It turns out that the path to a perfect Predator sequel was in front of us this entire time.
Way back in 1990’s Predator 2, once the utterly batshit actioner had finally run it’s course and the multitude of hyperbolic uppers coursing through its system finally dissipated, LA cop Mike Harrigan is given a trophy by the head of a Predator clan as a reward for besting one of their number in mortal combat. The trophy is an ancient pistol with the date 1715 inscribed on it and the second Danny Glover read that date out on screen, producers and writers should have been scrabbling to make every Predator movie since a period piece.
It’s taken a while (32 fucking years to be exact), but after a franchise that’s seen itself strain to become as needlessly complicated as it can by shoving Xenomorphs, rival clans and Preds jacked up on genetically altered body mods, we finally have a sequel truly worthy of the 1987 original.
It’s 1719 and young Comanche female Naru is desperate to prove herself to the young hunters that constantly sneer at her attempts to join their number by hunting something that can hunt her back. Her brother, Taabe, is something of an MVP within the tribe due to his hunting prowess, but while he tries to be supportive, he too feels that his sister’s talents lay more in medicine than mauling, but still gives her respectful leeway whenever she sneaks off to practise with her throwing arm. However, in a clear case of “be careful what you wish for”, an alien hunter has touched down on earth and has decided to go on a blood soaked safari excursion all across the Northern Great Plain as it picks off various examples of wildlife in an ascending level of threat and thanks to Naru also being a talented tracker, she starts to get a distinct sense of the heebie jeebies while she joins expedition to find a comrade wounded by a lion. Her trepidation is seen as cowardice by her peers and even though Taabe allows her to tag along for the hunting of the lion and even follows her plans to trap it, the fact that she is accidently rendered unconscious while her superstar brother gets the kill makes he seem even less worthy than before.
This proves to be the last straw and Naru gathers her weapons together and targets a bear in order to prove her mettle, but large, snarling bruins are the least of her problems when her kill is taken down, with hand to hand combat no less, by the alien, who seems her unworthy of killing.
As she heads back to her tribe to warn them of the predatory being that’s not only hella strong, but has an array of gadgets to make its mountainous ass even more lethal, Naru has to use her unheralded talents to avoid various obstacles in her path, but when men from her tribe and a small army of murderous French trappers seem incapable of slowing his hunter down, Naru realises that it may entirely down to her to stop this predator in its tracks.
If I’m being truly honest, I’ve genuinely never met a Predator sequel I didn’t hugely enjoy on some level, but even I would have to admit that the Predator’s sequel output hasn’t exactly connected with audiences the way I would have hoped. The main problem, time and time again, seemed to be that such filmmakers as Stephen Hopkins, Nimrod Antal, Paul W.S. Anderson and Shane Black were doing everything they could to push the franchise forward somehow with incredibly mixed results, however 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg has decided to regress matters (by around 300 years by my count) by forsaking the urge to go bigger and louder and instead chooses to narrow the focus to go far bolder that the franchise has ever attempted before.
The shift to a gritty period piece more in line with The Revenant or Apocalypto means the franchise can remain refreshingly subtle while still taking big swings and weirdly enough, it seems that the thing that’s been holding the franchise back for all this time is the repeated attempts to recreate the exaggerated, 80’s machismo of the original in times when such a tone felt noticably dated or out of place. Removing all the sweaty masculinity from a Predator movie initially sounds intrinsically wrong, but within five minutes of meeting Neru (a star making turn by Legion’s Amber Midthunder) we are utterly caught up in her tale and probably the best compliment you could give Prey is that it still would be an engrossing watch even if an intergalactic trophy collecting space bastard didn’t start tearing up the place.
Also taking pride of place is the placement of First People as the leads as the film treats these people and their culture with incredible respect (especially for a genre film) that enhances the story way beyond its “kill the monster roots” into something much richer than the franchise has ever enjoyed before.
Still, despite the fact that Tachtenberg has decided to shoot what is essentially Predator 5 in the stark, gorgeous manner of Terence Malick (Prey is undoubtedly the most beautifully lensed Predator movie in existence), he thankfully hasn’t forgotten that the franchise comes with a certain level of expectation and despite the fact that this is the series stripped back to almost beyond its roots, rest assured this very much is still a full bloodied Predator movie.
The action is violent, bloody and unquestionably cool (Naru’s tomahawk-on-a-string is moan inducingly awesome) and Tachtenberg’s devolving of the fan favorite creature produces a more nightmarish feral version of the beast and its death dealing tech than we’ve ever seen before and to see it churn through a battalion of ragged trappers like a dose of laxatives gives the Preds familiar moves a nifty new twist.
Any real issues? No, not technically, but if I’m being petty, a sizable amount of visual impact is lost due to the movie debuting on streaming (it’s the Northern Great Plains for God’s sake) and even though Sarah Schachner’s score is sublime, that pesky, pedantic, Predator completist inside of me yearned for some form of Alan Silvestri’s original fanfare – but rest assured, my issues are plainly that. My issues.
This long overdue overhaul of everything the franchise is, from the breathtsking visuals (The Predator’s chamo tech glitching orange as ash turns everything around him grey), to the seamless, yet refreshing focus on a race of people previously underserved by Hollywood, all feels insanely invigorating and there’s a real sense that this could be a major turning point for the franchise wherever direction it chooses to go.
While there’s a subtle door left open for a sequel (pay close attention to the crude drawings seen in the credits), the Predator is finally free to hunt wherever it wants; be it a rematch with the Neru and her Comanche tribe, or a trip to an entirely different time period altogether (imagine what could be done during a World War, or Feudal Japan, even the fucking stone age), but whatever the future – or past – has in store for pop culture’s favorite alien hunters, pray they’re more like Prey.