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Blog -Into the Choppa - A Tour of the Predator Films

March 25, 2024

I realized in January that I had never actually seen Predator (1987).  I had maybe seen a few snippets on TV ages ago.  It's a surprising lacuna in my pop culture knowledge given that I a) used to watch a lot of movies and b) am really fond of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.  (Also, I spelled his name wrong when I typed it the first time and spellcheck caught it.  Which is awesome.) 

 

So I set out with James to fix this hole in my life by not only watching the original movie, but also Predator 2 (1990), Predators (2010), and Prey (2022).   I decided not to bother with The Predator (2018) because by all accounts it is terrible.  Also, I didn't watch the Alien vs Predator movies because I don't care. 

 

What did I learn about this franchise that I saw 80% of the mainline entries?  

 

Honestly... it's pretty good.  Really good, even.   I'm not sure I can think another long running franchise, especially a horror adjacent one with no returning characters or directors, that has a hit rate this high, with at least two (Predator and Prey) entries, and probably a third (Predators), that are actively great movies.  Even the not so great one (Predator 2) has a lot of interesting stuff in it and manages to both be a different kind of thing from the iconic original and also expand the universe in a neat way. 

 

They're also short, with none over an 1 hour 40, and they're oddly consistent with Predator, Predator 2, Predators, and The Predator having a listed runtime within 1 minute of each other (107 minutes).  Prey is a little shorter, but only by 8 minutes.

 

The kind of shorthand for the Predator franchise that I heard articulated most succinctly by ComicPop and RedLetterMedia is that you're watching a regular genre film and then a Predator shows up and turns it into a slasher flick.  

 

(Also: I found out there was a 4 issue Archie Predator crossover in 2015. Like the wholesome Archie and gang from Riverdale.  Apparently it was really fun.)

 

((Also also:  Archie Comics did a crossover with Marvel's The Punisher in 1994, the cover being the gang at a dance with the Punisher in the foreground with an assault rifle and Archie saying "I knew there'd be a chaperone but this is ridiculous!"  Good on Archie Comics for having fun with all of this))

 

So here's some of my thoughts about four of the movies in the main Predator franchise, along with bonus thoughts about the spiritual predecessor Without Warning (1980), which James suggested we watch as a fun B movie capper to our Predator-a-thon.

 

Predator (1987)
 

I wasn't expecting this to be legitimately good.  I had assumed it was going to be a stupid/cheesy action flick like Commando or Cobra and I was pleasantly surprised when it was not. 

 

"My men are not expendable." - Subversion and the Unexpected

 

Though the setup is fairly typical of 'roided up 80s action, with an elite commando unit dropping into the Central American jungle, in a lot of ways it explicitily subverts the normal tropes.  The characters certainly have a macho front, but they are actually allowed to act like real people in a stressful situation once the shit starts. 

 

Even one of the more famous meme lines, Jesse Ventura as Blain saying "I ain't got time to bleed" gets a smirking response from Poncho of "...Ok?  You got time to duck?" which kind deflates Blain's attempt at badassery.  Poncho isn't that impressed and in the ensuing explosion Ventura a touch of anxiety behind his eyes, which makes the whole line feel like overcompensation.  

 

I also liked how offended Schwarzenegger's Dutch is when he finds out Dillon has manipulated them into the shootout at the rebel camp, saying "My men are not expendable, and I don't do this kind of work."  His unit is a rescue team, and he bristles at the thought of being used for assassinations.  It's sort of a moral line I was surprised to see considering a lot of 80s action movies amount to "There are bad guys.  The only morally correct thing here is to shoot them all."

 

The characters in general have more to them that they would have needed to have from a pure plot mechanics perspective.  They show fear, concern, horror, grief.  And they do feel like they know each other.  And quiet scenes, like the ones of Mac mourning Blain, which the movie actually gives a decent amount of time over to, really make the characters feel more real.  

 

You wouldn't need any of this to make a slasher film, but I'm glad it's there.

 

There's really just two lines during the rebel camp shootout that really struck me as out of place.  Arnold throws a knife through a man and with a huge smile says "Stick around" and a short time later stops to say "Knock knock" before surprising and mowing down a few more.  They felt really incongruous, like an intrusion from a worse movie, and not consistent with how Dutch had been played before or after.  If he was just John Matrix from Commando, chewing scenery and spouting murderous one-liners the entire time up until the Predator appeared and humbled him, that would have been one thing, but he really wasn't.  This is the only moment where he seems like he's having fun doing this.  I wonder if those were ad libs that they didn't think to take out.  They were both very brief and close together, but they did take me out momentarily.  Not a huge deal, but something I noticed.

