dir: Shane Black
So. What with all the plague happening everywhere, I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, far more so than usual. It has been pretty much the only positive to arise out of this dreadful crisis that has killed so many people and revealed the stupidity and selfishness of so many who profit from the labour of us lower order types and the minimum wage expendable / “essential” services provided by those who have no other choice anyway.
Lest you think I lump myself into that group, oh no, it’s not true. My services to the world are very inessential, which is why I can happily work from home, sip lattes, watch movies and then pontificate about them for no money and to no end other than my own amusement / bemusement.
In that spirit, the films I’ve been watching lately have been great. Thoughtful, intelligent, well-made, reminding us of the links between people across this world and through time; the elements that unite us, the dangers we face, the aches we all feel.
I’ve had enough. I can’t take it any more. I need a break, emotionally and intellectually.
In the same way that we take a break from preparing and eating food that’s nurturing and healthy for us and the people in our lives, and seek the convenience of food that’s not only crap but is actively bad for us, I need to occasionally watch shitty movies in order to have some perspective, and also to replenish my store of tears. Not only did I gorge on cinematic junk food, but it involved a buffet of two recentish movies that stand as squalid sequels to action franchises that started in the 1980s: The Predator and Terminator: Dark Fate, for the people playing at home. Both peaked a long time ago; both keep being resurrected to increasingly diminished returns.
The Predator does not inspire tears, it does not provoke emotions other than whatever emotions scorn and contempt are most aligned with, and it has nothing to do with my favourite Ice Cube album of all time of the same name. It is the hackneyed work of people who don’t give a shit about anything but love pretending they’re having fun, so we should too.
When Predator came out in 1987, it was a minor hit. It sustained the upward trajectory of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie career, and never resulted in another movie that really justified its existence as a franchise. One of the people in the original movie, as a soon-killed army jerk called Hawkins, was Shane Black. Literally the only thing Hawkins does in the movie is tell a horribly misogynistic joke and then die.
His career as a screenwriter and then director has had its ups and downs, surreal ones at that, but there’s a kind of circular logic to Shane Black coming back and remaking / rebooting this deeply stupid franchise about an alien species that comes to Earth in order to hunt humans for sport.
It’s never worked that well other than in the first flick. American soldiers, who think they’re hot shit, kill a bunch of Latin people in a jungle somewhere. A more advanced killer murders all of them except one due to superior technology and bloodthirstiness. That One, Arnie, naturally, kills him with low tech solutions and gets the last laugh. Human cunning beats alien technology. Everyone’s happy, except the alien, probably. It’s not Shakespeare, though seeing the alien holding a human skull he’s just heat-blasted into a trophy is probably the closest we’ll get to an “alas poor Yorick I knew him Horatio” speech.
Every attempt since then has been different types of shit, so whilst there’s a variety of approaches, none of them really rise to the level of more than okay.
Predator 2 had the alien come to the big city and kill a bunch of people before being beaten by Danny Glover, who was too old for this shit and very unconvincing as an action lead even 30 years ago. It was a terrible fucking movie, just terrible. It had a lunatic in it at least, being Gary Busey, who I am surprised is not the current Vice President of those United States.
Predator 3, or at least the third time they tried this bullshit was Alien Versus Predator, which was even worse, with very minor good points (mostly being Sanaa Lathan, who’s pretty great in everything I’ve seen her in). And there was even a sequel to that piece of shit, being AvP: Requiem, which had absolutely nothing going for it other than an ad campaign that promised “Whoever wins…we lose” which was about as much honesty in advertising as we are ever likely to see in our lifetimes.
Predator 5 was another reboot, and was just called Predators, and I didn’t think it was utter shit, but the mate I saw it with strongly disagreed. And he’s Canadian, so you know something has to be pretty shitty if it’s going to make a Canadian strongly disagree about anything unless the topic is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s beard.
This effectively exists both as a reboot and a remake of the first movie, though it starts in a jungle but does not end there. Again it starts with an army type doing army things in the middle of a mission, getting rudely interrupted by an alien Predator doing their Predator-type thing.
This time around, though, the flick jumps to an urban setting fairly quickly. The lead jerk (Boyd Holbrook), who seems to personify that cornfed, good ol’ boy shitkicker bullshit that Middle America truly craves like steak, beer and boobies, sees the alien, grabs some of his tech because of reasons, watches most of his people brutally die, mails the stuff to his family back in the States (he was on a mission in Mexico, I think), and then waits for the money to roll right in. Or something.
In the States, there’s a boy. There’s always a boy in one of Shane Black’s movies, sometimes a girl but most often a boy. In this one, the boy is also on the spectrum, not because they want to give the character a personality or a backstory or an arc, but because it’s somehow convenient to the plot, because being on the spectrum also makes the boy a super-genius.
Parents with kids on the spectrum must watch films like this and think “where’s our fucking payday?” Ever since Rain Man gave people the impression that anyone with autism was a mathematical genius it’s been used in so many plots, ones that I would argue, in films that actually matter, it devalues the people who have it and the people in their lives who love them or support them.
