The arrival of The Predator into cinemas has not been without drama. Over the last couple of weeks, the film has been marred by actor Olivia Munn’s realization that director Shane Black had put his friend, a convicted sex offender, into the movie without the cast, crew, or studio’s knowledge.
20th Century Fox quite rightly intervened to remove the scene from the final cut of the film, but even without the sexual predator in The Predator, the movie is still a poor addition to the long-running franchise. Reviews for the film have been mixed to bad, with a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate rating of just 34%, but given the caliber of the filmmaker behind it and the cast in front of the camera, one has to ask if studio interference is the reason why the final product was such a disappointment.
Spoilers for The Predator within.
Fox doesn't exactly have a great history of allowing its creatives free rein to make the movies they are financing. Just look at the Fantastic Four reboot. Reports and rumors circulated throughout production about the tension between director Josh Trank and the studio, as well as big reshoots to completely change the ending, which both denied. However, one only had to look at the original teaser trailer, or several subsequent trailers, to see how many scenes never made it to the final cut of the movie. In the end, Trank shifted blame onto the studio, tweeting (then deleting), “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it wouldn't receive great reviews. You'll probably never see it. That's reality though.”
Josh Boone might too be suffering a similar struggle with Fox with his movie The New Mutants. The X-Men spin-off was meant to be released in April but has been delayed twice, with rumors suggesting 50% of the film had to be reshot because Fox wanted it to be scarier. The film's star Anya Taylor-Joy defended the reshoots as necessary to get the best final product but admitted that it was both "frustrating" and "disappointing" that it's been delayed.
So what about The Predator? It too went through reshoots, specifically for the final act of the movie. Black addressed what was changed in an interview with Yahoo Movies UK, saying they reshot the Ark scene at night to make it scarier and cut Edward James Olmos’ villain to make it more succinct. “For me, it’s a matter of condensing and keeping the best parts,” Black said. "We would have cut it down anyway, to just boil it to the best, most accessible, character-driven parts."
The director even thanked Fox for footing the bill for the reshoots, so it doesn’t appear he blames the studio for being heavy-handed with him during the production, though it wasn't smooth sailing, either. “I’d love to bid goodbye to this thing,” Black said at the beginning of the interview. “As sad it sounds, it’s been a long road. If it does well, great, but my lord, it’s been seemingly forever.”
Black might just be toeing the party line right now until the dust settles, when he can really say what he thinks about the experience, as there is plenty of evidence to suggest the final film is not what he set out to make. On Reddit, there are leaked plot details from what is thought to be Black and co-writer Fred Dekker’s original script, which saw two rogue predators being held at Area 51, then teaming up with “The Looneys” (that gang of soldiers with an array of mental health issues) to take down the Ultimate Predator. There were also, allegedly, intended to be far more hybrid predators for Boyd Holbrook and his crew to come up against, too.
And let’s look at that final act, which functioned more as a less entertaining version of the original Predator than a satisfying ending. The swiftness with which Sterling K. Brown’s villain and “The Looneys” were offed, coupled with bad CGI and monotonous sequences of gunfire, not to mention a lazy final scene introducing a Predator Killer to set up a sequel, was frustrating, to say the least.
There’s also the issue of mental illness, which is used in the film more for low attempts at humor than any real character development. Jacob Tremblay’s Rory has autism, but some pretty bad gags are made at his expense. Olivia Munn’s character Casey asks McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) to get his son’s “psychosis” in order while they’re literally under attack by a Predator. Later there’s an awkward joke about whether they can describe Rory as “retarded” or not, which again questions what was going on at test screenings if those lines didn’t raise red flags. Maybe Black believed that suggesting people with autism are the next rung on the evolutionary ladder would make up for these cheap jokes, but they didn’t. Neither did the shallow way “The Looneys” are presented in the narrative.
Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera's characters all suffer from some form of mental illness, and this could have been a movie about them overcoming the stigma, banding together and heroically taking down their alien foe, but instead their issues are too often used for mean humor.
The scenes with these guys, as well as Sterling K. Brown’s villain Traeger, were arguably the best in the film, but they weren’t given enough time for character development in the final cut before each one of them is killed off, leaving the “sane” all-American hero, the only woman, and the “evolutionarily advanced” kid to survive. Groundbreaking.
Maybe the blame could ultimately be placed at 20th Century Fox’s door, but that doesn’t mean Shane Black and Fred Dekker get off scot-free. Reshoots may have made the final cut look like a cobbled-together mess, but the narrative focus on certain characters over others, and their treatment, are down to the writers. Maybe a director’s cut could remedy some of these issues, though it sounds like Shane Black is keen to put this movie, and the franchise, behind him. And even if he did want to do his own cut, there's the Disney dilemma to deal with, too. The studio is set to take control of Fox, and according to some reports it plans to shut down all things genre-related, like the Alien and Predator franchises, which means The Predator might be the final installment of the film series.
Given the blunders this franchise has made over the years, that might not be a bad thing.