and Tourettic obscenity-spouter Baxley.
As for the titular sport-hunting alien, its more or less the same as it’s ever been. Yes, the movie does introduce a bigger, “better” predator about halfway through, but it’s functionally identical. The biggest change to Predator canon this movie offers is its new lore, which is by and large incredibly stupid. Without getting into specifics, the reason for the predator’s visit this time around is stunningly ill-conceived, and while there is pleasure to be had watching the actors deliver this nonsense with a straight face, the movie would be far better without it. There are also a handful moments that smell of last-minute rewrites, like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it death of one of the chief villains.
But all flaws aside, The Predator delivers everything one wants from a predator movie: gore, quips, testosterone, and plenty of man-vs-alien action. Writer-director Shane Black, a series veteran, makes a few missteps along the way but ultimately proves adept at giving the people what they want, including a few cheeky nods to the original classic. The movie ends with a sequel hook that’s groan-worthy its aping of Marvel’s post-credit sequences, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me wanting more.