Writer and director Shane Black has a knack for punchy dialogue. That comes through very clearly in The Predator, a film that has all his trademarks and yet very little of the focus he has shown in better outings such as The Nice Guys. Black had a bit role in the original Predator and so one can feel his enthusiasm for the franchise, maybe too much so. The Predator has enough ideas to populate five different spinoffs here and instead of focusing on one, he includes them all. The result makes The Predator overstuffed even if it is a fun experience.
Previous entries have kept the Predator as an intergalactic trophy hunter, trying to find the most fitting opponents and then killing them for sport. Black tries to complicate this core notion here and build off of it. There is a running joke about how ill-fitting the name Predator is for these creatures as a predator hunts for food, not for pure joy. Someone jokes that the Predator is closer to a bass fisherman but you know "Predator" just sounds cooler.
The attempts at changing what we have always known the Predator to be are not fully successful. It would seem that the Predators have a complex societal structure in which there are good ones and bad ones and the bad ones are trying to upgrade their DNA to evolve into even better killers. There are also dog predators and they have the signature dreadlocks that the big ones have. This lore building that Black is trying feels like a kitchen sink approach, just throw in all sorts of ideas and maybe the audience won't have time to analyze how dumb some of them are.
Despite how overstuffed the movie feels, there is plenty to enjoy here. This mostly comes from the rag-tag team of humans who set out to stop the creatures. CIA sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is the first to come in contact with the Predators and it gets him wrapped up in a government cover-up. He gets shipped off with a group of veterans who are all deemed crazy and they soon team up to go kick ass. The team includes Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, and Olivia Munn. All of the "Loonies' have character traits that lead to some hilarious dialogue exchanges. Key is a smart-ass, Jane has Tourette's Syndrome and Rhodes smokes a ton but is trying to quit. Throw in a government baddie plays by Sterling K. Brown and McKenna's son and you have a huge cast that generally succeeds at making The Predator an engaging, fun ride.
Black has a talent for action scenes that surprise. He has a few here that are a blast. The use of CGI in several scenes is a disappointment, not only because it doesn't look great but it also goes against the vibe Black is going for. The Predator gleefully wants to be a throwback to the big, dumb action films of the late 80's and practical effects feel more fitting as a result. When Black gets to just focus on the over-the-top action, the film succeeds. However, there is clear involvement from the studio here. The film has to build in the possibility for sequels and in doing so losses something.
The Predator put a smile on my face throughout most of its running time. This is largely due to Black's great dialogue and a very talented cast that delivers it. The film's editing is terrible and ruins the pacing too often. It is a shame we are in an era where films cannot avoid having to build towards future sequels because it too often robs us of a singular, strong experience.