 

I also really liked how the team reacts to finding the first skinned bodies the Predator left behind as trophies before they have even seen it or know what is happening.  They're absolutely horrified, both by the brutality of the act and that the victims were their compatriots.  One of them even gets sick at the sight and isn't laughed off for being a wuss.  They're all genuinely disturbed.

 

Another exchange I really liked, was between Dutch and Ramirez, after Ramirez finds mangled viscera while looking for Hawkins. 

 

Ramirez (visibly shaken): Major you'd better take a look at this.

Dutch: Did you find Hawkins?

Ramirez: ... I... I can't tell.

 

And everyone acts appropriately.  No bravado, no chest beating.  Just fear.

 

It's cool watching a slasher movie with competent victims.  They're overmatched, sure, especially before they know what's going on, but they aren't stupid.   It doesn't do them much good, as any time someone has a straight up confrontation, they get wrecked.  Dutch wins by being observant, planning, and outsmarting the Predator.

 

And it's interesting that the ending isn't triumphant.  When Dutch gets on the helicopter, bloody and covered in mud, he looks like shit, barely awake, and absolutely broken.  The music is kind of somber and mournful, almost evocative of Taps.  He doesn't even talk to Anna, the only other survivor.  There's no falling action, just the helicopter flying away while the Predator theme music comes in and the credits roll.  

 

(The Predator theme, by Alan Silvestri, is awesome.)

I also really appreciate that the movie doesn't sexualize Anna.  The actress is very beautiful, but she's covered in the same amount of dirt as everyone else and neither the camera nor the characters leer at here.

 

"Something...in the trees..." - The Mood and Look

 

Overall, it's a much quieter movie than I would have expected.  Though don't get me wrong; there's a lot of gunfire.   But there's long stretches of quiet and gorgeous shots of the jungle which take on a sinister cast after you know that the Predator has a cloaking device.  Similar to The Last Voyage of the Demeter where the framing has you scanning the background at all times looking for Dracula in the dark, Predator achieves something similar in broad daylight in a very different environment.  Is it out there?  Maybe?

 

This is a pretty good looking movie overall.  There's nice, well composed, and atmospheric shots throughout.  The Predator special effects, namely its invisibility and it's thermal vision, are dated, but the shimmering invisibility is stylized enough that it still looks decent.  The thermal imaging is kind of just barely legible blobs, but it does give it kind of an alien incomprehensibility to it's POV.  The thermal vision gets hyper detailed and granular in the sequels, which is probably for the best, but I think this low-res incarnation fits the mood well here.  It's a bit unsettling, especially early on for a theoretical audience member who doesn't know what a Predator is yet or what any of this means.

 

And the actual Predator, played by 7'2" Kevin Michael Hall looks amazing.  It absolutely holds up.

 

"Been squirrely all morning" - Some Critiques

 

There are a couple of things in this that are a little racial stereotype-y or trope-adjacent and are riding maybe pretty close to the line.  (A line that Predator 2 just rolls right over, by the way.  More on that later).  The most obvious is Billy, the Native American member of the team, being the tracker and having an almost mystical connection with the wilderness.  

 

One thing I found odd is when Anna tells everyone:


When I was little we find a man - he look like - like butchered.  The old women in the village crossed themselves and whisper crazy things.  'El diablo, cazador de hombres. Only the hottest years this happens.  And this year is grows hot.  And we begin finding our men.  We find them sometimes without their skin. Sometimes...much, much worse. [...] The demon who makes trophies of men.

There's nothing wrong with the speech itself, I actually quite like it, but it's placement in the story is strange. At this point in the movie, they've already seen the skinned bodies, already lost a few men, and even already figured out that it's killing them one at a time "like a hunter."  The language is striking and dramatic, but it doesn't raise the stakes or reveal the enormity of the odds against them.  It's re-articulating what we and the characters have already seen.  It's an incredibly minor thing, but I wonder if she had said that earlier if it would have had more of an impact.  Like after they find a skinned body, but before any of the team dies, she could just say "Demonio cazador de trofoes.  Hace mucho calor este ano"  ("Demon who takes trophies... it's very hot this year") and then she could reveal the rest when pressed.  I dunno.

 

One other sort of thought experiment I had was regarding the opening shot of the movie.  It starts with a spaceship flying past Earth and dropping a capsule before cutting to Dutch's team landing at a military base.  I really like it as an opening but I am curious how the movie would change if that wasn't in there.  Does seeing the spaceship raise the tension, since you know something beyond the commandos' knowledge is out there?  Or would it be more tense if you suddenly stated seeing the weird thermal vision POV without really being sure what it was?  We should create a double blind study to test this out.

