If you gave Kenny Powers $80 million to make a movie, it would probably look a lot like The Predator. Shane Black’s reboot of the long-running sci-fi/action franchise feels like it was pitched by someone who made explosion sounds with their mouth during the meeting. AND THEN THE FORCE FIELD GOES UP—VROPPPPP—AND IT CUTS THE GUY IN HALF—SKRITTTT—AND HIS FUCKING STUMP JUST FLIES INTO THE SKY! WHOOSH!
It’s essentially the same plot as the first Predator: a squad of roughneck soldiers fight the galaxy’s greatest killing machine. Rather than the Central American jungle setting of the original, this movie takes place in the American suburbs. And joining the soldiers—a group of inglorious bastards led by Boyd Holbrook—are a child with Asperger’s, played by Room’s Jacob Tremblay, and Olivia Munn’s evolutionary biologist. Cool, cool.
It has the narrative logic of a story told by a breathless 8-year-old. There are little to no establishing shots. Modes of transportation are summoned out of thin air by wishful thinking: a Winnebago stocked with automatic weapons, a news helicopter, motorcycles, cop cars. Major characters go through the movie with no discernible motivation for anything they do. Seemingly important characters vanish for significant stretches of the film during which they would have logically participated. The musical score plays almost non-stop, at deafening levels. There are multiple decapitations, multiple shots of intestines spilling out of bodies, hundreds of F-bombs, and several people fucking explode. A child kills a guy with a missile.
It’s such a mess, and we’re not even talking about the on-screen/off-screen Steven Wilder Striegel controversy. Beyond that, the movie plays like it was reshot, recut, and smashed together. This is exactly the kind of movie that had a whole subplot featuring Edward James Olmos that was cut out.
It’s profane, and cheesy, and really bloody, and we definitely enjoyed the hell out of watching it. But we have so, so many questions. — Chris Ryan
1. Does Shane Black think that “having a runny nose” is a symptom of Asperger’s?
2. Did Jacob Tremblay’s character have Asperger’s or did his parents just think he had Asperger’s?
3. How come loud noises bother Tremblay early in the movie but all alien sounds are fine for him for the second two-thirds?
4. Are we not making a big enough deal about the fact Jacob Tremblay retaliates against a guy who throws some garbage at him by blowing him to pieces with a missile and destroying his house?
Andrew Gruttadaro: In The Predator, the kid from Room is your classic mentally-challenged-but-actually-a-boy-genius character. You can tell he’s special because he wipes his nose a lot and covers his ears during fire alarms. At some point in the movie we’re told that the kid has Asperger’s, which prompts Olivia Munn’s biologist to #WellActually everyone and say, “Y’know, many believe that Asperger’s is the next step in human evolution.” And she’s right! Or, at least she’s right that the kid from Room is more evolved, because he’s the one the Predator wants to hybridize with, and not his more traditionally impressive sniper-father. I guess? The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that the kid easily learns the Predatorese language and has similar skills to that of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and that his doctors were maybe just guessing when they diagnosed him with Asperger’s.
Also, he totally murders a guy and no one cares.
5. WHY DID THE GOOD PREDATOR GO ROGUE?
6. What kind of literature did the good Predator read about global warming and climate change and seriously WHY WOULD THE GOOD PREDATOR GIVE A SHIT?
7. Also, what was that conversation between the good, climate change-aware Predator and the rest of the Predators like?
8. Why didn’t the good Predator tell anyone he was good?
9. Why did the good Predator kill so many humans in his mission TO SAVE HUMANS?
Gruttadaro: The plot of the movie—it’s maybe too generous calling it a “plot” but just go with me—is this: In an act of betrayal against all Predators, a rogue Predator flew through a wormhole in space to Earth with the mission of dropping off Predator-killing equipment so that humans would be able to defend themselves against the rest of the Predators, who were planning on taking over the planet once climate change renders humans obsolete. A second, bigger Predator comes to Earth then to kill the rogue Predator, and to retrieve the equipment it was hoping to drop off. That’s … a lot to unpack.