This film doesn’t matter, and let me prove it to you by showing what it means in terms of the story: a) Rory (Jacob Tremblay) is bullied at school, but has a great memory and can work anything out, including the alien technology and their language, just by looking at it long enough, b) he accidentally kills a guy using the alien tech during trick or treating, and it’s never mentioned again, and the kid doesn’t care in the slightest, and c) it’s in the story so that one of Rory’s dad’s new buddies can call him a retard.
That’s…, look if this was 1987 maybe it would be cutting edge humour and state of the art story telling, but in 2020 it looks like the work of someone less like they’re doing a homage of times and ethical standards of the past, and more like someone who’s developmentally stuck exactly where they were 30 years ago. That Shane Black can’t stop writing the same scripts, with the exact same beats, with the exact same types of gags, yet with more modern special effects and nicer, younger people in roles that should be played by old hacks just means he’s rarely if ever going to have anything new to do or say.
The one crutch he always leans on, that he didn’t this time was Christmas. Almost every other one he’s ever written is set at Christmas. I know it seems like a strange thing to point out, but this is one of the first times I can remember where he hasn’t set the story at Christmas.
And this time? Halloween. It’s almost as if without the scenery setting of a “special” day, he has no idea how to fill up the time between explosions or straining, lame gags.
There are a lot of characters in this flick, and, yes, their purpose is mostly to die, but most of them can be accurately referred to as arseholes. The leader of some kind of secret alien researching unit (Sterling K. Ross, so great in other stuff, so awful here) captures McKenna, but also invites some strange scientist to come and look at the alien tech and specimen that they somehow captured (Olivia Munn). I’m not sure what she’s doing here, but it doesn’t look like she was having fun.
But another, bigger Predator is hunting the original one. And then…referring to the plotting of this flick is a waste of time, because it doesn’t illuminate anything other than the very limited directions any script written by Shane Black is ever, ever going to go. His template is almost always the same, and the clumsiness of tone, the awful things that happen or are shown that just don’t matter to anyone within the story, that struggle to matter to the ones viewing either.
There are lines here that were in the original flick, that are used again or slightly updated, and when uttered, they just drop to the floor, awkward and leaden, and summon neither a laugh nor a smile, but quite often a groan. Even for a bullshit sci-fi action flick it feels like nothing matters, like no-one’s really taking anything seriously, and like it’s impossible to actually enjoy. It feels, as it plays out, like it’s a copy of a copy that gets grainier and more shallow the longer it goes on, and it wastes the talents of some of the people involved.
Yvonne Strahovski, yes, yes Australia’s Own Yvonne Strahovski, so great in everything else, including Handmaid’s Tale and a recent ABC series called Stateless, is so poorly served by this flick as the dull main character’s estranged wife. Sure she breathes some life into the flick, but relegated to such an empty support role, it’s not worthwhile for her to be here. Her role and function is reduced to literally handing a gun to her man so he can go fight the bad guys.
Who are the bad guys? I guess, it’s everyone in this flick? The American military types seem like they’re cool killing each other, and civilians without batting an eyelid, and our hero and the jerks around him kill people with no qualms, and the Predators, which actually comes down to a “good” one that wants to help humanity, and a “bad” one that wants to kill everyone and the “good” predator, both kill as many people as they can, and the kid kills someone for laughs, and, I’m trying to remember if there were any characters in the whole movie who didn’t get to kill someone?
There’s this conversation between father and son, meant to deepen their connection to each other and to us, involves the son asking the father if he’s a killer. The honourable soldier says to his son, the difference between himself, as a loyal soldier of the state, and some evil killer, possibly Mexican, definitely swarthy, is that though they both kill, the killer kills for pleasure. He leaves it there, but strongly implies to a son that misses social cues and doesn’t extrapolate inferences due to being on the spectrum, that other people kill for pleasure, but Daddy only does so when his superiors tell him to, taking no pleasure in his butchery.
Later on, fighting for his life against two military types, he tells them, neither of whom was privy to the earlier conversation, that they’re going to prove that he was lying to his son, because he’s really going to enjoy killing them.
I’m…like… what the fuck is wrong with you, Shane Black? Who hurt you and why are you trapped in that time mentally, such that all you can come up with is this emotionally stunted, faded, embarrassing idea of machismo, complete with yo mama and gay panic jokes, and shit that wouldn’t even fly in one of the dumber Fast & Furious movies?
It’s a flick that I guess had I been drunk and watching it with a group of similarly drunk people I may have enjoyed, but we live in dangerous times where people are dying all over the place, and such frivolity doesn’t happen anymore, so instead I watched it stone cold sober, sad and irritated, alone. These people, these fucking people. When I see how little they care about the shit they produce, when they take something already done too many times, and they figure they’ll have a bit more of a squeeze of the stone just to see if any more creative blood spills out, and when they still get nothing but release the flick anyway, I just feel like it’s such a waste of money, time and people’s lives.
And when at the end they implied a further sequel could come, of something that might truly rival Battlefield: Earth for sheer terribleness, I thought, great, I’ll probably watch that piece of shit too if the quarantine is still happening.
3 times they even managed to make Tourette’s unfunny out of 10
“Get to the choppers!” – razor sharp shits – The Predator