 

Conclusion

 

This was really good, I'm glad it's a seminal horror / action movie and I get why that's the case.

 

(Also, Disney - You own both the Predator and the Muppets IP.   Please make a Muppets Predator movie where the Predator is still the Predator, but everyone else is a Muppet.  Kermit could be Dutch, Beaker could be Dillon, the Swedish chef could be Billy.  "If it's stuffed, we can kill it."   Do it, you cowards.)

(Also also: I realized while watching this that there are two US Governors in it.  Tagline: Blue State Governors Fight Illegal Alien?)

Predator 2 (1990)

This one is... interesting.  It's, charitably, kind of a mess but there's a lot of good stuff in it and I appreciate the filmmakers taking some swings with expanding the universe instead of just recreating the original.  

 

Predator 2 takes place in 1997 (the future at the time) Los Angeles during, of course, a heat wave.  But it's not our Los Angeles; it's a hyper violent, gang infested, giant machine gun battles in the street, shooting down helicopters Los Angeles.  It honestly feels closer to the Detroit of RoboCop, with gleefully sensational news reporting and just so, so many squibs.  There's a scene in the subway where a gang is messing with a guy, he pulls a gun, they pull their guns, and then every other person on the subway pulls there's too.  It's bonkers.  (And was used in Frank Miller's Robocop vs Terminator comic that came out in 1992, which tells you how well it meshes with the Robocop world.)

,

The protagonist Mike Harrigan is played by Danny Glover, cast against type as an extremely aggressive loose canon cop.  His police profile describes him like this:

 

Violence prone. Obsessive/Compulsive personality. History of excessive physical force incidents. Aggression level 40% above average.

 

((And Gary Busey is in this, but he's basically a regular government guy!  If you said "Danny Glover and Gary Busey are in this movie, and one of them is an extremely violence prone lunatic and one is a straight laced government guy," I would punch you in the face when you told me which was which.))

 

Glover manages to be pretty imposing and formidable without being a Schwarzenegger type.  I never really realized how freaking big he is.  (6'4")  He does much better against his Predator than Schwarzenegger did, managing to wound it several times in close combat before finally killing it with one of its own weapons.  

 

"Would you like some candy?" - Some Good Stuff

 

I very much liked the opening shot of trees, framed like it's a forest and holding for a moment before panning up to see the skyline of LA.  Like the filmmakers are saying "Yeah, this isn't the last one.  Doing something new here."   The movie doesn't bother with mystery here; you see the Predator basically immediately, which is a good idea.  You don't have to sell the premise again, and it was refreshing seeing this play out more like a detective story rather than a slasher one.  The Predator starts wiping out the rival gangs in LA, and Harrigan and his squad are trying to figure out what is going on.

 

The Predator in an urban environment is a really cool change of pace with a lot of potential fun.

 

This movie also did a lot to expand the lore of the series and I was surprised to find that some of the stuff that I, through cultural osmosis, associated with the Predator was from this movie and not the first one.  Things like the Predator's net and disc weapons, or the code of honor which prevents it from hurting children or Detective Cantrell, who it scans and discovers is pregnant.  That last thing doesn't even mean anything in the context of this story other than as a detail about the Predator species; it has no effect on the narrative at all. And of course there's the shot that launched a new franchise: the Xenomorph skull in the Predator's ship.

 

"Your pal Keyes was running the whole show" - A Germ of Cynicism

 

I like the implication that the violence is what attracted the Predator in the first place.  There's another good seed in there when Harrigan finds that the government knows about the Predator and has been surveilling it in order to find the best way to capture it and its technology.  It isn't made explicit, but there's a troubling implication that the government could have stopped the rampage if it wanted to, but getting the Predator's stuff was more important than the lives of some Colombians, Jamaicans, and Los Angelinos in general.  

 

And by positing that violence attracts Predators, Predator 2 can be used to retroactively view the original movies' setting in 80s Central America, the site of recent messy and violent US interventions, as a statement on the complicitness of the US government in that film too.  The interventions that entangled Dutch and his men weren't just the backdrop for an unrelated Predator story; they were what called the Predator here in the first place.  (Also, it makes Anna hearing stories about the Demon Who Takes Trophies when she was a little girl sadder.  The instability in Central America lasted more than a generation.)  Predator 2, then, could be read as continuing and even escalating the first film's cynicism towards government. 

