The Predator has failed to reinvigorate the series for a myriad of reasons, and all of them contribute to an overstuffed mess that screams design by committee. It sounds like what started as a carte blanche for director Shane Black didn’t quite make it through to completion. But there’s one cook in the kitchen that stood out to me among the others: the United States Department of Defense. We are well past the point where US military involvement in the production and content of popular media is only a thing of conspiracy theories. The recent reveal that the DoD bothers to make tweaks to seemingly unrelated films like Meet the Parents opens the floodgates to a world of patriotic tampering.
That The Predator would have sought and/or taken tweaks from the DoD is far from a stretch: The plot centers hero army ranger, Quinn McKenna [Boyd Holbrook], along with a gaggle of veterans taking a detour from battling the VA’s medical records system to fight space poachers, as well as an ill defined shadowy American intelligence agency. There are more than the requisite amount of Ooh Rah Moments™. For all their slapstick foibles, the soldier crew is dripping a casual heroic everyman energy, and they effectively sacrifice themselves for their brave leader. There are lines here and there that are a little too enthusiastic about the troops to escape suspicion, and some changes were clearly made to soften anything that could be taken as criticism. Things like a line from the trailer that refers to McKenna’s sniper squad as “killers” making the change to the neutral term “snipers” in the movie. The movie’s growing patriotism-for-pay hit’s a peak with a list of accolades barked out by McKenna’s neglected wife [Yvonne Strahovski] to confirm to the group that our hero sniper is “the man that I think he is”.
The crew of soldiers all fit into that post-Vietnam era image of happy-go-lucky, morally complex (but ultimately honorable) grunts. They each have a “hilarious” mental illness slapped onto them like one-note character name tags, and McKenna, their de facto leader, bears a striking resemblance to the American Sniper himself: Chris Kyle. Both are snipers, family men, massively decorated, generically white-sports-bro handsome, etc., but the resemblance deepens.
The gulf between the film version of Chris Kyle and reality has been well covered, both by others and by Chris Kyle himself who was fairly open about his sociopathic hatred for everyone from those labelled “military-aged male” to black Americans trying to survive a catastrophe. While the hunting of the latter may have been a fiction, there really is no clearer a sign that the real Chris Kyle considered himself more of an apex predator than a conflicted warrior for hearts and minds.
Quinn’s resemblance to Kyle’s two clashing images is a result of a movie that in many areas tried to push two opposing things together, not realizing in the best case that tends to cancel them out and in the worst case, makes something sinister. Here it’s the attempt to have Quinn be both someone who is brave, honorable, and loving of his family; but also a really heckin’ cool badass who’s maybe off his rocker a little (in a cool way that is badass). It’s not impossible to merge the two, in fact it has been done plenty of times, but The Predator ends up telling us that Quinn isn’t only super good at murder, he loves it.
Right off the bat Quinn makes bets with his fellow rangers on the lives of the cartel leaders he’s about to snuff out (assassinations in a foreign country no less). From there he moves on to out gunning dozens of black clad shadow government goons as well as taking shots at a regular sized predator and his big hunting pooches. So far so suspend-able, as belief goes, that this is just a regular action hero. But the real turn comes in the form of a joke that’s set up when Quinn tells his son, a horribly dated representation of an autistic child and soon to be apex predator himself, that the difference between a soldier and a killer is that a killer enjoys what he does. That grim shouldering of mortal sin already grinds up against the gusto with which Quinn celebrates his ability to out-murder others, but sure. The knockdown comes when Quinn, captured by smug intelligence agency goons, blames his captors for making him lie to his son. He snuffs the guards and sadistically quips: “Because I really enjoyed that.”
Quinn’s sociopathy tends to be highlighted in contrast with his driving motivation to keep his child safe, but he seems equally invested in passing on this trait to his nerdy, bullied son. Quinn’s murderous fist pumps are often echoed by the little predator in training, though perhaps he’s already well on his way. Near the child’s introduction he informs a mailman that the postal service exists solely on the corpses of his father’s conquest, more or less. How gangsters in another country figure into “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” etc. is beyond me. Apparently US civilians aren’t really of too much concern either as the child, wearing the over-sized predator mask as a Halloween costume like some sort of slasher ET, vaporizes a household of degenerate heavy metal fans and barely blinks. In what is both the movie’s third act twist and top jaw droppingly moronic moment, we’re told that lil Quinn is actually the object of the mega-predator’s DNA assimilation quest. Harvesting autistic children’s hunter-killer genetics so a two story tall sweaty monster can go on more safaris, fucking yikes.
As we trudge on through this presidency, we’re seeing the kind of films that would attempt to make a buck off of our nation’s newly invigorated fascist contingent. There’s a part of me, despite my obvious feelings, that feels like the Quinn-Kyle connection has to be coincidence borne of various cultural tides. The other part of me looks at how a top tier military operator fighting a troop-disrespecting intelligence organization looks a lot like the “deep state” conspiracy storylines popping up in work like Stephen Segal’s magnum opus Way of the Shadow Wolves. Or I can look at how Quinn starts the movie off killing pseudo-MS13 members in Mexico; a blurring of the line between policing and war, as well as a classic dogwhistle for those who see Mexican immigrants as fundamentally criminal. For all Quinn’s patriotism, which America does he represent? The one that annihilates the corrupt shadow order to take control. The one that leverages its experience killing potential invaders abroad to kill outsiders from the stars that might try to lay a finger on it’s genetically superior, lily white progeny.