Watching the predators

PREDATOR (1987) is a surprisingly good film and an interesting one in that it’s a perfect mash-up of a 1980s action film with an alien monster SF film. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) heads a rescue team (including future governor Jesse Ventura and future director Shane Black) that Dillon (Carl Weathers) has assigned to bring back a Central American diplomat and US ally captured by guerillas. Unfortunately an alien hunter (as the later The Predator points out, it’s not really a predator) has arrived in the jungle looking for sport and look who he stumbles across!

For the first 40 minutes or so, this is a 1980s action movie. Like the 1951 The Thing, the manliness of the leads is a given, but it’s more emphasized. For example, when Dillon and Dutch meet, they joshingly arm-wrestle and the camera lingers on their bulging biceps (a few years later, Independence Day would be much more self-conscious about having Bill Paxton and Jeff Goldblum prove their manliness). And in contrast to The Thing, where the military leaders are simply clueless, here they’re duplicitous — it turns Dillon has brought Dutch into a dirty job he’d have refused if he’d know the details. It reminds me a lot of Rambo — fake mission, and the climax has Dutch, like Rambo, forced to rely on primitive man-traps and bows and arrows rather than modern tech.

It’s also a good SF film: the alien hunter feels like an individual rather than just a monster, particularly in the climax where it goes up against Dutch one-on-one. “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

PREDATOR 2 (1990) proves the alien hunter inserts just as well into a “copaganda” film about urban warfare as it does into the first film’s action movie tropes. It’s 1997, there’s open warfare on the LA streets (originally NYC, which is why Los Angeles has a subway in one scene), with gang-bangers and drug-dealers blowing up cop cars and laughing maniacally. Danny Glover and his team (including Maria Conchita and Reuben Blades) struggle to keep up but they’re outgunned, tied up with red tape and get no help from careerist superior Robert Davi or sensationalist reporter Morton Downey Jr. In the tradition of Dirty Harry, only the tough guy on the street can save us (in Seeing as Believing‘s analysis, this would definitely be a right-wing film). Then an invisible monster starts hacking up the crooks, and Gary Busey and Stephen Baldwin take over Glover’s investigation to catch the Predator for its advanced tech. The cliches of cop action films don’t work as well for me as the first film did, and I dislike that the Predator is using its voice-replication tech (introduced but hardly used in Predator) to snap out a one-liner here and there. “That’s right lieutenants — otherworld life-forms!”

Given the history of rebooting franchises with crossovers, it’s surprising ALIENS VS. PREDATOR (2004) took so long to come to the screen, especially given the set-up in 2 (an Alien skull in the predator’s trophy case) and the Alien vs. Predator comic books. A millionaire’s pet science team discovers a lost city under the Antarctic ice (a Lovecraft tribute? — though I’ve also read this was to explain why nobody in Alien was aware the creatures existed). It turns out it’s a Predator base from which they did the Gods From Outer Space bit, then bringing their human worshippers to the city to infest with Alien larvae, from which grow creatures it’s a real challenge to hunt. Now the humans are down there, the face-huggers are trying to implant them and the Predators have shown up (it strikes me using humans this way makes the Predators more evil than when they just hunted us). The movie is no match for the original, and I’m not one of the fans who cares about this clash of titans — still, it’s watchable. “We’re in a big-game hunt — the animals that are hunted don’t arm the hunters.”

ALIENS VS.PREDATOR: Requiem (2007) works slightly better as the clash between the races lands in a small Colorado town where a female military veteran must try to keep her family alive in the chaos. Competent monster stuff, no more; it’s another movie where the military’s willing to nuke our own cities to take out the enemy. “The military’s first choice is containment.”

THE PREDATOR (2018) feels like a soft reboot of the franchise: the Predators are now stealing DNA from us (something they do to worthy prey species) and may be plotting to colonize once global warming heats things up to the level they like. Target of their latest DNA harvesting is an autistic boy because autism is The Next Step In Evolution. Despite being directed by Shane Black of the original film’s cast, this did absolutely nothing for me — but I didn’t expect it to. That means I’ve seen everything except a 2011 take, Predators, but I can probably do without it. “That’s not a predator … what you’re describing is more like a bass fisherman.”

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Filed under Movies

7 responses to “Watching the predators

  1. I remember seeing the first Predator in the movies. That is a blast from the past. Sounds like they all have devolved from there.

  2. As often happens with series.
    I caught Predator on cable a few years after it came out, and was surprised it wasn’t just a mindless action flick.

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