Unlike the late entries in some horror franchises, “The Predator” doesn’t pretend any of its predecessors didn’t happen, but you don’t need to have seen them, either. Directed and co-written by Shane Black (who was an actor in the original 1987 “Predator”), this gory, quippy sequel assumes you’ll easily catch up if you’re not familiar with the premise: that a robust, dreadlocked, sometimes invisible alien has come to Earth to hunt humans, and the humans have to fight it.
It’s not a very complicated mythology, and Black, co-writing with Fred Dekker (“The Monster Squad”), expands on it just enough to set up additional sequels, making sure not to get bogged down in world-building or references-to-previous-movies-inserting. This time around, an Army sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is the only survivor after an encounter with a crashed Predator ship in the jungles of Mexico. From the wreckage he finds parts of the Predator’s armor, which he naturally mails home as souvenirs to his autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), in accordance with U.S. military protocol.
The specific Predator who crashed with the ship is captured by shadowy government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and taken to a top-secret lab from which it must eventually escape. A biologist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to study it. Meanwhile, McKenna, claiming his teammates in Mexico were killed by an alien, is put on a prison bus with a handful of other ex-military nutcases, including normal-ish Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), and PTSD-addled Baxley (Thomas Jane). All of these must work together when the Predator gets loose and goes looking for the rest of its armor, which you’ll recall McKenna mailed to his autistic son.
Black, who wrote “Lethal Weapon” and wrote and directed “Iron Man 3,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and “The Nice Guys,” is known for his dismantling of action-movie tropes. “The Predator” does a little of that — there’s a running gag where people question whether “predator” is the right term for something that hunts for sport — and generally holds a light, witty tone, but it’s not at the level of snarky self-awareness that Blackheads (as I assume Shane Black fans are called) might expect. And there are tonal missteps, too. Much is made of young Rory’s sensitivity to noise and commotion, and Quinn is a tender, protective father in that regard … but then he also kills a man in front of Rory and acts like it was nothing. Are you concerned about your sensitive son’s feelings or aren’t you? More to the point, is Rory autistic for a good narrative reason, or is it an easy gimmick to make him sympathetic?
Shane Black fans may consider this one of his lesser works, but “Predator” fans will find plenty of blood ‘n’ guts and entertaining action. Other creatures besides the main Predator are present for our amusement (and to set up future possibilities), and most of the human performances have their bright spots. Sterling K. Brown, in particular, seems to be having a good time. But there are no standout characters — there’s barely even a protagonist — and the movie never really comes together before its anticlimactic finale. It’s fine, and it’s an improvement over the “Alien vs. Predator” spinoffs, but we can do better than this.
B- (1 hr., 46 min.; )