This is one of those movies where you can clearly see studio interference. You can see where director Shane Black had his vision and where the studio told him to do contrary to his vision. The first 30 minutes do an excellent job of establishing the Predator mythos and immersing the viewer in the world. There’s clear worldbuilding at play with our mysterious organization that knows who and what the Predators are. And then something strange happens, the last half of the movie is tonally different than the first. And research will tell you that the movie needed massive reshoots to redo the entire last act because apparently, according to the studio, “people want action, not prolonged sequences of talking”. I would have infinitely preferred what Shane Black had in store over what we got.
And what did we get? We got essentially a video game masquerading as a movie. Nonstop action, and violence and gore. If characters are talking for a prolonged period of time, you can bet your butt that a Predator or some violence is about to burst on screen. In a way, it’s like a jump scare. It’s cheap, and tactless. When a director has a unique way of doing things (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, for example), you do not interfere with your gift horse. You let them create art for you, you don’t cripple it.
So let’s think, why did they do that? What message could this movie have, that they want to silence or at the very least, push down so that it seems insignificant. Off the bat, I can safely say this movie is anti-government. The main character, who is an assassin for the military, is immediately untrustworthy of his own government to the point he steals evidence and sends it home knowing how everything gets covered up. Even when being debriefed, he asserts these facts to the puppet masters behind the scenes. And as he expected, he’s going to be shut up and never heard from again. Shipped off to a mental asylum. Fortunately, his little gang of merry misfits are essential to the plot and his fate is not that of the mental asylum.
What I enjoyed most was when the main character’s son asked him, “Dad, what’s the difference between a killer and a soldier?” And he replies, “A killer likes killing. He enjoys it.” And then he tells his son he’s not a killer. Later on, he kills two individuals but not before saying “I hate that you’re making me lie to my son. I am going to enjoy this.” To me, this felt like a message regarding most of the armed forces. Most of them are there because of the opportunity to be. And therein lies a massive problem. Alas, the movie does not deal with it. It’s merely mentioned and moved on, pushed down like I said. I’d bet dollars to donuts, that Shane Black wrote a whole lot more on it, and had a couple more scenes fleshing that particular message out. But the studio immediately put its foot down.
Moving onto the good stuff. Acting is pretty darn top notch with the exception of Olivia Munn. Her character is merely plopped in without much explanation and somehow we’re supposed to believe she’s a top most biologist in her field. Yet half the stuff that comes out of her character’s mouth is idiocy. Her talents are wasted here, and if anything she’s the eye candy. Sexist, but that’s what her character boils down to. You could remove her character and the plot wouldn’t change. You could have a random doctor be like “oh hey this fluid is evidence of DNA altering” and that’s all you would need. The two I enjoyed most was the lead, Quinn McKenna played by Boyd Holbrook, and the head of the clandestine agency, Traeger, played by Sterling K. Brown. Both were quite believable in their respective roles, they carried bravado. The other various supporting roles were essentially critiquing how the system treats veterans. Thomas Jane as a vet with Tourette syndrome provided comedy relief, as did Keegan-Michael Key as a tortured vet who via friendly fire killed an entire friendly unit. While they are funny, at the same time it’s sad. Why are you making the ones with mental issues the brunt of the comedy?
To close, it’s worth a watch. Some parts are just unadulterated fun, while others drag. Not sure I liked the whole angle they went with the Predators, and especially that ending. What executive signed off on that? Spoiler, an armor set that makes a human look like a Predator for the purpose of killing Preds. We a video game now boys. Give it a go if you enjoy the world of Predator.