I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang;Iron Man 3; The Nice Guys) brings us the fourth instalment in the predator franchise with The Predator. The name itself is problematic, as there are multiple predators in this film, but the name Predators was already used in the previous instalment.
The Predator franchise is a funny one, as none of the films have actually been smash hits. The box office figures for the original, Predator (1987) suggest the film was successful (worldwide takings of $98 million on a $15 million budget), however, the DVD documentary on the film reveals that the film took many years to make back its money and turn a profit for the studio (20th Century Fox). However, the first film is regarded as an action classic and had a lot of success on VHS in the rental market. It is also arguably the best film of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career.
Predator 2 (1990) saw a somewhat similar plot structure to the first, however, the second film was moved to the urban jungle of LA, and pitted Danny Glover as a policeman against the predator, who is hunting gang members involved in a drug war. The second film is a classic 1990s action film, with loads of guns, violence, occasional unnecessary nudity, and unfortunately a colder tone than the original, leaving many people unhappy with the result. On release the film was panned by critics, however, over time, the film has gained some popularity, and I myself quite enjoy the film. At the box office, it was a real let down for the studio, taking in only $57 million on an increased budget of $35. Surprisingly, the film looks cheaper than the original, despite having double the budget.
Predators (2010) came twenty years later and was an attempt by director Nimrod Antal to return the series to the original setting, by placing a group of ruthless killers on an alien planet and allow the predators to hunt them on their own turf. The casting of Adrian Brody was an odd choice, and whilst the film had some of the flavour of the original, it lacked many ingredients that made the original such a tasty meal. In terms of box office, Predators did better than Predator 2, taking $127 million off a budget of $40 million, enough to get interest from Fox in making a fourth film.
So now we have the fourth film, with the studio keen to maximise this franchise's potential. Having a recognisable and classic character is gold in this complicated and cut throat blockbuster movie industry. At first, there were many reports that the studio was going to reboot the series and start fresh. However, the prospect of remaking the original and having it compared to such a beloved action classic appeared too big of a risk, remembering the horrible Total Recall remake, and so the studio opted for a fourth movie, but with enough new elements that in effect, this would be a 'soft reboot' of the series.
Shane Black was hired as writer and director because he had a history with the predator character. He was actually a cast member of the original film, having been given a minor role so that his writing talents could be put to use on location, as the studio wasn't as confident in the script as they should have been. In the end, the film didn't need a lot of changes, as director John McTiernan was exceptional in difficult conditions and produced a quality movie. Black contributed a very small amount of comical dialogue, spoken mostly by his character before his character was killed early in the movie.
Black is highly regarded as a writer, after the success of Lethal Weapon, as well as the classic Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. His skill with dialogue is often highlighted, as he has the ability to produce very witty exchanges between characters.
So how does The Predator fare in the history of this franchise? Sadly, not well. It's a mess of a film, reeking of studio interference, reshoots and editing bay hatchet jobs. An early photo from the set revealed a daytime action scene, which showed a predator on a tank firing the gun, in what appeared to be the predator teaming up with human soldiers. This worried anyone who was a fan of the series as to what direction this film was going. It turns out that there were, in fact, friendly predators in this story, however, after disastrous test audience reactions, the entire plot was majorly changed and this questionable plot line was deleted.
What was put in to replace it, however, wasn't much better. The film has been drastically altered and as a result, many plot elements either go nowhere or feel out of place. Characters reactions to things don't quite add up, due to the changes implemented so late in production. The final act is a complete disaster, as the film tries to conclude the muddy plot lines, only to then try to set up a sequel at the same time. The effects and cinematography are inconsistent throughout the film, again due to last minute changes, somewhat reminiscent of last year's Justice League, where studio interference and severe rewrites made a $300 million film look unfinished and cheap.
The film tries to give more back story to the mysterious predator race, however, the predator works best as a character when it kept simple. It is an advanced alien race of hunters, and maybe that's all we need to know. The series continues to try and change the character, adding 'super' predators, civil war plot lines, and now we have the predator language translated as well. The more we try to expand this universe, the more we move away from the simplicity that made the original so great.
The cast struggles to have a positive impact on the film, as the characters are not well written. The film tries to make each of them a big personality, as the first film had, but the writing (and then the rewriting and removal of much of the plot), means that they don't come off as real characters, rather character types that amp up the character trait they have been given to eleven. The first film was built on the amazing group of characters, who despite little opportunity for backstory, felt like fully formed characters who had real stories behind them. Stories you wanted to know, and your imagination would fill in some of the blanks. The scene in which Mac is on guard during the night, talking to the corpse of Blain, reminiscing about their previous tours of duty, is a great moment of character building and creates an emotional connection for the audience to allow us to care for these larger than life characters. This film fails to give us anything to connect to these characters.
The box office for the film has been a disappointment for Fox ($116 million off an $88 million budget so far) and the franchise will most likely remain off the screen for some time, especially with Disney about to take over Fox's properties. If you love the character and the original, you should go just for the rare opportunity to see a predator film on the big screen. But don't go in with high expectations, as you will most likely be disappointed by the result.