 

Admittedly, I'm not sure director Stephen Tompkins thought through any of this all that much.  Brian Logan of the Guardian quoted him (in a 1998 article titled "Some of Stephen Tompkins's films are so bad he' can't bear to watch them") saying this about Predator 2: "I'm really immature so that was a lot of fun."  (I can't find the actual article link, just the quote and reference on wikipedia.).  But either way, there's some kernels of interesting stuff here.

"Don't worry asshole. You'll get another chance." - Some Distinctly Not Good Stuff

 

Predator 2 definitely feels to me like it needed another pass on the screenplay.  It has a lot of good, or at least potentially interesting, elements in it, but it doesn't stitch them together all that well. 

 

The world does have that over the top, almost cartoonish RoboCop feel, but unlike RoboCop, it's kind of unclear what the satire is.  Or if there is any.

 

There's also a lot of dangling threads and cul-de-sacs.  For example, the Predator's unwillingness to kill a pregnant woman doesn't end up being relevant, or weaponized against it.  I'm not sure Harrigan even finds out about that.  The stuff with Harrigan meeting King Willie, the Jamaican gang leader, is given an awful lot of screen time and really doesn't matter very much.  The Predator murders Willie, sure, but... he's been doing that for like an hour now.

 

And this one *really* leans hard into the racial stereotyping.  The main combatants are rival Jamaican and Colombian gangs, and hoo boy.  It was honestly a little uncomfortable.

 

The geography, especially at the end is completely wonked.  It's really not super clear where anyone is or what things are next to each other.  Did the Predator hide its med kit in just some random apartment's wall?  Was that just luck that it ended up there after Harrigan chopped its arm off?  Is its ship just under the building?  How did they get there from the elevator shaft?  And what the hell were the rest of the government guys doing during the final fight / chase?  They just kind of vanish and reappear at the end.

 

Also the Predators coming out of the mist on the ship at end looks pretty bad.  It really stood out as the movie looks pretty solid otherwise.  Also, and I don't have a larger point here, there is an incredibly weird shot of the Predator holding up his spear in triumph on a rooftop and being struck by really unconvincing rotoscoped lightning.  I ... I don't know what they were going for there. It doesn't particularly look like it was even shot with that in mind, so... I dunno.  It was very strange, and even in a movie as occasionally (frequently?) over the top as this one it was kind of immersion breaking.

 

The acting was a little dodgy, though Glover is pretty good throughout.  It was more inconsistent than plain bad, in that the same actors in some scenes were fine and then a little... off in others.  Kind of seems like maybe a direction issue, but I dunno.  It wasn't crazy distracting or anything.

 

Conclusion

 

This is a more indulgent 80s style action movie than the one that was actually released in the 80s.  And it both feels too long and too short.  There's a lot of stuff going on that probably should have been cut, but it also could use some breathing room rather than just ramming immediately between scenes.

 

It's not great, but it's definitely not boring and, like all Predator movies, it's short.  I'd say it's worth a watch, provided you temper your expectations.  And for all it added to the franchise, it is better existing than not existing.

 

Predators (2010)

Note: this is the only one that has any reveals I wouldn't want to spoil.  So if you think youmight want to see this 14 year old movie without any foreknowledge, don't read this section.  But do watch the pre-title drop sequence, linked below. 

 

This movie has one of my favorite openings of any movie, not just in this franchise, but maybe ever.  

It's a fantastic hook, starting close in on Adrien Brody as he awakens and finds himself plummeting from the sky.   The music, the oppressive sound of the wind whistling past, and Brody's utterly convincing panic all make quite a first impression.  The parachute opens itself just barely in time and he hits the ground hard, followed immediately by a cut to the title drop.  It all happens in less than a minute.  Sold.

 

This movie is about a group of strangers kidnapped from all over the world being hunted by Predators on what they come to realize is an alien planet, a sort of Predator game reserve. This is a really cool reveal that is built to rather well.

 

There's obviously lots of intentional parallels with the first movie here, with some twists.  A competent group of people, but here they're strangers who don't trust each other.  They're stuck in a jungle, but not on Earth.  And there's multiple Predators after them.  

 

Predators is another escalation of the mythos and an interesting variation on the formula.  Obviously, three movies in, the reveal of an alien hunter doesn't carry much weight, but in Predators the scenario is such a departure from what we've seen before that there's still some surprises in store.  Unlike the previous movies, where the main characters essentially wander into a Predator's story, here they have been specifically selected for the hunt.  And this isn't just to set the plot in motion; the realization that they were chosen for this because of who they were on Earth carries implications for both how they react and how they see themselves. (More on that later.)

