This weekend the new Predator movie will be released, simply titled The Predator. Despite being one of the most recognizable monsters in cinema history, this will only be the fourth Predator movie, not counting the two Alien Vs. Predator films. Compared to the number of films starring the aforementioned Aliens (xenomorphs in universe) and the various slasher film series, the Predator’s outings seem relatively small. Yet somehow, the Predator has managed to endure in popular culture. So, with The Predator opening this week, I thought I’d give a brief primer on this series. I don’t think there’s really a ton of in depth analysis to give, unlike, say, the first two Alien movies. Plot wise the films are fairly simple, and they don’t have deepest characterization, but at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. At least, not to me.
Predator: The one that started it all. Released in 1987 and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his most memorable roles. This is arguably what really solidified Arnold as the mega action star we all know and love, after Conan the Barbarian put him on the map and The Terminator made him a household name. The set-up is that a team of commandos, led by Schwarzenegger’s character Dutch, is sent to Central America to rescue officials being held hostage by guerrillas. While in the jungle, they soon realize that someone, or something, is hunting them. What follows is one of the greatest action movies ever made.
Predator has several things going for it, chief among them Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite generally being typecast as big, intimidating characters, Arnold is an extremely charismatic actor, and instantly makes his character Dutch likeable. Dutch even manages to come out ahead of many of the 80s type action movie heroes in that he doesn’t just shoot anything that moves. Don’t get me wrong, he does a lot of shooting, and he blows a lot of stuff up, but he’s also observant and intelligent. At the climax, Dutch manages to defeat the Predator not by outfighting him, but by outsmarting him. Even his accent is downplayed and less obvious in Predator than it is in other movies.
The Predator itself manages to stand out among many other types of creatures both for its design, and how it acts. The xenomorphs from Aliens are intelligent, but at the end of the day they’re essentially animals, and most slasher villains tend to just be indestructible and crazy. The Predator is not any of these things. It walks on two legs, like a human, and it uses tools and weapons. At one point we see it cauterizing a wound. It’s a big game hunter going after the most dangerous game, giving it an intelligence we don’t normally see in monster movies. It also wears a helmet for most of the movie, only removing it at the climax, revealing an almost insect looking face with mantis-like mandibles. It’s an image that stays with you long after the first time you see it.
Finally, the tone. Masculinity has taken a hit in popularity these days, having fallen out of grace in modern pop-culture. Predator, however, is unapologetically masculine. Almost all the characters are soldiers with big muscles and even bigger guns. In fact, there’s only one woman in the whole movie: Ann, one of the guerrillas and the only survivor besides Dutch. Even the Predator itself is engaged in manly activities, like hunting dangerous creatures and cauterizing its own wounds without any pain killers. You don’t get any manlier than that.
Predator is very much a product of its time; this is the kind of movie could only have been made in the 80s, but that’s part of why it’s great. It knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and it doesn’t try to be anything else, and sometimes that’s all you need. Ironically, despite being recognized as one of the greatest action movies ever made (which it is) Predator received a mixed reception when it came out. It’s also the only film that I know of to contain two future governors. Piece of trivia: Everyone knows Arnold was elected Governor of California, but this film also stars Jesse Ventura, who was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1999.
Predator 2: The contested sequel. Released in 1990 and starring Danny Glover as LAPD Lieutenant Michael Harrigan, Predator 2 trades in the jungles of Central America for the urban jungle of Los Angeles. Set in 1997 during a gang war between two drug cartels, a different Predator is using the chaos to cover its hunting. Harrigan is the leader of a team investigating the cartels who cross paths with the Predator; when it kills his longtime friend and fellow officer Detective Danny Archuleta, Harrigan vows to bring Danny’s killer to justice. At first, he thinks he’s up against an assassin, but soon learns that what he’s up against is significantly more dangerous. Predator 2 received negative reviews upon release, and unlike the first film, its reputation never increased.
