‘The Predator’ is This Franchise’s Best Installment Since the Original

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Having Shane Black co-write and direct “The Predator” brings this franchise around full circle. Black appeared in John McTiernan’s “Predator” as Rich Hawkins, a member of the elite military rescue team led by Butch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and he was the first of the group to get mercilessly slaughtered by the “ugly motherfucker.” Since then, Black has become a master screenwriter with “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” as well as a gifted director with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “The Nice Guys” and “Iron Man 3” on his resume. At the same time, the “Predator” franchise quickly became an unwieldy one as “Predator 2,” while it had its moments, suffered from too many clichés and stereotypical characters who were just asking to be killed. “Predators” was fun, but it didn’t quite jumpstart this series in the way its filmmakers intended it to. The less said about the “Alien vs. Predator” movies, the better.

With Black’s gift of turning various movie genres inside out through terrific dialogue and unforgettable characters, it feels like only he could helm this “Predator” installment. If this creature is going to continue to have a cinematic life, it needs a filmmaker willing to liven things up and twist things around in an effort to make this franchise vital again. Thanks to Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, “The Predator” is easily the best and most consistently entertaining installment since the 1987 original. While it may not have the same lethal menace of McTiernan’s sci-fi action classic, it certainly feels like a Shane Black movie, and that is more than enough.

“The Predator” begins as most “Predator” movies do, with something or someone falling from the sky onto a planet at alarming speed. As a spaceship makes its way to an inevitable crash landing on Earth, Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is aiming to take out drug dealers who have hostages. The spaceship crashing foils this mission, but Quinn comes into contact with the alien’s hardware and a device which makes him nearly invisible. Knowing certain members of the military, particularly agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), will do anything to keep this alien encounter under wraps, Quinn mails the hardware to his home where it is discovered by his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) who, thanks to the form of autism he has, is able to activate it to where several predators are alerted, and from there it is only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.

What struck me most about “The Predator” is how well-conceived its human characters are. While they may come across as your typical military movie characters, Black and Dekker invest them with pathos and a great deal of black humor. This is especially evident in the scene where Quinn is being interrogated by a military psychiatrist as it shows how he is quick to tell others they need to cut through the bullshit. Characters like Quinn know they are in over their heads to where they do not want others to lie outright to them. It has become far too easy to cast doubt on an individual than it is to believe one, and the military shows no mercy in doing the same to Quinn as they are quicker to put a bullet in his head instead of telling him, “Thank you for your service.”

Quinn gets thrown on a boss with a bunch of former soldiers who are on their way to the nearest loony bin as they are, at first glance, certifiably crazy. These fellow soldiers are played by Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera. I really enjoyed how each actor made their character wonderfully unique in politically incorrect ways. Black and Dekker are not about to give us watered-down characters which would be easier for certain audience members to digest, and each actor clearly relishes the material they have been given. Their performances make these characters stand out in a way they would not in other sci-fi action movies, and that’s saying a lot.

Also starring in “The Predator” is the gorgeous Olivia Munn as Casey Brackett, a disgruntled scientist who is enlisted by the military to study the alien and its technology up close. Of course, once Casey learns more than the military would like, she becomes a target for assassination because, once again, people in power are eager for those they consider beneath them to remain silent, at times permanently so. But Munn makes Casey into anything other than an easy victim as she effectively intimidates these former military officers into making her a part of their team to take down this particular illegal alien. She is a blast to watch throughout, and I hope to see her again in a future sequel.

Holbrook left a strong impression on audiences in “Logan” as he made that movie’s antagonist more than the average bad guy, and he is perfectly cast here as an antihero who is not too different from Snake Plissken. In the real world, Quinn is not a guy you would be quick to hang out with on a regular basis, but Holbrook wastes no time in making you see he is the dude we need to save the day.

Tremblay, so good in “Room,” makes Rory into a unique movie child which I found very refreshing. Moreover, I admired how Tremblay was able to communicate so much while saying so little much of the time. But when he does get to speak, he is gifted with the uber clever dialogue of Shane Black. I also love how Rory is one of my favorite kind of kids in movies as he can see right through their parents’ bullshit to where he is very eager for them to cut the crap and tell him the truth. Furthermore, kudos to the filmmakers for making Rory’s form of autism something other than a disability. Certain things are only disabilities if you treat them as such.

I also got a big kick watching Sterling K. Brown as a military agent who is eager to exploit the predator’s technology before anyone else can. Unlike the character he plays on “This is Us,” here he portrays a man who is never quick to shed a tear, and this makes his performance all the more invigorating to take in.

“The Predator” does have its flaws as the narrative gets increasingly messy towards the movie’s furious conclusion, and certain action scenes are filmed frenetically in a Michael Bay-ish way to where it’s hard to make out all that is going on. Apparently, the last half of the movie had to be reshot as test audiences found it to be too dark. At least the filmmakers had the support of a major studio to do these reshoots. The same couldn’t be said for those working on the failed Stephen King adaptation “Cell” as that movie’s last half was far too dark for anyone to get a clear idea of what was ensuing.

