What the Lackluster Ending of 'The Predator' Means for the Future of the Series
This post contains spoilers for the movie The Predator, and discusses the ending of the movie in detail.
There are always more Predators on the way. That's true in the corpse-ridden Predator film franchise, which kicked off with Arnold Schwarzenegger's wildly re-watchable 1987 original, and in the larger sequel-hungry landscape of Hollywood, which has put the dreadlocked super-alien in multiple scrappy sequels, ill-advised reboots, and synergistic face-offs over the years. The times change, political winds shift, and blockbusters evolve, but the buff space creatures with poor dental work and a fondness for heavy artillery just keep coming. They can't be stopped.
The latest entry in the series, The Predator, was co-written and directed by Shane Black, a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about adapting to the moment. He got his start in Hollywood penning rude, wise-ass action movies like Lethal Weapon and TheLast Boy Scout before re-emerging as a director with 2005's clever neo-noir riff Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. (He also had a small acting role as a soldier in 1987's original Predator.) More recently, he put his sardonic spin on the superhero sequel with 2013's Iron Man 3. On paper, he's perfectly suited to the gung-ho, lowbrow demands of this series.
And yet: The Predator is a mess. Packed with broadly drawn supporting characters, inane plot twists, and crude one-liners, it has the madcap tone of an '80s action adventure but little of the spark. The film's lead commando Quinn McKenna (Logan's Boyd Holbrook) gets in a fight with the titular menace early on, gets plucked up by the pesky government, and ends up on a bus with a gang of quirkily unhinged military men, including comedian Keegan-Michael Key, Moonlight stand-out Trevante Rhodes, and ex-Punisher Thomas Jane, who plays a PTSD-suffering veteran with Tourette syndrome. In the lab, where the Predator quickly breaks free, we meet foul-mouthed special agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and expert biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn). If it sounds busy, that's because it is -- and I haven't even mentioned the cute kid played by Room's Jacob Tremblay.
For the movie's first hour, Black manages to make a lot of this whiz-bang sci-fi storytelling work. His ear for irreverent, blunt dialogue distinguishes the banter from the more genial, pop culture-referencing quips you'd hear in most Marvel movies. ("You wanna know if someone fucked an alien?" asks Munn's scientist in one of the early scenes.) Similarly, his willingness to let Tremblay's character wear the Predator armor like a Halloween mask might seem too cute by half, but it's pretty surprising when the weapon activates and blows up a (relatively innocent) bystander. That sense of mischief is increasingly rare in blockbuster filmmaking these days.
Still, Black struggles to keep a tight grip on the material as the action escalates. In addition to some cheap-looking special effects -- the "Predator-dogs" and their green blood could be from the N64 classic Turok -- there's a lack of spatial awareness and visual coherence in the jungle firefights towards the end of the film. Who is hunting who? Why are they shooting? Why should you care? These are not questions you ask during the climax of the 1987 original, which director John McTiernan shot with clarity and rigor. At one point in Black's reboot, Sterling K. Brown's villain, one of the funniest and most compelling characters in the movie, dies in such an unexpected way that you might miss it if you're not paying attention.
One of the easiest ways to discuss the ending of The Predator is by talking about who lives to fight another day. Unsurprisingly, the body count is high in this movie: Most of the supporting roughnecks, including Alfie Allen's Lynch and Augusto Aguilera's Nettles, don't make it out alive. Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane end up so irreparably injured that they shoot each other to end the suffering. Trevante Rhodes makes it the furthest, crawling on top of the Predator's spacecraft with Holbrook during the finale, but he ends up sacrificing himself for the cause. He won't be back for any sequels.
The movie's last scene makes it clear that the studio is interested in sequels. One of the script's wonkier concepts is that the Predators didn't come here to hunt us for sport; they've consistently crashed on Earth in order to harvest human DNA for an eventual takeover of the planet following an inevitable environmental disaster. (Global warming is on the Predator's side.) This vague mumbo-jumbo is used to explain the presence of a Super Predator and, more importantly in the last scene, the reveal that the government now possesses a Predator Killer suit, designed by the good aliens, that should remind viewers of Iron Man's metallic duds. "Hope they got it in 42 long," says McKenna in his last zinger.
As far as closing cliffhangers go, this one won't exactly send you out of the theater on a gleeful high. According to a report on Birth.Movies.Death., the original ending to the script included a final beat where Schwarzenegger's Dutch Schaeffer, now an older man with a face "etched by pain," climbs out of a helicopter and recruits McKenna to join him in a larger fight against the Predators. Based on the description, it sounds equally cheesy to what we got but might have packed more of a nostalgic punch. At the very least, Dutch and McKenna could've reenacted the macho meme handshake before the credits rolled.
Instead, what we're left with is your standard sequel plot scaffolding, a tease of something "cooler" and more "badass" than the movie you just spent 107 minutes watching failed to deliver. If Black and his collaborators wanted to make a movie about McKenna flying around in Predator Killer armor, they should've just made that movie. What are they waiting for? With the controversy surrounding Black's casting of a friend, who is a registered sex offender, the ho-hum reviews, and modest box office predictions, it's unlikely this specific creative team will reunite for a sequel. That doesn't mean there won't be another Predator movie in the future once a generation of filmgoers forgets about this one. There's only one constant about this series: It refuses to die.