This year’s Midnight Madness slot at Toronto International Film Festival kicked off with a hell of a bang. Rather than show some indie underseen genre offering or that latest shock feature from a previously established horror master they went ahead and premiered The Predator. Accusations of selling out and populism came and went. Then the film premiered and goddamn it, The Predator was a great choice to kick off TIFF’s only program dedicated to explosions and entrails.
The much hyped return of the classic movie monster helmed by wisecracking action movie master Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, etc.) is a relentless thrillride filled with enough salty language, laughs, explosions, and beautifully senseless violence was a perfect way to celebrate the art of sensationalistic trash at the movies. It might not be a perfect Predator movie, but it is undeniably the best entry in the franchise since the original (and aside from the second Alien Vs. Predator movie, that franchise is pretty damn solid).
The plot whipped up by Black and his former Monster Squad screenwriting partner Fred Dekker is mostly just joyous nonsense used to string together set pieces, but that’s all you really need. Boyd Holbrook plays one of the military’s greatest sharpshooters who encounters a Predator in the jungle and ends up being arrested by his own military as part of the cover up. He soon finds himself on a prison bus filled with a Dirty Dozen-esque gang of lovable army nutcases (including a Keegan-Michael Key in wisecracking mode and Thomas Jane playing a character with Tourette’s syndrome). In a big ol’ movie coincidence, he’s also in the town where his autistic son (Jacob Tremblay) lives, and locked up on a base where a team of scientists (including Olivia Munn) are studying the captured Predator. Wouldn’t ya know it? That Predator busts out and causes a ruckus. All of the main characters we’ve been introduced to must band together to fight the alien hunter, and a second even taller and scarier Predator (accompanied by Predator dogs!) shows up as well. Next thing you know people are dying and cracking one-liners non-stop. It’s pretty damn fun.
Shane Black might be a filmmaker with a following amongst film buffs, snobs, and critics, but he’s also a guy who wants nothing more than to plaster big dopey grins on the faces of his audience. That makes him an ideal candidate for this sort of flick and he delivers the goods. All of the characters have a collection of zingers to rattle off and do so constantly. The film scores laughs poking gentle fun at the franchise (including a fantastic running gag about how “predator” isn’t exactly the most apt name for this movie monster), while also filling the first half with delightful call backs, in-jokes, and references to everything people love about the iconic original movie (the score, the choppa, everything). It’s a blockbuster romp, plain and simple. A popcorn movie made by people who love popcorn movies for people who love popcorn movies. Just add butter and enjoy.
The action is also brutal and delightful. Blood is shed freely. The film earns it’s R-rating without ever leaving the realm of pure goofy fun. Black was clearly awarded the biggest budget in the history of the franchise (making a billion dollar Iron Man movie tends to loosen those studio purse strings) and takes full advantage. Despite the small town setting and contained cast, the film is massive in it’s spectacle and piles on the blood n’ carnage with glee. Black and Dekker clearly adore this franchise and have a few amusing twists to add to the old formulas and mythologies that should make longtime fans smile and also set up sequels without forcing things. In an era when studios are catering to fan service, it’s always nice to see actual fans in charge of the brand-driven blockbusters. That makes all the difference.
Of course, since this is a massive movie by a major studio, there are the typical problems that come along with such productions. There are times when the fast-paced entertainment delivery system can feel rather choppily edited. Clearly there were many reshoots and recuts along the journey of bringing this puppy to the screen that can feel a bit awkward incorporated. Likewise, there’s really no subtext of meaning to be gleamed out of this flick no matter how hard you try. It’s all surface pleasures. Big dumb Predator fun delivered by smart people making the movie they’d want to see Honestly, what more could you want from the sixth entry in a sci-fi/horror/action franchise that’s been around for 30 years?
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