 

And one pervasive aspect in this film that is mostly absent in the first two is that the darkest impulses of humanity are just as much of a threat as the Predators, even after the hunt begins.

 

This movie has a lot of attention to detail, with small elements being revealing.  The alien parachutes, for example.  They suck.  If that wasn't clear from the opening sequence, shortly afterwards a man whose chute did not deploy hits the ground next to Royce (Adrien Brody) and, obviously, splatters.  It's a really small thing, but the fact that the parachutes barely work is a signal at how disposable the humans are to the Predators.  Why would the Predators spend much effort on them, if some of the humans die, they'll just get more?  It's a nice to see things that could have just been means to make the plot go actually be internally consistent with the setting.

 

I very much liked that, despite you as the audience basically knowing what's going on before they do, you are kind in their perspective; you don't get a good look at a Predator until they see one.  It manages to be played as a reveal to the characters without any pretense that the audience doesn't know what movie franchise they're watching.  I also like the idea that the Predators are experimenting with the types of people they're hunting. using commandos, cartel enforcers, soldiers, murderers etc. 

 

Also, like in the first movie, I appreciated how Isabelle, the IDF sniper, was not sexualized.  When the convict Stans says something crude about her ass, the camera does not pan down and follow his gaze.  The framing is on her face.  The camera doesn't even humor him.  The movie doesn't play it both ways, saying "Eww what a creep" but then still letting the audience leer at her.  The film correctly frames his words not as a twisted appreciation of her, but as an attempt exert power over her.  It wasn't about her ass and the movie doesn't treat it like it was.

 

"You are a good man." "No. I'm not.  But I'm fast." - Character stuff

 

Predators has the characters wrestle with who they are and what they do and what all that means in a way the first two entries didn't.  While Dutch and Harrigan's stories are purely tales of physical survival, Royce gets an actual character arc.  Not just "what do I do to survive?" but "how should I survive?"  And what means are justified for that survival.

 

The characters are a bunch of broken, messed up people.  None of them are portrayed as heroic, most have a deep ambivalence about the lives they've led and the things they've done.  The Predators not drawing a distinction between serial killers and soldiers is reflected in this ambivalence.  

 

Something that comes up throughout is the idea of retribution and punishment.  Nikolai and Mombasa both wonder if they are in Hell, and neither seem surprised they would end up there. And Isabelle, wracked with guilt over saving herself while her spotter was killed right before she was abducted, very plainly frames their plight as something they've all earned:

 

[We were chosen] because we are predators.  Just like them we're the monsters of our own world.  It's probably better that we're never going back.

 

This scene also recontextualizes Isabelle's actions up until this point.  She has seemed like the outlier in the group, unwilling to leave people behind for any reason, and willing to risk her own life to save these strangers, even the "bad" ones.  The revelation of her guilt over her spotter shows those acts to be, at least in part, an attempt at amends.  

 

If Isabelle represents guilt and self-sacrifice, the other side of the spectrum is Laurence Fishburne's Nolan.  Nolan is a survivor from an earlier hunt who has been on the reserve planet for years.  Fishburne's deeply addled performance is great and the twist that he has rescued the group and taken them to his safe house not out of charity but so he can murder them in the night and steal their stuff is both a shocking betrayal and the logical endpoint for the survive-at-all-costs ethos.  

 

Which ethos Royce will embrace, Isabelle's or Nolan's, is the core of his arc.  At the beginning, Royce is very much a cracked mirror version of Dutch from the original.  Though both of them are trying to survive, Royce is alone and doesn't care at all about who or what he has to risk.  There's no concern about his people and no sense that he would bristle at being used as an assassin or worry about his team being treated as expendable.  He won't even reveal his name and is not interested in learning anyone else's.  You doń't get much of his inner world explicitly, but to me as the film progresses Brody's performance shows him as more unwilling to humanize himself or his companions rather than just unable.  His disengagement seems to  come from a deep place of "what difference does it make after all I've done?" kind of nihilism and self-loathing.  

 

In returning to save Isabelle's life, with no utilitarian motive, he makes his choice and rejects Nolan's path.  After dodging around saying their names throughout the film, Royce's final conversation with Isabelle after killing the last Predator is a really satisfying and simple culminating moment:

 

Did you get it?

Yeah.  I'm Royce.

Nice to meet you Royce.  I'm Isabelle.

 

Some other stuff I liked

 

Coming back to the attention to detail I mentioned earlier, there are several times little things became stealth setups for later payoffs.  Nikolai showing his kids' picture seems like just a humanizing moment, but its used later as a tip that Edwin is lying when he shows it to Royce claiming they are his.  It's subtle; I wasn't even sure I was remembering properly until James pointed it out.  

