Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Predator

14/09/18

First, a bit of history.

The crab-faced, dreadlocked super hunter from another planet first stalked Arnold Schwarzenegger through a rain forest in 1987. There was an iffy sequel starring Danny Glover in 1991, before the franchise sank dismally into the wretched nadir of the Alien versus Predator films in the mid-noughties. In 2010, director Nimrod Antal made a valiant attempt to revive its fortunes with Predators, but the results were, to say the very least, so-so. Which brings us to 2018 and yet another reboot, desperately seeking to inject new DNA into the format.

I’ll be honest and admit the only thing that tempts me to give this one a try is the name Shane Black, attached as director and co-writer. Surely, I think, if anybody can pull this off, he’s the one.

Well, to be fair to him, he gives it his best shot. Here, the action is split between three main stories. On a special mission in the Mexican jungle, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses the crashing of a stricken extra-terrestrial craft. He salvages some alien technology from the wreckage, and promptly posts it back to his home in the USA for safekeeping. It is soon discovered by his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is, like most Asperger’s kids in movies, some kind of super genius who manages to figure out how it all works. Meanwhile, University lecturer, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), is collected by special forces and taken to a secret laboratory where a captive predator is currently being experimented on. She is asked to put in her four pen’orth, as she is the ‘foremost authority on genetic hybridisation.’

Almost before you can mutter, ‘Really?’ said Predator is on the loose and despatching laboratory technicians in a decidedly visceral manner – whereupon Ms Bracket, like all university lecturers in such situations, grabs a machine gun and morphs into some kind of action woman. But it’s all to no avail, because the creature has decided to take young Rory back to his home planet in order to make use of the boy’s special skills and has headed off to track him down.

Okay, maybe there always needs to be some suspension of disbelief in these films, but at times I struggle. Suffice to say that Black’s best addition to the franchise are the wisecracking  special forces misfits, who team up with McKenna and Munn in an attempt to retrieve Rory from his alien kidnapper. If the wisecracking isn’t quite as assured as Black’s previous efforts, well, let’s put that down to the fact that he has never worked in this genre before. He also throws in some extra-terrestrial hunting ‘dogs’ and (perhaps inevitably) a super-sized, hybrid Predator, bigger and more powerful than its predecessors. Because bigger is always better, right?

What else? Well, there are plenty of action set pieces, which are decent enough, but not really top-notch, and the film’s finale is so ridiculously OTT I find myself shaking my head at the sheer ridiculousness of some of the stunts. A coda that appears to set the film up for a sequel may just be wishful thinking on Black’s part. I really can’t see this nonsense setting the box office alight, but hey, who knows? At the heart of the problem, in my humble opinion, is the simple fact that the Predator films really want to be the Alien films, but are never in the same league. (Hell, the Alien films haven’t been in their own league for a very long time now, so what chance is there?)

And I just wish Hollywood would accept that there are some dead horses that have been flogged quite enough, and it might be time to try coming up with some new ideas.

Come on, how hard can it be?

3 stars

Philip Caveney 

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Maggie

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24/07/15

– How about a zombie film? Starring Alpha-Republican-hardman Arnold Schwarzenegger, you say.

– Nah, I say. I think I’ll pass. I mean, I do quite like stories of the living dead, but I really can’t be doing with all that boring Mr Macho stuff.

– Go on, you say; it might be good. It’s been plucked from Hollywood’s infamous ‘Black List’ of unproduced scripts and championed by Schwarzenegger himself.

– And that’s supposed to make it better?

– Well, we haven’t got anything else planned for the evening.

And, you know I’m a sucker for the whole cinematic experience, even if I’m not so keen on the movie, so yeah, why not? And off we go.

And, oh, but am I glad we did.

Maggie is a zombie movie unlike any I have ever seen. John A Scott III’s debut screenplay is slow and tender, warm and sad. There’s only minimal lurching and wounding, and the bullets put through the zombies’ heads are shot reluctantly and with compassion. Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is a wayward teen, who, having run off to explore the bright lights of the big city, calls home to ask her father (Schwarzenegger) for help. She has been infected and is in quarantine.

This particular dystopia is more humane than most. Infected people are assessed and then allowed home to live out the remainder of their ‘human’ days. When the time comes, they are supposed to return to quarantine, where they will be dispatched via lethal injection. Police patrols have lists of those on furlough, and round up those whose families struggle to give them up. The focus then is not on survival; it’s not about encountering the slavering hoards and protecting what you have from others who want in. Instead, this is the story of a family learning to let go.

There’s not much in the way of backstory or character development – and I think that’s to the film’s credit. Maggie’s likes and dislikes, dreams and fears are just not that important now. She and her family are living in the present, dealing with the day-to-day. We are trusted to engage with their predicament on this human level; the fripperies we use to label and identify are stripped away and we are left with just the basics: love and empathy and muddling-through. I thought it was wonderful. Even the dragged-out ending (Now? No. Now? Not yet. Now?) served to underline the hardship: how do we know when the time is right; when are we ever ready to accept a loved one’s death?

So this is a zombie movie, yes, but it’s also unlikely to appeal to those in search of frights and thrills. It’s more of an allegory, really, for the way we deal with disease and disaster. (And yes, I know that zombie movies are usually allegorical to some degree, but this is one more so. It’s Allegory Plus.)

It’s definitely worth watching.

4 stars

Susan Singfield