The 80s are bathed in a nostalgic glow these days, with music, fashion and certainly movies getting replayed, rehashed, sequeled and rebooted at a brisk clip. Two totems of the cinematic end of the phenomenon, tough guy alien attack classic Predator and funny/violent writer/director Shane Black, have been yoked together in a Hollwyood laboratory to hopefully mine some gold from the fond memories many fans have of the franchise and filmmaker. Black appears on the surface to be a perfect fit to breathe new yet familiar life into the Predator universe; the scribe of The Last Boyscout, Lethal Weapon and more didn’t just craft some of the most memorable action movies of that decade, he actually played a blink and you’ll miss it soldier in the original film itself. After seemingly taking a decade or so off, he’s come roaring back in recent years with the successful Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys, his skills in crafting action and doing it with good bawdy humor seemingly undiminished with age and the passage of time.
So how does this perfect pairing work out? A great deal of that will depend on your love of the franchise and your feelings about what Shane Black does—personally I found Iron Man 3, for example, to be a delightful exercise in Shane Black hijacking a major franchise to make a Shane Black movie. Jokes and action are plentiful, and standards and expectations are undercut in any given scene. Others find it to be horrid on all levels, and I expect that kind of sharp division to meet The Predator. While the original had a joke here and there, the main point of John McTiernan’s film was sci fi action, shot through with some genuinely gory and horrific moments. At the end of the day, it’s a monster movie buried in shell casings and explosions. Black clearly knows and respects the source material—we have jungles, chases, and no shortage of carnage—but he’s put together a thrill ride that is unmistakably his own.
This, of course, means jokes. Lots of them which, based on the crowd I screened the film with, land quite nicely if you’re game. His beloved Christmastime setting, on display in most of his other films, has been updated to a more appropriate holiday. Black added a plucky kid to Tony Stark’s adventures, a very bright and knowing beyond her years daughter in The Nice Guys, and here we get Jacob Tremblay’s Rory, the brilliant autistic son of our gruff hero, Army Ranger sniper Quinn, played by Boyd Holbrook. Quinn’s clearly there to fight, but ultimately Rory is something of a lynchpin to the story, and is given some nice if occasionally clichéd moments to shine. The camaraderie of the original team fighting this creature is replicated here with a goofier group of soldiers, but as in Iron Man 3 Black subtly uses the cadre to reference PTSD, not to mention a government response that can’t in any way be trusted. The feds are commandeered by a preening and dangerous Sterling K. Brown, who recruits and tosses aside people as he sees fit—most notably, Olivia Munn’s scientist, Casey Bracket, who inevitably ends up with our ragtag band of heroes, including a Tourette’s Syndrome toting Thomas Jane and an R rated joke spewing Keegan-Michael Key.
The Predator plays out as more of a chase movie than a hunt, which might feel off to some adherents to the original. It also doesn’t appear to have the kind of budget that this kind of endeavor usually gets in this day and age. That said, you can tell Black has great love for Predator and shows it near constantly, be it a clever nod to previous entries in the franchise, a jaw dropping kill, a tarnished tough guy hero moment or a clever burst of unexpected action. He’s made an assured thrill ride of a film here, inevitably setting the stage for a sequel through some expansions of the mythology that are both goofy sci fi and honest to everything that’s come before it. Any viewers who hold the 80s classic as sacrosanct will probably find more than a few things to complain about; the rest of us will grab the popcorn and settle in for a fun time.