 

I think in general, even the characters who weren't super fleshed out were acted with sufficient depth that they felt like more than caricatures.  Most of them gave the sense that they were being withholding about themselves, not that there was nothing there.

 

I also liked in general the tension of the ending.  Given the setup I genuinely was not sure if both Royce and Isabelle would survive.  Just given movie dramatic conventions, one of them pretty much had to live, but either would have felt earned and consistent.  

 

The final frames are kind of grim though, with Royce and Isabelle still having no way off the planet and watching more victims being parachuted in.  It ends on Royce's determined "Now let's find a way off this fucking planet."

 

Some Critique

 

The second big twist after Nolan's betrayal, that Topher Grace's Edwin was not a medical doctor but a serial killer was a cool reveal in moment, but I'm not sure squares with his actions when alone earlier.  Maybe at the end if he had faked his injury to trap Isabelle, rather than be actually injured and just... kind of getting lucky?   The motives around his reveal timing just kind of lacked clarity.  Why then?  What was his goal?  My headcannon is that he was going to offer Isabelle as trophy to the Predators, but I may be reaching.  It was good in concept and justifies why the ostensibly untrained and worthless Edwin was there in the first place.  Scene by scene the Edwin stuff was fine, I just wish it had kind of a stronger through line and retroactive continuity.  It felt stapled in as a surprise for the audience.  I don't think it was, but the film would have done well to have a little more legwork put in on him.  All told, it's a relatively minor critique, but I think it wouldn't have been hard to "fix."  I thought Topher Grace was convincing in both "versions" of Edwin.

 

And we've still got some racial stereotyping going on here, though not as bad as the last movie and sort of justified in universe here.   Hanzo isn't a Japanese man who knows how to use a samurai sword because he's Japanese, he was chosen explicitly for this proficiency he has due to his Yakuza connection.  Mombasa inherits some of the "Billy has a deep connection with the forest" stuff from the original film, but it's not as cliche here.  Danny Trejo as cartel enforcer Cuchillo was a potential yikes waiting to happen, but he doesn't stick around long enough to really do anything.

 

One other thing that Predators perhaps inherited from Predator was having a kind of unnecessary ominous "I know what this is" info dump from Isabelle, in this case referencing the events of the first movie.  Just like in the first film, this comes after everyone kind of already know what's going on.  I suppose she reveals the "mud screws up their thermal vision" thing that Royce uses later, but Nolan probably could have done that.  Just like in Predator, it was kind of a weird pause to reveal stuff that not only the audience already knows, but the characters pretty much do, too.

Conclusion

 

I really liked this one.  It escalated and expanded the Predator universe like Predator 2, but is just a much better movie.  I thought the acting was really good and the action was solid.  And though the Predator hunting dogs didn't always look entirely convincing, this is a good looking movie overall.  

 

I definitely recommend this one with no qualification.  I asked around, and I don't know too many people who've seen it, which is a shame.  

 

Prey (2022)

This is probably the only Predator sequel that would work with no prior knowledge.  This could operate as the first movie in the franchise.

 

Probably the most obvious thing to point out about this one is the setting.  It takes place in the Great Plains in the 1700s with a largely Native American cast.  Amber Midthunder is Naru, a young Comanche who hopes to become a hunter like her older brother Taabe.

 

I really liked how they handled the language in this movie.  The opening lines are Naru speaking in Comanche, followed immediately by her saying them in English "A long time ago, it is said, a monster came here."  This sets the expectation that you're going to hear the characters speak English in this, and it is to be understood that it's a stand in for Comanche.  They still sprinkle in comanche phrases here and there, which serves as a reminder that though you are hearing English, it's not actually what is being spoken.  

 

In the middle of the film, Naru encounters some white fur trappers, but they only speak in untranslated French.  Making the white characters French is a smart decision that avoids any confusion about when English is English and when English is Comanche.  Also, it's cool that unless you speak French you, like Naru, have no idea what they're saying.  It puts you in her headspace, making the interaction confusing and scary and making them feel like more of a foreign threat.   When one of the trappers, Raphael, reveals he knows some Comanche, he speaks in slow English.  

 

Prey also uses the time period in interesting ways.  For example, there's a scene where one of the Comanche is targeted by the iconic three dot laser sight of the Predator.  But since its the 1700s, no one has any context for what that could possibly mean, so he has no sense of panic or urgency as he very slowly tries to brush them off.  It does not go well.   Later the Predator leaves a bomb amidst a group of the French trappers.  They have no idea what it is, and a digital countdown doesn't mean anything to them.  It was neat.

