Since I’m not a fan of the ‘80s nostalgia wave
contaminating conquering screens the world over right now, the latest installment in the Predator franchise — dubbed THE Predator (DUN DUN DUN!!!) — didn’t particularly appeal to me on its chrome face.
Only Shane Black’s involvement piqued my interest (and not because he acted in the original). As one of the foremost writers responsible for popularizing the aforementioned ‘80s sensibilities — thanks to the likes of Lethal Weapon (his first screenplay!) and The Last Boy Scout (technically released in the early ‘90s, but an ‘80s movie through and through), Black seemed a sensible fit to tap into the signature action rompness of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s storied vehicle.
The set-up sounds right (as does the pitch-perfect, on-tone, in-your-face score): a band of renegade ex-grunts, a makeshift unit of misfit toys, hunt the ultimate hunter, along the way dispensing Black’s signature “witty” quips at a moment’s notice…which tend to feel a moment too soon. Black and co-screenwriter Fred Dekker channel the decade’s outsized personalities, all while — true to the 21st century — post-modernly wink-winking at the patent absurdity of its throwback artifice. `
These concessions to the audience to ensure they know that everyone involved here is IN ON THE JOKE holds back the whole enterprise. Black’s direction lacks the pomp and circumstance, flash and verve, corniness, cheesiness, and hamminess (so much food!) that have become genre trademarks of the decade’s enduring legacy. There’s a difference between merely suggesting an ‘80s flashback and a full-on acid flashback. The Predator’s at its best when it leans into the latter’s lunacy.
Case in point: the superior second half’s goofy gore for goofy gore’s sake, a staple that — contrary to popular conception — is in short supply nowadays in wide releases, thanks to the prevalence of arbitrary tastefulness; the businessmen-that-be running most major studios must preserve their pervasive, and un-perverse, commerciality.
Yet this sort of corporate meddling is apparent elsewhere. For instance, the narrative backstory is, in short, FUCKING INSANE: Predators descend to Earth to kidnap autistic kids, the most genetically-advanced of the climate-fueled endangered species known as humanity. Unfortunately, this ridiculousness is treated as a mere backdrop; the story instead focuses on only one, fairly ordinary incident within this endlessly-explorable phenomenon.
The whole affair is just too riddled with the 21st century to make for a sufficiently-satisfying return to the ‘80s, almost as if the financiers wanted to avoid locating it so totally in the past, for fear of looking too outdated for today’s swarms of tentpole/franchise/blockbuster-obsessed moviegoers. Too often, The Predator resorts to this type of mindless conformity over basking in the distinctiveness of a complete retro rewind.