From outer space a starship emerges from the void, hurtling towards Planet Earth. As it heads for a crashlanding in a forest area of North America, an escape pod breaks away, unnoticed in this sparsely populated region; but U.S. soldier Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is there, trying to rescue hostages with his unit until that craft bursts from the sky and lands nearby. In the confusion, he calls out for his commanding officer, and finds the pod that appears to be stained with green blood. That belongs to the alien the human authorities call the Predator, not that McKenna is aware of this, as all he knows is that thing is dangerous and is killing his fellow troops. But he has trophies now...
To put it mildly, the reaction to The Predator was not so kind, in fact it made the welcome The Last Jedi received in some quarters look positively warm and friendly. As so many franchises this decade were adding fan service and trying not to piss off the people who would spend the most money on the studio's product, writer and director Shane Black, who had taken a supporting role in the 1987 original, would seem like a crowdpleasing choice, but to that studio's dismay that was assuredly not the case. Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands took to the internet to express their displeasure at the route he had adopted, and his audacity in apparently ignoring the "rules" the villain should follow.
To which more measured responses might point out, if you wanted the old style Predator, there is an '87 movie you can watch for the millionth time right there, and for the rest of us we can enjoy a science fiction-action-horror hybrid that, as Black explained, was based around the war movies of his youth, specifically Robert Aldrich's disreputable favourite The Dirty Dozen. Call this The Dirty Half-Dozen and you would grasp some idea of what he was aiming for, a rough and ready combat effort with salty jokes and a sense of camaraderie among a bunch of unsavoury characters who, naturally, are humanity's best hope for surviving an onslaught from the Predators' adept invasion force.
Those purists might wonder why they were invading at all, since, as pointed out in the dialogue, they were sportsmen seeking trophies before, but just as every hunter lusts after the latest upgrade to their weaponry, so these aliens are seeing humans as the source of DNA improvements. Frankly, the end result here was chaotic, and not necessarily in a good way at times, the consequences of hasty, late in the day rewrites, reshoots and re-edits that did the coherence of the main plot no favours. Yet for all those misgivings it was surprising how well this held together, with only really the final act, which had been ordered to pack in more action, that became monotonous, though even there Black managed to work in some innovations you would not have seen before, like the impromptu suicide pact or the business with the ship's force field.
Before that, Black had been accused of bad taste, suggesting there were a whole load of folks out there who had never seen one of his movies before and were determined to clutch their pearls at what was milder than some of his more dubious jokes from The Last Boy Scout. The bones of contention this time were not sexism, nor even racism - Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes and Sterling K. Brown were given plenty to do, all of it relevant, and give as good as they get - but thanks to the inclusion of Thomas Jane as a Tourette's sufferer (as Black is, so this can be regarded as self-awareness) and especially little Jacob Tremblay as the autistic son of Holbrook's soldier on the run. The revelation that the Predators are interested in the kid because he represents the next evolutionary step was a bold move, but he was treated sympathetically throughout, possibly thanks to The Monster Squad's Fred Dekker on co-scripting duties, and it was good to see an autistic character escape the Rain Man clichés. Overall, something of a mess, but a fast paced, muscular and humorous one that was ripe for reassessment within days of its initial release. Music by Henry Jackman.
[The Predator is out now on Digital Download and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD 28th January, along with Predator 4-Movie Collection.
On the disc are deleted scenes, interview-packed featurettes, a stills gallery and a summary of the previous Predator movies to get you up to speed.]