 

This Predator certainly cheats less than the ones in the other films.  His triple dot targeting system fires homing arrows rather than plasma bursts.  I saw someone online say there's a moment early on where it analyzes the people's weaponry as a prelude to downgrading its own tools, but I didn't notice that.  It would make sense, and given in general how these movies are more subtle than they would need to be, I wouldn't be surprised if I just missed it.

 

And wow is this Predator aggressive.  It's savage and animalistic in a way that the other specimens of the series aren't really.  This one is likely to wade into a group of warriors and just take them hand to hand.  This penchant for going toe to toe gets it pretty banged up prior to the final confrontation with Naru, but even so she defeats it by being observant and using its technology and aggression against it with a clever trap.

 

(This has been a thing since Predator 2, but man Predators can tank a lot of damage.) 

 

There's some really striking scenery in this movie and the camera definitely takes its time taking in the setting, similar to the original.  Like Predator, there's some long stretches of quiet in this movie which really helps set the incredible violence in stark relief.  There's some overhead wilderness shots that definitely echo Predator and Predators.  

 

Overall this a really nice looking movie, although some of the CGI animals are a little dodgy in full sunlight, particularly the rattlesnake and sometimes the bear.  It's noticeable but isn't, like, "unacceptable" and they aren't in all that long.  The Predator looks great, and they've kind of devolved the design.  It almost looks feral. 

 

I liked how Naru's wants and needs are tied in with the Predator at a deeper level than just the plot.  It's not just that she wants to kill it so she can be taken seriously as a warrior.  She notices early on that it doesn't hunt prey animals, and she leverages and weaponizes the fact that it doesn't see her as a credible threat to gain an advantage.  The Predator conflict parallels her identity struggle among her people and she resolves both with the same skills.  She loses a straight up fight early on to one of her compatriots, and she loses a brute force fight with a mountain lion.  That's not what it means for her to be a great hunter.  It's her perceptiveness, her adaptability, and her persistence that will lead her to victory over the Predator and her skeptical kin.

 

I thought the acting was really great.  Amber Midthunder has a huge amount of screen-time and is excellent.  Her brother Taabe, played by Dakota Beavers, is both a great character and is well acted.  Pretty impressive, too, since as of this writing this Beavers's only acting role.   The interplay between all the Comanche was very natural; it really felt like they all knew and genuinely cared about each other.

 

Prey is also the first one of these movies that didn't really have any of the racial stereotype stuff.  It doesn't fetishize or over-romanticize the Comanche.  They don't all smoke peace pipes and talk about the Great Spirit constantly.  They're just people. 

 

Three Random Things that I Liked:

 

  • The scene where the Predator fights the bear while Naru hides was pretty great.  (Though, as I mentioned, the bear sometimes looks a little unreal.)  The Predator is cloaked the entire time, so Naru can't really parse what she's looking at.  The moment where, after the Predator skewers the bear then lifts it over its head, Naru finally sees what it looks like because of the bear's blood fountaining all over it was a really great image.  And Midthunder really sold the bewildered terror.  And then she runs for her life.

  • I like the petroglyph looking animation in the end credits that ends with three Predator ships coming.  The movie doesn't draw a huge amount of attention to it, but it's a nice little ominous cliffhanger.

  • I liked that the scene of Naru mourning her brother was completely silent, like her world was just emptied of everything, even sound.  Kind of reminded me of Michael's silent scream at the end of Godfather 3.  (No matter what you think of that movie, that moment is really powerful.)

 

Couple of Critiques

 

There are some slight missteps, in my opinion.  While the scene of Naru mourning Taabe were fantastic, I feel like that scene just makes it stand out how unfazed everyone is by any of the other Comanche deaths that happen.  It's like everyone knows they aren't principle characters.  It probably wouldn't have been so apparent in a movie less good than this.

 

And tying in with that, I think maybe the ending was framed slightly too triumphantly considering how many people, including Naru's brother, were murdered.  Again, in an action movie it might not have stood out to me except we have the more Pyrrhic victories of Predator and Predators to compare it too.   Naru's definitely in better shape at the end than Dutch, Royce, or Isabelle, and I think it's just a slight framing issue that made a great movie not hit as hard as it could have.  

 

I'm not sure this is actually a critique, but, man, all the wild animals in this are all incredibly, outrageously, borderline ludicrously aggressive.  Which was a little weird in a movie that is pretty grounded past the central conceit of a murderous alien.  But, I guess I could argue its a sort of metaphorical manifestation of Naru's world being a dangerous place.  Or maybe the presence of a Predator makes all the hunting animals raving lunatics?  Shrug.