It is important to note “The Predator” takes place after the events of “Predator” and “Predator 2,” but before those of “Predators.” Taking this into account, it is clear 20th Century Fox wants this installment to be the beginning of a trilogy as Hollywood is infinitely interested in franchises than they are in films not designed to have a follow up. Only time will tell if “The Predator” will get a sequel, but what I can tell you is I had a lot of fun watching it, and for my money it is the best “Predator” movie since the original. Even as I kept hoping Schwarzenegger’s character of Dutch would make an appearance (he does not), few things could keep me from enjoying this sequel to excellent effect. I had a blast watching it, and I hope you do too.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Red Band Trailer for ‘The Predator’ Shows This Will Not Be an Average PG-13 Action Extravaganza

The Predator movie poster

Whereas the teaser trailer introduced us to various characters while keeping the main beast in the shadows, the new trailer for “The Predator” puts the beast front and center. In the process, we also get a closer look at other characters who weren’t featured as much, and with this being a red band trailer, we come out of it thankful this one will not be a PG-13 rated action thriller as the body count is very high. As co-writer and director Shane Black said on Twitter, “PG-13 is for pussies,” and this is something the makers of “Alien vs Predator” forgot to take into consideration.

Actually, the first thing I should point out in this trailer is Sterling K. Brown who plays Will Traeger, a government agent who jails Quinn McKenna (“Logan’s” Boyd Holbrook) but is said to later free him when he needs his help to fight the predators. Brown has the lion’s share of this trailer’s best lines of dialogue as we watch him interrogate Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn). Will starts things off by saying, “Do you know what my job description is? I’m in acquisitions. I look up and I catch what falls out of the sky.” This is a clever way of him describing his job to someone who doesn’t have his level of security clearance. His other great line is, “Predators don’t just sit around making hats out of rib cages. They conquered space.” I loved watching Brown delivering these lines with a confident coolness, and he even did it without shedding a tear as he often does on “This is Us.”

As for the Predator himself (or herself?), the beast is shown to be as lethal as ever, and this is even before we see him lay waste to those foolish humans who, like the ones in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” are dumb enough to believe they can handle something which is clearly beyond their understanding. But the big surprise of this trailer is the appearance of another Predator who is even bigger and more lethal than the one we have already been introduced to. Some have speculated this larger Predator is the hybrid from “Alien vs Predator: Requiem,” but a closer inspection confirms this is not the case and thank goodness. Once again, “The Predator” is said to take place after “Predator” and “Predator 2” and before the events of “Predators.” My guess, and hope, is it will not even acknowledge the events of either “Alien vs Predator” movie as both were abysmal.

Seeing this second trailer for “The Predator” makes me more excited for it than before, and September 14, 2018 cannot come soon enough. As usual, I need to work at keeping my expectations in check.

Please check out the trailer below.

The Red Band Trailer for ‘Hotel Artemis’ Has Been Unleashed

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With its first trailer, “Hotel Artemis” gave us all the reason to expect it to be one of the most twisted delights of the summer 2018 movie season. Written and directed by Drew Pearce (the co-writer of “Iron Man 3”), it takes place in the Los Angeles of 2028 where violence and riots threaten to tear the city apart yet again. Now with its red band trailer, we get a good look at just how down and dirty this science-fiction action movie is going to get.

First, I have got to say what a pleasure it is to see Jodie Foster here. “Hotel Artemis” marks her first onscreen film appearance in five years (her last being in “Elysium”), and hear she plays Jean Thomas, better known as The Nurse, who runs the hotel of the movie’s title, a secret hospital for criminals in Los Angeles. I am not sure Foster needed any old age makeup as she does not need it to convince us just how well she can portray a character who has seen everything in life to where she is no longer easily shocked. The trailer provides her with its best lines of dialogue including the following:

“This is America. 85% of what I fix are bullet holes.”

“I know we’re in L.A. but it’s raining assholes in here.”

Looking at the first line of dialogue above, it looks like this movie will contain a lot of subversive humor on display as America as a country is more focused on making athletes stand for its national anthem than it is in passing legislation on gun control. I also enjoyed how the trailer presents this hotel as a place for criminals to get medical attention, but which was also built on a foundation of trust and rules. But even Niagara/The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is quick to say, “People don’t always do what they’re told.”

In addition to Foster and Goldblum, “Hotel Artemis” features an all-star cast with Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”), Sofia Boutella who adds yet another female ass-kicking character to her ever-growing resume, “Atlanta’s” Brian Tyree Henry who we see complaining about all the bullet holes in his jacket, Charlie Day whom I kept mistaking for Sam Rockwell here, and Dave Bautista as the hotel’s biggest and most badass of orderlies, Everest. Also in the cast are Jenny Slate (“Obvious Child”) and Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek”), but we do not get to see much of them here.

This red band trailer is certainly designed to showcase “Hotel Artemis’” violent side, but like the trailer which came before it, the studio has done an excellent job of showing how this particular movie is going to stand out from so many others coming out this summer. Furthermore, I already love the look of it as the lighting and colors scream out Roger Deakins. The director of photography, however, is actually Chung-hoon Chung, a South Korean cinematographer best known for his collaborations with Park Chan-wook and his work on the Stephen King cinematic adaptation of “It.”

“Hotel Artemis” is set to be released on June 8th, and I am very much looking forward to seeing it. Please check out the trailer below and be sure to also check out the commerative set of classic Los Angeles music and literary homage posters which feature the movie’s characters.

 

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