Shane Black and THE PREDATOR Are Hiding Something Big

I’m holding a Predator head. It’s as big as you’d imagine, like a gray watermelon grew tusks and dozens of floppy dreadlocks. But it’s heavier than you’d guess. Denser. It has the weight of a movie icon, and I don’t envy the actors who have to wear it for more than a few minutes at a time. Except, of course I do because they get to be the Predator.

The room is overwhelmed with the smell of latex. I only have a moment to imagine I’ve ripped it off the shoulders of a near-invincible alien and given a primal victory scream before I have to hand it back and return to the Vancouver warehouse-turned-movie studio where Shane Black is siccing CGI Predator Dogs after Jacob Tremblay on the set of  The Predator.

It’s day 34 of a 66-day shoot for “Ollie” (the working title they’re using and also the name of the director’s dog), and Black is surprised to be in such a good mood. The challenge he’s facing–to walk the balance beam of delivering a classic property for old fans while changing it enough to find new ones–is, by now, par for the course for a lot of directors, and so far filming has gone incredibly smooth. Like Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins, Black is reinventing an old franchise, and he isn’t content to play within the confines of the old sandbox. He and the cast refer to The Predator as a thriller, a Western, an espionage mystery, a sci-fi comedy, and a Shane Black movie that happens to star the Predator throughout the set visit, which Nerdist attended with other outlets.

“If you bought a comic book that just said ‘Genre Shit’ and started reading it, it could well be this movie,” Black says. In other words, if you’re expecting a verbatim recitation of the original Predator, you’re going to be disappointed.

In fact the reboot is meant to be an inversion of the 1987 action flick. Instead of greasy, elite soldiers led by Arnold Schwarzenegger facing the universe’s most skilled hunter, it’s a disorganized band of rusty veterans struggling with a variety of physical and mental health problems. Boyd Holbrook plays special ops leader Quinn McKenna, who loses his squad in an initial attack and accidentally inherits “The Loonies” (played to varying degrees of eccentricity by Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and newcomer Augusto Aguilera) when the government silences him to keep a lid on the alien encounter.

“I guess it was a reaction against perfection, and the Predator going up against a perfect specimen all the time,” Black says. “And that being solely based on physical appearance and muscles and I thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s a version in which misfits play more of a role and maybe there’s even a sense that The Predator himself is even an outcast.'”

Tremblay, who Black says is “like squeezing Peter O’Toole into a little body,” plays Rory McKenna, Quinn’s young son who accidentally draws the aliens by playing with their advanced tech on Halloween. Watching Tremblay act confirms the conveyor belt of praise the kid gets. One moment he’s goofing off with the camera operator, chasing him in a circle while blocking the shot; the next he’s launched a full-on Spielberg face with the flip of an internal switch. His eyes go white. Breathing intensifies. The camera swings around him to see a big empty space where CGI artists will fill in the threat.

It all plays out on an indoor, green-screen-enveloped baseball diamond. Everything will be added with computers except the grass, the fence, and the bleachers. Sporting a mustard hoodie, red flannel button-up, and the extraterrestrial power glove seen in the trailer, Rory flees for his life across the field, first running from future CGI nothingness and, later, from the Predator’s hunting Dread Dogs represented by silver orbs on sticks that add a punk rock Phantasm flare to the scene.

And, yes, the chase is at a park in the suburbs, which is a big deal if you’ve paid attention to the single major rumor floating around this project since 2016. But the movie spends very little time in the suburbs, and Black seems particularly bothered by the rumor, which has survived multiple denials. It’s easy to understand why. On one hand, sending an ’80s adversary to a surviving artifact of ’80s life feels like a snug fit. It also feels safe. Just the thing for a reboot of a classic character.

On the other hand, it diminishes the potential for the film. A potential which Black is clearly, deeply proud of based on the time he spent during the set visit shaking his head and promising the sleepy neighborhood war zone was only a small portion of a much larger adventure. “[People online] said, well, ‘It’s set in the suburbs,'” Black says with a laugh. “Hmm…no. I mean, there are scenes that are set in suburban streets, but the idea that it’s some Mahjong club fighting an alien isn’t how it’s gonna happen.”

His dismissal of the rumor fit with the chorus we’d heard all day hinting at big surprises tucked into a science fiction Dirty Dozen dealing with mental health and extraterrestrial evolution. The cast wouldn’t divulge details beyond the battles between humans and aliens. It seemed like there was something huge they all wanted to talk about but couldn’t.

For example, Olivia Munn plays Dr. Casey Bracket, an evolutionary biologist helping the CIA, which has been tracking these alien incursions for over 30 years. When asked if we’ll get to see the Predators evolve or learn more of their biological history, she says, “That’s a very good question,” adds a wink, and leaves it at that. The trailer hints as much, showing Bracket explain that the Predators are “attempting hybridization” and evolving by taking the best traits from the DNA of their prey. Resistance might be futile.

So maybe Black and the cast are being cagey to protect elements they simply think are cool and not some fundamental twist–things they think will be more fun to discover in the theater than in trailers or in a set visit report. But, for whatever reason, my gut keeps going back to the fact that there will be multiple Predators and Black’s characterization of the alien hunter as a bit of “an outcast” like The Loonies. It feels very much like he’s hiding something big.

Images: Fox

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