Along with Ripley’s ‘Aliens‘, the ‘Predator’ series was one of the big monster movie franchises of the late ’80’s/early ’90’s. The original movie, directed by John McTiernan, was a huge box-office hit and performed equally well on VHS & DVD. The problem with the movie for most people was the monster at the heart of the film. And no, I don’t mean with the toothy alien with green blood and a cloaking device.
For a lot of people, Governor Arnie was the big problem with that movie. Jim and John Thomas had written a cute little B-movie with a twist….. the hunters hunted by something smarter and fiercer than they were. Unfortunately, the lines allocated to Arnie were mangled and minced by this slab of Teutonic Teak, his companions a selection of stereotypes; the Native American, the cigar-chewing redneck, the cool black dude, the winsome local girl they end up rescuing….and of course, Arnie’s former colleague, Dillon (Carl Weathers) , who has abandoned ‘field ops’ for a suit and tie as a CIA agent.
This, of course, makes Dillon a weak link and, like Paul Reiser’s Burke in ‘Aliens’, Dillon has become a ‘suit’ and therefore, like any and all executives, inherently untrustworthy. Arnie puts him in his place at the start of the movie thanks to a comical piece of macho bullshit – a handshake that becomes an arm wrestling contest with some nice bicep-popping close-ups for the iron pumping gym crowd. Arnie soon wrestles Dillon into submission, dropping in some leaden gag about how he (Dillon) has lost his edge due to ‘pushing pencils’ in his new role.
Macho do about nothing….Arnie & Carl Weathers do the homo-erotic bonding thing in ‘Predator’
And so, on into the jungle, for a tale of mayhem and carnage. The honest ‘grunts’ have been misled as to the nature of their mission and what started as a rescue mission becomes a fight for survival, a fight that ultimately only Arnie and the girl survive. In its own way, and given the jungle locations, the screw-ups and the disinformation, the elusive ‘enemy’, the lack of leadership from above and so on, ‘Predator‘ is another of those Hollywood Vietnam allegories, retelling the story so that defeat is the fault of everyone except the dumb but honest guys in the firing line. Oh, one more thing: never trust a movie where the lead character is called ‘Dutch’.
What probably rescued ‘Predator’ was the beast itself, rarely seen until the closing minutes, but an effective enough rubber-suit beast for the time. The success of the movie ensured a sequel, which duly followed three years later. ‘Predator 2’ (again written by the Thomas boys and this time directed by Stephen Hopkins) avoided the pitfalls of a straight sequel, shifting the action to a lawless Los Angeles, where Jamaican and Colombian drug gangs are slugging it out with the LAPD in the middle of a heatwave. A mistake according to Arnie, who opted to do a ‘Terminator’ sequel instead. Grim though it is, L.A.’s meat-packing district lacks the visceral ‘otherness’ of the Guatemalan jungle. Mind you, the movie also lacks Arnie, which has got to be a step in the right direction. Danny Glover does a fair turn as the veteran cop Harrigan, who must ultimately confront the Predator. Again, we get the usual Republican/’blue collar’ schtick as Harrigan is dogged by the incompetence of his superiors and hindered by interfering bureaucrats and federal stooges. In the end, only Harrigan’s stubbornness and willingness to bend the rules sees him through. ‘Predator 2’ has a couple of good set pieces, notably one that takes place on a subway train, but the beast doesn’t translate to urban America as dramatically or as effectively as Spielberg’s tyrannosaurus did in ‘The Lost World’. ‘Predator 2’ conspicuously failed to match the success of the original movie at the box office and among the critics. It made its costs back but failed to show much of a profit, so that seemed to be it for the Predator.
For now, I’m going to pass by the whole ‘Alien vs Predator’ subfranchise and jump straight to this year’s ‘Predators’, directed by Nimród Antal and based on a storyline written by Robert Rodriguez as far back as 1994.
Just a warning before I continue – what follows contains ‘spoilers’, so if you plan on watching ‘Predators’ and don’t want to know what happens, stop here.
Twenty years have passed since ‘Predator 2’ and science fiction movies (in particular) have benefitted from developments in CGI technology since the last Predator movie was made. Despite the possibilities this could offer, ‘Predators’ essentially revisits the ‘Agatha Christie’ school of movie making; an ensemble cast who get bumped off one by one, until only the hero and heroine are left and the door is left wide open for a sequel. 2010’s ‘Dutch’ is actually called Royce and is played by Adrien Brody; about as far from Arnie as you could get. Brody has won an Oscar for his acting but the storyline and script makes it highly unlikely that he’ll be winning another here.
As in the first movie, ‘Predators’ offers us the usual mish-mash of stereotypes as Royce’s companions – this time a Yakuza hitman, a sexy Israeli sniper-ette, a mystic black African warrior, a grizzled Mexican enforcer, a trailer trash psychopath and a beefy Russian. Mystifyingly, there’s also a character who appears to be a standard American doctor with no appreciable military skills at all. All of this disparate group have been plucked from their daily round and awaken to find themselves parachuting down into a forested planet which turns out to be nowhere near Guatemala, but is in fact a kind of ‘game reserve’ run by the Predators rather as we might run a Safari Park.
Adrien Brody in ‘Predators‘..”I must think tough, I must think tough, I must think tough…..”
Royce clearly seems to have a background in what are referred to in an offhand way as ‘black ops’, which apparently has nothing to do with power cuts in hospitals, but is shorthand for murky extra-governmental espionage and SAS-type missions that go on beneath everyone’s radar. Royce quickly assumes the mantle of top dog in this motley crew, who bond together for no discernible reason and despite the fact that none of them have ever met. There is no military chain of command here and though Royce seems disinclined to lead them, they nonetheless follow him like a flock of loyal sheep until he assumes ‘command’.
I’m sure I don’t need to catalogue the thinning of the collective ranks by various violent means; we’ve all seen this kind of thing before. Along the way, the group encounter a particularly unpleasant pack of extra-terrestrial horned canines , who attack them. Despite having enough lead fired at them to re-roof most of Britain’s cathedrals, the pack are not disheartened one bit and keep attacking until finally called back by an unearthly whistling noise emanating from their Predator masters. The group also encounter a rather portly Laurence Fishburne, a semi-deranged survivor a of a previous parachute drop, who doesn’t survive much longer and seems to add little to the narrative flow.
In the end, the nice guy doctor is revealed as a psycho and gets his comeuppance whilst Royce uses Arnie’s old smearing himself with mud thing to see off the Predator threat and save the girl. As they walk off into the forest, another set of victims are seen parachuting in. Cue sequel(s).
‘Predators’ isn’t actually a bad movie per se, but it could have been so much better. Brody does OK but doesn’t really convince as this year’s Captain Macho. As for the storyline, at times the exposition is fuzzy and ill-defined and we don’t actually learn that much more about the Predators themselves. Robert Rodriguez has suggested that planned sequels will develop the plot to reveal more. Jam tomorrow, then.