For all its problems, 2018's The Predator actually has some ideas to chew on, ideas that are surprisingly against the grain. Badly put together action sequences nerfed by poor cgi aren't improved by a completely forgettable performance from Boyd Holbrook. But the supporting cast, particularly Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, and Trevante Rhodes, really shines in this story about people and aliens who like to kill.
Like seemingly everyone else in the world, the trailers for this movie didn't impress me, but then I saw the Comic Con panel and I was charmed by the cast's chemistry. Director Shane Black seems like he took care to see that the ensemble actually built a relationship and it comes through in the movie. To the point where even actors I didn't especially like, like Holbrook and Olivia Munn, were a valuable part of the group because of their unlikeable qualities.
It's ironic the film has been in the news because an actor cast in a minor role, Steve Wilder, whose Wikipedia entry is inexplicably marked for deletion, was revealed to have been convicted of trying to "lure a 14-year-old girl into a sexual relationship". Olivia Munn, who shared the now deleted scene with Wilder, has expressed her horror in interviews while Shane Black initially defended his casting of Wilder before finally apologising for it. Munn has stated in interviews that she doesn't know why Black hasn't apologised to her personally which I find rather surprising. She speaks as though she were assaulted but I have to wonder how many of us have bought a coffee from or talked casually to someone who's done time for a felony? It begs the question, in this woke world, how are convicted offenders supposed to be treated? Should they be denied careers or can they be permitted the chance to become productive members of society?
And that's in large part what the movie's about. When McKenna (Holbrook) makes first contact with the Predator, he's framed and shuffled away by the government in a cover up effort and he ends up on a bus with the miscreants who become the film's heroes. They include at least one man, Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), who's a murderer; he recalls fondly the time he bumped off his C.O. just because he felt like it.
There's an obvious parallel set up between these humans who kill for their own satisfaction and this alien who's on Earth to hunt humans for fun. There's also a thread about biological improvements being mistaken for disorders: McKenna's son is autistic which, in usual movie logic, makes him able to understand and manipulate alien technology and there's a line from Munn, who plays a biologist, about how some speculate autism represents a next stage in evolution. That's what the movie's glossy version certainly seems like but I'm not sure it's really constructive. Maybe if it sways some anti-vaxxers we can say some good came out of it. But saying autistic kids should be able to solve complex equations in an alien typography puts a lot of pressure on kids.
What the movie needed more of is Thomas Jane. His character's Tourette's is played for laughs but in a credible way, the way it would be among a bunch of lower class guys busting each other's balls. Jane infuses the performance with a natural, anxious, and oddly contented sadness. The relationship between his and Keegan-Michael Key's character as two fucked-up survivors who support each other is pretty sweet.
A lot of the story is really predictable and the Super CGI Predator lacks all the live action weight of the original. But it's a pleasure watching this cast play off one another.