Conclusion

 

This movie is also great.  I really, really liked it.  Highly recommend.

 

 

Final* Thoughts

 

So what did I learn here?  Probably that midbudget franchise genre movies can be both awesome and high quality.

 

If I were to rank these movies, I'd probably put Predator and Prey as a tie for first with Predators close behind.  For me, I rank Predators slightly lower because it's not as standalone, but I could see me waking up tomorrow and changing my mind.  I really think all three are of about equal filmmaking and storytelling quality.  They all have some small missteps, but they're different missteps, and overall they're all great.

 

Of the four movies I watched, Predator 2 is the obvious weak link, but it was still interesting and fun to watch, if not as compelling as the other three.

 

It still kind of blows my mind that a franchise without an obviously guiding hand and spanning 35 years can be so consistently good despite completely different creative teams.  Is it because they exist in some sort of creative sweet spot?  They're not super expensive and, though the first one did REALLY well, looking at box office versus budget the rest seemed to do at least ok, but not amazingly well.  It doesn't look like anyone of them completely bombed, with even The Predator and Predator 2 making back twice their budget.  (Caveats: I have no idea how much the studios blew on marketing and Prey didn't go to theaters so who knows how much it would have made.  It was really well received, though).  

 

So maybe they do well enough to justify taking a shot at one, but not so well they get tossed into the franchise IP gristle mill and bled dry?  So they don't get greenlit with a release date before there's a screenplay and people only make them when they have one they want to make.  And even though it's maybe not a crazy popular IP, it is recognizable, so studios are still willing to make new ones?   

 

I did see that there are plans to continue the Prey sub-franchise, so maybe that theoretical scenario's time is about up.  As the franchise-only-content-farm studio approach currently holds sway I guess I wouldn't be surprised to see this franchise get beat into the ground, but we'll see. 

 

There's a lot of potential for fun stories and settings here.  Feudal Japan?  Roman Empire?  Han dynasty?  Russian steppe? Louisiana bayou?  Far future sci-fi?   Cavemen?

 

Crossing my fingers.

 

Also: I recommend watching Matt Draper's Predator retrospective.  He includes the Alien vs Predator movies and The Predator, which is partially what convinced me not to bother with them.

So have fun at the choppa 

 

-m

 

 

*Bonus: Without Warning (1980)

 

Without Warning is a 1980 B-move that's often credited as being the spiritual predecessor to Predator.  I don't know if it actually inspired the story, though in an AVClub review, Tasha Robinson wrote that Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to it as the inspiration while doing publicity for Predator.  (I can't find a quote of him saying that, but I don't really have any reason to doubt it.)  

 

This is more of a traditional slasher flick, with teenagers going to a reservoir to drink and make out while an alien prowls the area for sport hunting.  It doesn't have the "Whoops a Predator showed up in my genre movie" vibe.  It has a tiny budget but somehow got Jack Palance and Martin Landau to take big supporting roles as erstwhile alien hunters.  And they're *really* committed.  Landau in particular gives a great, unhinged performance as a paranoid vet. 

 

And the directory of photography for this is Dean Condey who also did Halloween and then some other smaller films like you know... Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, The Thing, Apollo 13 etc.  (And Road House, which is one of my favorite terrible movies of all time.)

 

The making of featurette with Condey on the Blu-Ray was really interesting. He talked about how of course they knew they were making a B-movie, that it was a great learning experience, and the tiny budget led to creative problem solving.  For example, there's a lot of wide forest shots at night, and they couldn't light them the way you would a big budget movie, so they hit on using a fog machine and bouncing much smaller light setups off the fog to get some contrast even in a distance shot.  

 

There's some really cool shots in it and the score, especially at the beginning is surprisingly good.  Also, the alien is played by Kevin Peter Hall, the same man who played the Predator in the first two films.  

 

This movie was pretty fun, though admittedly it's not...great.  The character often do stupid shit, as slasher film teenagers are prone to do, and it does drag a little in parts.  It is short though at just under 90 minutes.  

 

Also, it's gross.  The alien's weapons are these living flying pancake looking disc things that have teeth and inject gooey pulsing tentacles into their victims.  They doesn't look all that real, but they are kind of disgusting and there's some goopy shots of dead / digesting bodies.

 

Check out Tasha Robinson's full review here.  She's a bit harder on it than I am, saying about 20% of it was not a waste of time.  I would probably put it closer to 60%, but nothing she says is untrue.  To me, Landau's performance alone is worth the price of admission.

 

Definitely a good one for a fun B move night.

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