I like Predator 2, and I honestly don’t know why it’s so disliked. Sure, it’s not as good as the first one, but seeing as the first one is one of the best action movies ever made, that’s not really a fair comparison. Most movie sequels tend to make the mistake of just redoing the first movie, but just bigger or in a new location. Predator 2 does change the location, but the change in location makes a big difference. Instead of setting it in just another jungle, it’s now in a city that’s full of people, with a bigger risk of collateral damage. Glover isn’t Schwarzenegger, but he still does a good job of becoming a credible threat to the Predator and being a different type of character as opposed to a copy and paste of Dutch. Harrigan is smart, but he comes off as more of an everyman who knows he’s in over his head, as opposed to Dutch’s super macho commando. It’s a smart change that makes Harrigan more relatable, even if Dutch is the better character.
I also like that Predator 2 expands the lore of the Predator. This is the first film to use the spinning disks, now a staple of Predator weaponry. We also get a bit of a glimpse into Predator culture. For example, in Predator we get a brief hint that it has something of a sense of honor when it doesn’t kill an unarmed individual. “No sport,” Dutch says. In Predator 2, it picks up a female cop by the neck after it’s just slaughtered a whole bunch of people, but spares her when it’s scan reveals she’s pregnant, confirming that Predators do have some form of honor. There’s the cool scene at the climax when Harrigan sees the trophy room, which includes the skull of a xenomorph, which gave us all sorts of expanded universe lore and two movies. Finally, it’s got one of my favorite scenes in anything: Harrigan has finally killed the Predator, he’s hurt, tired, and just completely spent, when a bunch of Predators appear, encircling him. Harrigan, who is at the end of what any sane person could take just shrugs and says “ok, who’s next?” It’s a line that I’ve always found particularly relatable. Luckily for him, the Predators aren’t angry that he’s killed their comrade. Instead, they respect him for winning in a fair fight. Then the leader throws him a flintlock pistol dated 1715 and says, “take it,” implying that they’ve been coming to Earth to hunt for quite some time. Personally, I think Predator 2 is a severely underrated movie.
Predators: The most recent film came out in 2010, twenty years after Predator 2. This one starred an ensemble cast and received much better reviews. It helped that Predators was released during a summer movie season that quite frankly, sucked. However, it’s still a good film, even if it’s really weird to see Adrian Brody playing a Schwarzenegger type character. The movie begins with Brody’s character, a U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier turned mercenary named Royce, waking up to find himself parachuting into a jungle. He has no idea where he is or how he got there. He quickly meets several others who arrived in the same manner: a Mexican cartel member, an IDF Sniper, a Russian Special Forces Soldier, a Revolutionary United Forces Officer, a Yakuza, a death row inmate, and a Doctor. They quickly realize that the one thing they have in common is that all of them are dangerous killers, with the apparent exception of the Doctor, Edwin.
Emerging from the jungle, the group finds themselves looking up at an alien sky and realize they aren’t on Earth. After being attacked by large alien beasts, Royce surmises that they’re on an alien game preserve, as the prey. Eventually they encounter a Predator, as well as three much larger “super Predators,” which, based on the trailers, seem to be the main antagonist of the new movie. Anyway, after figuring out their situation, the group searches for a way off planet.
Predators is much closer to the first film in terms of feel: from taking place in the jungle, to Royce fighting one of the Predators at the end. The first movie even gets a call back when the IDF Sniper recognizes the Predator. When Royce presses her how she recognizes the alien creature, she mentions a report made by a commando who encountered a Predator in 1987 in Central America. However, Predators doesn’t just try to copy the formula, it also adds more to Predator lore, introducing the super Predators and being the only film that doesn’t take place on Earth. There’s even a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming, but really should have given the foreshadowing. Finally, Predators is the only film that has a one-on-one sword duel between a Predator and a Yakuza. And really, if you don’t want to see that, why are you even watching movies?
I’m not going to go into the two Alien Vs. Predator films, but I will say the second one is the best comedy of 2007. So that’s the Predator franchise in a nutshell, look for my review of The Predator next week.