Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Starring: Adrian Brody, Topher Grace, Mahershala Ali, Walton Goggins, Lawrence Fishburne
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Michelle Thrush, Stormee Kipp
The original Predator is frequently cited as a quintessential action movie of the 80’s as well as a premium Schwarzenegger entry. The Predator creature also occupies a unique space as one of the top horror villains of all time, frequently sparring with its extraterrestrial nemesis, The Xenomorph from the Alien films. Starring a shocking number of Oscar winners, Predator films have hunted box-office profits every five to ten years since their inception, but the latest entry, Prey, was released direct to streaming. While that move may have been shocking, it was nothing compared to the 93% Rotten Tomatoes and 71 Metacritic scores.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother’s friend recommended Predators after I mentioned that I’d seen Prey. I decided to review it for–
–but, as I was doing research, a terrible realization dawned upon me: I’d never actually seen Predator!
I thought that I had, but I’d seen Predator 2, the abysmal sequel. I’d also seen both Alien Vs. Predator movies along with the flawed, but well-intentioned The Predator. This review was about me filling in the gaps.
All three versions focus on trained killers, the best at what they do. The Predator arrives in the humans’ area, studies them with its advanced hunting gear, then picks the crew off one by one in creatively grotesque ways.
Usually, The Predator’s victims fail to understand its culture or the rules of its death game. Thus, the protagonists survive by learning from their comrades’ deaths. Characters that go the distance also stick to the sidelines before making their stand, first observing how The Predator hunts.
While each movie has its own theme, all of them punish characters that arrogantly believe themselves to be above nature. When it comes to The Predator, the higher something is on the food chain, the farther it falls.
I appreciate how simple it is. Far from boring, the original Predator adds just enough complication to let the action set pieces and characters breathe. It’s muscle-worship surface, however, is subverted by said muscle getting vaporized by The Predator’s weapons. Giant guns and explosions don’t kill it either, as contrasted by a scene where Arnold’s team incinerates a team of Russians. When the men form a firing squad line for The Predator, it simply hops into the trees and lets them waste their ammunition.
Only when Arnold and his Guatemalan prisoner begin to listen and observe do they begin to match their foe. Yes, the third act is Schwarzenegger shirtless, covered in mud, but it’s the best part of the movie because it shows his character setting adult Home-Alone traps, engaging the alien in a battle of wits. This alone puts it in the A-level of B movies.
Any time the movie tries to be something more, however, it falters. Carl Weathers character is a former friend of Arnold’s, but coldly uses him as a CIA asset. It takes Weathers far too long to realize that machinations do nothing against this threat. Within this character arc is a theme about treating people like people, but it gets muddled amongst mounting the action and horror.
Similarly frustrating is Predator’s treatment of its native characters. On the one hand, having two black characters play important roles as well as having a hispanic woman “get to the choppah” was likely a step up for the time. On the other hand, Billy, the Native American tracker, falls into some tired stereotypes–mainly the Native American tracker. He doesn’t even die on screen! At least Jesse Ventura gets his chest blown out.
All in all, this movie deserves much of the praise that it’s received over the years, though perhaps not all the reverence.
I did a jaw drop every five minutes for the first half-hour of this movie, asking, “is that…?” I knew Adrien Brody was in here, but, by the halfway mark, this movie’s cast has five Emmys, three Oscars, a Golden Globe, a Tony, and a César award among them. My question is… why?
I’m certainly not saying that action movies and pedigree don’t mix (Adrien Brody gives a legitimately committed performance, and Laurence Fishburn has a blast as a cracked-up scavenger). I’m wondering what this amount of prestige brought to the table. The average moviegoer isn’t going to a Predator sequel because the guy from The Pianist is toting guns with the lady from City of God or the villain from Justified. They’re going to see an action-monster movie.
I somewhat understand where the studio was coming from: at the time of its 2010 release, the Predator franchise was coming off of a miserable low with AVP: Requiem, a movie so bad it’s not even ironically enjoyable. Predators set out to prove the concept had dramatic and thematic depth to mine. They’re not wrong (see below), but the script isn’t as smart or grandiose as it thinks it is. The theme is simplistic and a character reveal that’s meant to be shocking is easily called ten minutes into the show. The plot also takes meandering story detours, bloating the runtime, and it’s painfully easy to guess in which order the characters will be killed off as well as who will survive.
Additionally, for a movie that wants to rise above what Predator series had become, it pays heavy homage to the ’87 version–a character overuses his minigun ammo, characters slide down a jungle slope over a waterfall, an ethnic stereotype sacrifices himself in a duel to the death using only a blade so that the protagonist and sole female character can survive. You can’t have it both ways, Predators. You can’t be ashamed of your past yet shotgun-blast your runtime with fan-bait references.
My critique may come across as too harsh, but the movie asks to be taken seriously–as more than a “simple action flick.” Just like the mutilated black-ops soldier they find at the beginning, though, Predators doesn’t understand the rules of the jungle it’s in.
A sound metric regarding the quality of the idea is if your reaction is, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” The instant I heard about Prey, that was my reaction.
As for its execution, Prey follows Predator’s B-Movie formula, keeping things as straightforward as possible, then only adding complications as necessary. While I don’t believe all action movies have to be simple (my favorite movie would like to have a word), an uncomplicated plot leaves room for the action, characters, and themes to breathe.
As such, Prey highlights Amber Midthunder’s burgeoning talent, giving her both ferocious action scenes as well as dramatic moments that land. Like the best of action movies, Prey shows its theme through its characters’ deeds. (One of the movie’s only missteps is when Midthunder delivers an outmoded feminist platitude when asked why she wants to be a hunter.) The majority of the time, our protagonist is doing what makes sense for her–as is everyone else. Through those actions, the laser-focused theme shoots clear.
I’ve heard an opinion that the film showed too much of The Predator too soon, especially in the beginning of the movie, but this didn’t bother me. We’ve seen The Predator before; to see it through the protagonist’s eyes, I believe, would be a tired take. Instead, when The Predator gets jazzed about killing a coyote because its the biggest beast he’s found so far, I was amused at the fun reversal. This time, the alien had to learn our system and rules.
Regardless of how one falls on The Predator’s story, Prey marvels by finally managing what the original tried to do: be a movie with great action, a movie with great monsters, and a movie with great purpose.
Prey reigns supreme, and, in my opinion, it’s not even close. While the original still thrills and chills, its intended message mostly coming through, the most recent entry is a much cleaner shot to the heart.
For any readers disappointed with my ranking, know that I considered all three of these movies worthwhile. I may have chastised Predators Tyra Banks style (“I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!”), but these films ALL stand above the others in the series. I’d watch The Predator fight Arnold over a Xenomorph any day. A matchup that’d pique my curiosity? The Predator vs. The Thing.