First of all, I’d like to know a lot more about this Predator Al Gore and what caused him to take such pity on the human race. I wonder if he chatted about these feelings with his Predator buddies. “Dude, don’t you think it’s so messed up that the polar ice caps are melting and we’re not doing anything?” I’d also like to know why this Predator sucks so much at executing plans. He wanted to give humans a suit that kills Predators. Simple enough. Here’s how he goes about it: He lands in the Mexican jungle, unannounced, instead of, you know, trying to make contact and let people know that he’s a good guy. When approached by Boyd Holbrook and his men, he immediately becomes hostile, goes invisible, and murders a bunch of people. For the first half of the movie, this rogue, apparently chill environmentalist Predator is the villain, slicing up humans and nearly choking Holbrook to death. I guess he meant well, but he really should have worked on his people skills before coming to Earth.
10. Was Jake Busey explicitly the son of Gary Busey’s character in Predator 2? If so, why didn’t they mention it?!
11. Did Sterling K. Brown get cut to pieces or did he live to chew another thousand pieces of Nicorette gum?
Ryan: Sterling K. Brown is the best part of this movie. His performance is a throwback to the days of John Malkovich in Con Air or Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege—brilliant actors making a triple-decker ham sandwich out of pulp material.
Brown plays Will Traeger, who works for a secret government agency, has a kill team at his disposal, and says things like “Predators don’t just sit around making hats out of rib cages. They conquered space!” He has a passionate interest in Predator tech, and I am reasonably sure that he blows his own head off, accidentally, with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, during the movie’s murky, free associative denouement. Rest in power. The only thing I care about in this whole film is the gusto with which Brown GNOSHES Nicorette gum. It’s such a choice—a “I will do this movie on one condition”-level choice. And he makes it.
As far as Jake Busey goes, I’m gonna do a blogger thing that I rarely do and just quote Wikipedia. I’m making an exception purely for the LOLs. From a Wiki page about all the Predator characters, it says this about Gary Busey’s character, Peter Keyes: “However the Predator launches his smart disc at Keyes which bisects him. He is the father of Sean Keyes.”
12. In a vast galaxy full of different alien species, Predators just have dogs?
13. Why did the mean alien dog become a good alien dog after getting shot in the head?
14. Headshots = lobotomies? (Does this movie have the most lobotomy references of any movie?)
15. Didn’t they lock the good alien dog in a U-Haul van?
16. How did it get out and then find the location of the final Predator fight?!
Gruttadaro: My favorite part of The Predator is the fact the bigger Predator who came to kill the nice Predator brought his two hunting dogs. These dogs were only slightly alien-ish—like Bullmastiffs with green blood. That’s dope, and also confirmation that dogs truly are man’s best friend; these Predators have traveled all over the galaxy and have likely met many animals along the way, but when it came down to it, they were like, “Yep, I can only own dogs.”
Anyway, how exactly these alien pups function is WILDLY UNCLEAR. At one point, Nebraska (the guy from Moonlight) shoots one of the dogs in the head from point-blank range and that … makes the dog loyal to the humans? It literally becomes a puppy that just wants to play fetch with grenades. I’m not saying I didn’t like this—I super did—but just, why? No, really, PLEASE TELL ME WHY?!
17. Why was “JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY” the only expressly mentioned location?
18. What happened to Olivia Munn’s actual dog after the government took her in?
19. If Olivia Munn has security clearance, why does she need to be assassinated to keep the Predator a secret?
20. So Olivia Munn—she just … wrote a letter about aliens to the government at age 6 and they … kept it on file?
21. Why are biologists so comfortable firing automatic weapons?
Ryan: Munn plays Casey Bracket, an evolutionary biologist who once wrote a letter to the government asking about life on other planets. These two facts apparently qualify her to be the first responder to the arrival of extraterrestrial life. When we meet her, she is walking her dog in park that, according to a title card, is on the grounds of Johns Hopkins University. This is the last morsel of locational information that we get in the movie. You could tell me the rest of the film takes place in Carson City, or Tacoma, or suburban Maryland, or Central Michigan, and I would have to believe you. Oh, also, the government agents are like, “Don’t worry, we’ll walk your dog.” We never see the dog again.
