It hunts humans… for fun. That’s the tagline of the movie The Predator, and also of its titular monster, which as a couple of characters later point out, is an entirely incorrect name for a creature that hunts prey for sport rather than survival. But, “We all agreed predator sounds cooler says a third character, in one of the few self-aware moments of this reboot.
The Predator follows the same template as its source material — the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film that kicked off the franchise and spawned such *cough* worthy successors as Predator 2, Predators, Alien vs Predator and Alien vs Predator: Requiem. An extraterrestrial being that is near impossible to detect or destroy lands on earth, and begins picking off hapless human victims, until a redoubtable Army officer brings the creature down. In The Predator, the US government is aware that these creatures have been frequenting earth, and has put some measures into place to study and combat them.
The story, such as it is, begins in Mexico, with decorated Army captain and sniper Quinn McKenna (Narcos star Boyd Holbrook) on a mission to free some hostages from a drug cartel. The operation is going right on plan when a huge spacecraft crashes onto the scene. McKenna goes along to investigate and gets hold of a Darth Vader-like facemask and something like an Infinity Gauntlet. He also has a run-in with the creature from the craft, which, in addition to being the perfect killing machine, also has the ability to become invisible; the creature soon kills the other members of McKenna’s unit, although the captain himself manages to incapacitate the alien and get away.
McKenna sends the alien gear he cadged to a PO box near his home, before being picked up by Will Traeger (Sterling K Brown), an agent who runs Operation Stargazer (the aforementioned government initiative to deal with the alien predators). The OS team obviously doesn’t want McKenna spreading stories about homicidal aliens visiting earth, so they certify him as psychologically troubled and put him along with a group of veterans with mental health issues, to be taken to a veterans’ facility.
Meanwhile, OS have also brought on board an evolutionary scientist, Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), to analyse the DNA of the alien McKenna brought down. Predictably, the alien wakes up during this examination, lays waste to the OS facility and heads out to find its missing mask and gauntlet — which, it turns out, are now in the hands of McKenna’s little son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), an autistic genius who unlocks the operating system of the alien devices.
McKenna must then find and save his son, fight and kill the alien, and elude and eliminate Agent Traeger and his team. He has some help in the form of the other troubled veterans he’s previously accompanying (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen) and the good Dr Bracket, who has also thrown in her lot with this band of misfits.
There’s more to this plot a super-predator that’s hunting for the original predator, and this super-predator race’s attempts to evolve into super-super-predators by apparently accessing the best samples of human DNA while they can. (Because, as the film points out in its sole rational moment: climate change means we’re an endangered species — a race that will survive one or two generations more, at best.) The writing credits, attributed to Fred Dekker and director Shane Black, would have us believe that it actually took two people to come up with that storyline.
Is asking for plausibility from a film about an alien predator unreasonable? For instance, should one even wonder how a civilian scientist plucked from a university and whisked to a secret government facility can match the moves of trained special-ops soldiers? And why a predator who’s hitherto hunted humans suddenly wants to help them, but also kills a few humans while at it? Or why, if the Operation Stargazer team had several decades to prepare for the scourge of the alien predators, they haven’t even managed to design foolproof restraints yet?
Good science fiction should have at least a kernel of possibility inherent in it, something that makes you think, “That might happen”. There’s no such kernel of possibility in The Predator. The cast tries to infuse some fun and believability into the story; the banter between McKenna and the other men is one of the saving graces of The Predator. But the characters have all the depth of flimsy cardboard, so they end up as another hacky element in a film replete with hackiness. Even the predator itself — a monster that must inspire foreboding and dread is an unimaginative figure (a somewhat upgraded version of the creature from the older films, described by one of the characters as “imagine if Whoopi Goldberg was a space alien.