How 'The Predator' Throws Out the Rules of the Franchise

The new trailer suggests director Shane Black has escalated the property in ways the previous sequels have failed to do.

Thursday’s teaser trailer for The Predator sees the titular alien species resume the hunt first started in 1987’s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Predator. This latest entry, directed by Shane Black, who himself was a supporting castmember in director John McTiernan’s original film, is set to put a fresh spin on the concept while escalating the franchise in a way that the prior sequels never quite managed. Utilizing the continuity of the previous films, The Predator is set between the events of Predator 2 (1990) and Predators (2010) in a present-day storyline that sees the alien hunters facing Special Forces in suburbia. While the setting is a far cry from the jungle, concrete or otherwise, it seems like the perfect space for fan-favorite director Black to circumvent expectations by delivering the biting wit and deconstruction of genre tropes in the way only he can.

The Predator features a cast consisting of Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Yvonne Strahovski, Alfie Allen, Thomas Jane, Jake Busey, Niall Matter and Edward James Olmos, which will give Black plenty of voices to play with, and the Predator plenty of characters to track. Black will have an opportunity to break away from his well-established buddy formula and deliver a true ensemble piece, of which he hasn’t tackled since The Monster Squad (1987). The Predator and an ensemble cast aren’t the only things Black is bringing back with him from 1987. Joining him as co-writer on The Predator is Monster Squad co-writer and director Fred Dekker. Studio 20th Century Fox has billed the film as being a fresh take on the property, and while our first look is brief, and much of the film is still being kept under wraps, The Predator looks like a film that will live up to that promise, because even the teaser is breaking away from expectations.

Not only does it look like Black will be leaving behind certain aspects of previous Predator films, he may also be leaving behind some of his trademark Blackisms as well. One of the constants in Black’s films is that they are set around Christmas, which has led many a film fan to reconfigure their list of holiday favorites. The Predator is set, or at least partly so, on Halloween. While Halloween may be uncharted territory for Black, it certainly fits in with the most well-regarded entries in Dekker’s filmography, Night of the Creeps (1986) and The Monster Squad.

The teaser begins in an Amblin-esque way with Jacob Tremblay’s Rory McKenna opening up a box containing armor and weaponry belonging to a Predator. He accidently activates a homing beacon that summons the alien to Earth. This seems like something we might expect from Steven Spielberg or Joe Dante, not from an R-rated sci-fi action film, but this is Black we’re talking about and nothing is ever quite the way it seems on surface level. Ordinarily a kid inciting an alien invasion would be cause for groans, but Black’s filmography as both writer and director is littered with examples where children are a highpoint in his films. There's The Last Boy Scout (1991), Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Nice Guys (2016), to name a few. With talent like Tremblay, Rory is likely to be far more than an annoying tagalong.

The ship that responds to the activated signal looks significantly different from the Predator ships seen in previous films. This could be a simple design change meant to suggest an evolution in technology, or the ship could point to its inhabitant(s) being a separate sect of the alien hunters with a different agenda than what we’ve previously seen. In all three Predator films, and the non-canon Aliens vs. Predator (2004) and AvP: Requiem (2007), we never see where the Predators hail from. The differences in technology across the franchise could be part of a larger mythology that may provide some clues about the nature of these aliens.

While we may still be in the dark about the nature and origins of the Predators, it seems the U.S. government is catching on. Special Forces commando Quinn McKenna (Holbrook) finds himself being interrogated after a mission has gone sideways and his men have been torn to pieces. This sounds very similar to the plot of the 1987 film and it’s hard not to wonder if the military has been keeping tabs on similar situations after Dutch (Schwarzenegger) survived the events of the first film. It seems likely that Quinn, surviving an encounter with a Predator, sent a box of the alien gear back home, leading his son Rory to mistakenly send out the signal. If that’s the case, then the Predators, or at least one, had already made its way back to Earth before the ship was signaled. This leads us to wonder why they keep coming back. The teaser suggests it’s more than just the thrill of the hunt.

Casey Bracket (Munn), a science teacher who gets caught up in the military’s agenda, suggests the aliens are attempting hybridization by upgrading on every planet they visit, presumably to become the apex predator in the galaxy. This theory could explain the difference in technology from the previous films, as well as provide a variety of Predators for the characters to face off against. This hybridization theory also connects back to Alien vs. Predator where the result of the conflict saw the birth of a creature dubbed the Predalien. While the AvP films were found to be a disappointment by many, Bracket’s theory potentially creates the perfect avenue for a revival of that showdown.

And speaking of showdowns, the teaser only gives us a glimpse at the Predator one and instead opts to focus on the film’s human characters. We get one clear look at the Predator, but it’s enough to grab our attention after eight years of having not seen the presence of one onscreen. The facemask design is different from what we’ve seen in previous films, though each Predator having different armor designs has been previously established. The mask on this one though looks more sinister than previous iterations and it recalls Darth Vader, perhaps intentionally so. It’s still unclear if this Predator will be the only one the film features, but it wouldn’t be surprising if more show up to join the hunt as well.

While this teaser limits the flow of dialogue and bloodshed that will surely be a part of Black’s film, it does just enough to generate interest in the property again and leaves us guessing in a way so few trailers for rebooted franchises manage to do.

The Predator opens Sept. 14.

  • Richard Newby