Munn is really funny in the more comic scenes of the movie, but her character doesn’t get a ton of time to be funny because she is constantly about to be killed, either by Brown’s team (which decides, almost immediately, that she knows too much) or the Predator. That’s OK because aside from being a dog-walker, an evolutionary biologist, and an avid letter-writer, Brackett is also handy with tranquilizer-dart rifles and automatic weapons, as well as high-speed evasion and breaking out of interrogation scenarios.
It’s never explained how an evolutionary biologist would be so adept at handling automatic weapons, or able to surf on top of a school bus chasing down an alien sport hunter. Nor is any reason given as to why Bracket would need to be killed for knowing too much when, presumably, she already knows a lot, since THEY CALLED HER TO HELP OUT WITH THE ALIEN BECAUSE SHE IS AN EXPERT WHO VOLUNTEERED FOR THE JOB AS A CHILD?
22. When did the group of soldiers steal a Winnebago?
23. Did the Winnebago seem completely stocked with automatic weapons, almost like it was just waiting there to do battle with Predators?
24. What was that, like, motel for outcasts the soldiers went to after fleeing the base?
25. How did they ACQUIRE A HELICOPTER?
26. I need the whole “Keegan-Michael Key fired on his own vehicle in Iraq” thing explained to me. Not technically a question, but I promise there will be questions following the explanation.
27. Was Alfie Allen’s character a dual citizen or something? No one asked why he, a veteran of the U.S. Army, had a British accent.
28. Also, he was Irish?
29. When did Holbrook collect trinkets of his soldier buddies inside a handkerchief?
30. What happened to the little ball Holbrook swallowed?
Ryan: Look, I’m not William Goldman, but I know a little about screenwriting. I know how hard writers work on following the rules of reality that they themselves set, and writing dramatic scenarios that are true to the backstory and motivation of the characters they create. And given his standing as one of the most influential screenwriters of the modern era, I am sure Shane Black is well aware of all those rules, and I’m sure he has deep respect for them.
Just not on this movie.
In this movie, when Shane Black wants his characters in a Winnebago, a fucking Winnebago appears. When he wants a character to have a cop car, they start driving a cop car. It’s like this movie takes place inside of The Oasis from Ready Player One. There are little-to-no shots of these vehicles before they are being driven. We don’t know how our characters came to find them, where they found the keys to start them, or why, in the case of the RV, it was stocked with tons of guns and ammo.
This kind of yadda-yadda’ing is delightfully if confusingly applied to everything in the movie from backstories (Key and Thomas Jane’s characters went through some kind of friendly fire incident in Iraq? Jane came out with Tourette’s? But he cures his Tourette’s by fighting the Predator? And they may be lovers now? Or not? Then they murder-suicide each other due to the extremity of their Predator-inflicted injuries?) to accents (when Allen’s character isn’t eating an entire jar of pickles, he is doing a tour of British Isles dialects). (Also, his character is introduced as some kind of close-up magician who likes to [reads one issue of Gambit] throw playing cards at people.)
31. What happened to Tremblay’s mom, last seen running away from her house that was under attack from the GIANT Predator?
32. What was the hiring process like for Tremblay to get a job with a TOP-SECRET GOVERNMENT AGENCY INTERFACING WITH EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE?
33. Does this movie really think it’s getting a sequel?!
Gruttadaro: Apparently all you need to do to get a job with a high-level government agency is to write “A Predator more or less indicated I was the ideal human specimen” on your résumé, because at the end of The Predator, Tremblay—an 11-year-old—has a job as an alien language translator (or something). Sure. Let’s just go with it, and also go with the fact when the scientists unlock the Predator-killing equipment and one of them asks “What is that?”, Holbrook responds, “That’s my new suit, bubba,” even though there’s no indication that the government agency had any plans to hire him in any official capacity.
The only thing I’m really struggling to come to terms with is the sheer confidence Black must have to end this movie—the one we just wrote more than 2,500 flabbergasted words about—on such a blatant setup for a sequel. I’ve just never encountered this much irrational confidence, and I’ve seen Dion Waiters play basketball. I don’t think we’ll actually ever see Holbrook in his new suit, bubba, but who knows? The Predator made $24 million at the box office this weekend. Maybe more movies should make no sense whatsoever.