By Michael Kellichner
It will come as no surprise that the movies of our youths usually don’t hold up to scrutiny years later. I’m certain that if I went back to the original Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse “The Body” Ventura traipsing through the jungle trying to survive against an invisible enemy, the dialogue and the action wouldn’t be as awe-inspiring as it was to my teenaged self. Rose tinted glasses or not, I came to The Predator with the fond memories of the original’s atmospheric action, science fiction outer coating, blended together with a tinge of horror elements. Coming in with expectations is probably where I went wrong.
My overall impression of The Predator was that it was worried I would get bored if it lingered on any one thing for too long. Gone is the atmospheric tension that started the franchise, the slow building of dread that the alien creature was smarter, faster, stronger, and stealthier than anything humans could possibly be, while also possessing superior equipment and firepower. A lot happens in this latest film in the continuing series, but I never got the sense that any of it really mattered. While I admit that looking deeply into an action science fiction flick might be an exercise in futility, I hoped that at least the movie would give me some characters I could root for and impressive challenges for them to overcome.
After all, the titular creature is one that wiped out an entire special forces operation in the jungle and was only defeated by Dutch’s wit, cunning, and survival instincts. As a young movie viewer, I was in awe of the craftiness Schwarzenegger’s character possessed, his ability to not rely on his weapons and instead use his wits and environment to overcome a truly more powerful foe, barely surviving in the process. The stakes were huge, and it felt like Schwarzenegger’s character was the only person that could have defeated the predator.
Because The Predator tries to focus on the characters, the shallowness shows through.
The focus of The Predator moves away from the alien itself and more on the ragtag group
This movie has a huge cast, and I’m not sure I could point out who was who even a few hours after finishing the film. Everyone blended together and their surface differences came and went as the plot needed, ending up with bland characters at best and offensive characters at worst. Olivia Munn’s character – Dr. Bracket – is an evolutionary biologist, but she runs, guns, and survives as easily as the trained military personal she falls in with. Better, in fact. The beginning makes a big deal about how difficult a time the young boy with autism – Rory, played by Jacob Tremblay – has just moving about a day in school, but manages to be perfectly fine fleeing for his life while an alien tries to kill him and gunfire is going off all around him later in the film. The character with Tourette’s – Thomas Jane’s character Baxley – only has an outburst when it would be the most inappropriate and is played for laughs, but when everything serious is going on, his condition conveniently disappears.
This shift away from focusing on the predator as the main driving force and instead focusing on the characters creates a lot of issues that the film rushes past in order to get to the next action scene. The film, intentional or not, promises to show different characters – characters that are often not represented much or well in media – but uses these differences as nothing more than window dressing. If all the characters had been carbon copy military grunts, I would have taken less issue than trying to shove depth into such a shallow puddle.
The diversity this movie tries to offer up falls extra flat because it’s a surface layer of paint that is never explored. There was a lot of opportunity for tense, slow scenes, creating characters that are different from what every action movie has shown us so far, but we don’t get any of it.
So when people start dying “heroically” in the fight against the predator, I was left feeling not so much that they had made a great sacrifice and I would miss them as I felt the writers didn’t want one more character arc to wrap up. Earlier movies in this franchise had smaller casts and managed to get a lot more out of their characters in the same amount (or less) of screen time, and when one of them died, it had a lot more impact. Even if not on the viewer, at least on the characters within the film and served to push the story forward or build more dread and tension.
If nothing else, in the original film, each character killed means one less ally Dutch has to help him finally defeat the monster, making that final, raising the difficulty and stakes for that final, inevitable battle. The Predator fails to achieve anything of the sort.
It might seem like I’m going back to the original a lot, and at first that might feel an unfair comparison. The Predator is, after all, a different film made in a different time. But The Predator takes a lot of moments to call back to the first movie in the franchise. Even if, like me, it’s been well over a decade since last seeing the original, it’s obvious when a callback is made because the dialogue feels so out of place and abrupt in regards to who is speaking or the surrounding conversation that it is like watching a magic show and the magician keeps stopping the trick to turn his cards around to show you and wink about how the trick is done.
These callbacks don’t really add anything to the film other than to remind us that it’s part of an ongoing franchise. I felt like the movie was so confident that if they just reminded the viewer of the original,
The film continues the thread of using more special effects, bigger explosions, and confusing fight scenes
As much as the original movie was, at its core, an action flick with a sci-fi gloss over it, time has been eroding that gloss and making it focused more on the action portion of the equation and the science fiction has become limited to the chipped paint hinting that it was once a more prominent aspect of the franchise. The film continues the thread of using more special effects, bigger explosions, and confusing fight scenes that
In this sense, the movie is a fine fit with the state of action movies that we’ve seen in the past ten years or so. They haven’t been my cup of tea, mostly, so this movie didn’t leave me feeling like I’d spent two hours checking out. The callbacks, though, made me wish that I had been experiencing something more akin to the original, even with all its flaws. That growing sense of dread and terror. The jungle being alive and getting people.
In the end, the latest installment in this franchise could be any other action movie – replace the predator with an evil robot or a creature from the deep and the movie doesn’t change much. And I think I would have enjoyed the movie more if it was just a one-off movie with some faceless entity that this rag-tag group of shallow characters needed to defeat.
But given the memory of the predator as this mysterious, ghostly alien that stalked its prey through the whole movie and was finally defeated with wit and skill rather than finally having shot enough bullets, The Predator left me with not so much a bad taste in my mouth but a taste of nothing.
Michael Kellichner is writer and poet from Pennsylvania currently living in South Korea. His short fiction has been previously published at published in Three Crows Magazine, Black Denim Lit and Trigger Warnings: Short Fiction with Pictures. Poetry has appeared in Farrago’s Wainscot, the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, the Tishman Review, and the Tahoma Literary Review.