A brief note on The Predator (Shane Black, USA/Canada, 2018)

American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews, Uncategorized

The Predator is old-school Shane Black with smart talk, back chat, banter and gags all amidst an ultra-violent tale of aliens invading Earth.

There are some zeitgeist references, including how the predators are preparing to come to Earth to inhabit it as the human species dies out according to climate change (we may last one, maybe two more generations, the film says).

But really the film is just about sniper daddy Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) learning to find a meaningful relationship with his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), whose autism is linked to an ability directly to understand the aliens, something that chimes with Steven Shaviro’s assertion that autism is not solipsism but a kind of democratic vision of the world – in that the autist prioritises no one piece of information over others, but instead sees the world in a flat (if affectless?) fashion.

In addition to being about fathers and sons, then, the film is also a reworking of The A-Team (Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo, USA, 1983-1987), except with a slightly larger squad, in that Quinn is Hannibal, Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) is BA, Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) are combined Murdoch, except that it is Lynch (Alfie Allen) who is on hand to fly helicopters, and then with Quinn himself and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) being a good and bad Faceman respectively. This then makes Olivia Munn’s expert biologist Casey Bracket the equivalent of Amy.

Indeed, thinking about it as I write, the set-up is also not wholly dissimilar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Kevin Eastman et al, USA, 1987-1996).

With Munn’s role in #metoo in mind, in that she came forward to discuss harassment by director Brett Ratner in late 2017, one wonders that the film might make itself less blokey and perhaps have a more pronounced female presence, as men – both human and alien – beat their chests for the 107 minutes of the film’s duration.

But, all that said, I really only want to highlight one aspect of the film that I found interesting.

The predators bring with them this time some alien dogs. At one point Nebraska shoots one of the dogs in the head at point blank range. However, he fails to kill it – meaning that the alien dog thing recurs throughout the film – but this time as more or less Casey’s pet.

Indeed, it is suggested at one point that Nebraska did not kill, but rather simply lobotomised the beast.

What is interesting, though, is that when we first meet him, Nebraska and the rest of Group 2 are being transferred to a special installation precisely to be lobotomised – each for slightly different reasons, but with Quinn going because he has witnessed a predator in person.

Nebraska’s reason for going is that he shot his commanding officer in a fit of rebellion… only for us subsequently to reveal that he was his own CO, and that the person whom he shot was himself…. in the head. Only he missed.

In other words, not only is a link set up between Nebraska and the dog, in that he shoots both himself and the dog in the head – and yet fails to kill them. But also if Nebraska has already lobotomised himself by shooting himself in the head, then the fact that he is a kick-ass soldier who seems to feel no pain and who ultimately…

SPOILERS

… sacrifices himself by jumping into the jet engine of an alien spacecraft in order to bring it down, suggests that lobotomisations take place not to stop these men from being soldiers, but precisely in order to militarise them.

Indeed, that the Group 2 soldiers all suffer from PTSD, madness and more, The Predator would seem to suggest that these things are not the consequences of war, but the pre-requisites of war.

That the predators do not kill for survival but for sport is mentioned several times as grounds for the name being a misnomer: the predators are not predators but sports hunters.

Meanwhile, Quinn tells his son that he does not enjoy killing… before then confessing – as he kills two fellow American soldiers – that he does. That is, Quinn is a killing machine, while his son also has no qualms about having murdered a punk metal fan who hurls an object at him when he is out trick-or-treating.

Indeed, Rory explains that it is the weapons that do the killing of their own accord when the bearer of the weapons is attacked. Total fantasy of disconnect: I did not kill you, my weapon did.

But more than this.

For, at one point government agent Traeger (Sterling K Brown) describes a dead alien with the n-word, thereby creating a link between soldiers, animals, lobotomised creatures and black people.

Naturally, the film does not explore these associations any further (and it is worth noting that Traeger is himself black).

But if we add in to the mix that actor Rhodes is most famous for his part as homosexual gangster Black in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (USA, 2016), then there are yet further associations in the film with oppression, minorities, abuse and violence.

That everyone ultimately subordinates themselves for the reunion of the white father-son dyad… would suggest the sacrifice of these minorities for the purposes of protecting the planet from aliens is really to maintain the status quo of power and not to bring about any social change.

What seems a lost opportunity for an interesting ending, even if unlikely in the face of the film’s conservative heart, is that rather than having the predator-killing technology turn up as a gift from a rogue predator at the film’s climax, the predator should have delivered to Earth an alien as per AVP: Alien vs Predator (Paul WS Anderson, USA/UK/Czech Republic/Canada/Germany, 2004)… in order to unleash a whole new series of chaos that might indeed help defeat not only the predators, but also the dominant white men at the same time…

 

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