Monday, April 8, 2024

Movie Review: the various Predator movies

    Ok, I admit it. I find the Predator movies to be something of a guilty pleasure.  I don't generally like horror movies, and I'm annoyed by the wildly overused space-aliens-are-automatically-malevolent trope, so my liking these silly B-movies is probably uncharacteristic.

    I mean, if I'm going to watch malevolent aliens, the Aliens franchise is just wildly better.  Yet, I still like Predator. I think it's probably because it's a reenvisioning of the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which I first read in high school English.  

    By the way - I've seen an authentic predator costume from one of the first two movies in person at a Planet Hollywood, I think when Chris and I were on our honeymoon.  Standing next to one, even behind glass? Yowza.  Pretty intimidating.  It stood about 2 feet taller than me.

    Anyway, I've gotten an idea for a short story of my own, so I've started watching the movies.  I'd only ever seen the first movie, so all of the sequels were new to me.

    Just for the sake of clarity, from this point forward, I'm going to be referring to the antagonist of these movies as "hunter," "predator" or the species name of "Yautja" (ya-OOT-cha), and not "alien." If I use the word alien, it's to refer to the xenomorphs from the Alien movie franchise (there are crossover movies, so keeping them separate is important).

Ratings follow each movie title, the number of stars out of four possible.

Predator (1987)***:

IMDb Link

This is the one that started them all. Campy, silly, a little scary (but only a little) and it features an off-worldly hunter that really is one ugly mother f----r.  Nearly everyone dies and the predator's clicking sound will forever cause shivers to go down my spine.  I will also never look at a glow stick the same way again.  The acting is merely OK, the jokes were awkward, the special effects were great for the time, but pretty crude nowadays (though still effective), but it was genuinely entertaining.    

Predator 2 (1990)**:

IMDb Link

Interestingly, this movie was released in 1990, but takes place in 1997, so technically it was (at the time) a near-future science fiction movie.  This movie suffered from too many villains (drug cartels and the Yautja, and a power-mad police captain), and the acting was mostly pretty bad and the oddly-dystopian LA didn't work as well as the jungles of central America as a setting.  I did love seeing Bill Paxton, though, and I learned that he is one of the few actors in the holy trinity of science fiction movie deaths: he's been killed by a predator, a xenomorph, and a terminator.  It was definitely not his best work though, and the costumes made me cringe (did we really dress like that in 1990??).  

I did like the ending, though, and seeing the other predators, and that xenomorph skull in the trophy case. So despite it being a worse movie, it added to the cannon in a way I really liked, establishing predator ethics (they don't kill the unarmed, nor apparently children, nor pregnant women). Now that said, with their technology, killing humans (even armed ones) is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

Alien vs. Predator "AVP" (2004)**:

IMDb Link

Like Predator 2, this one suffered from too many villains (multiple Aliens and predators and corporate interests), and this movie was made when it was stylish to make action sequences fast and hard to follow. Wait, which alien was that? Oh, was that Scar or one of the other Yautjas? I liked some of the ideas in this one - the badass predators actually enslaving an alien queen and keeping her frozen for millenia, and periodically thawing her long enough to lay some eggs and burst out of some human chests.  Though it does contradict the canon a little - This one takes place under the polar ice cap, but I thought predators liked the heat?  Not the worst of the movies, but not good either.  

... And another actor enters the holy trinity - Lance Henrikson gets killed by all three SF baddies.  Another example of predator ethics - it initially refuses to kill Henrikson's character because he's sick.  I also liked seeing the alien chest-burster with predator-features, and the teaming-up of humans and predators.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem "AVPR" (2007)*:

IMDb Link

By far the worst of the movies.  It did feature the predator-like alien that burst out of the predator at the end of the previous movie, but I think that's the only thing I liked about it.  It's another one that had too many villains. 

It also violated some horror-movie taboos which I both appreciate yet hate at the same time (I don't want to give it away, too much, but let's just say that it involves dead infants).  The movie lacked an alien queen, and so there were no eggs, face-huggers, nor chest bursters, and evidently alien drones/workers can improvise by putting sending 3 larvae down someone's throat and into their abdomen. The birth scene of the unholy triplets (or was it quadruplets?) was downright horrific.  The movie was also so damn poorly lit, it was often hard to see what was going on.    

The plot and storytelling were so unimpressive that despite seeing it only a couple of weeks ago, I barely remember anything other than the explosion at the end of the movie (that ends the threat) and the aforementioned triplets. I think this movie may have actually harmed the franchise. 

Predators (2010)**:

IMDb Link

This one was pretty intriguing. A bunch of human badasses (badasses defined as worthy predator opponents: mercenaries, special forces, drug cartel enforcers, death-row murderers, and a psychopath or two) are kidnapped and dropped by parachute into a game preserve so that they can be hunted by a group of three predators. The movie established the existence of different factions in predator society, and I liked that.  There are some odd things left unexplained by the end of the movie.  Like, how could the doctor identify the flower with the paralytic properties, given where they were?  Was Lawrence Fishburne's character speaking to a hallucination or an invisible predator?  I also liked that the movie was left open-ended, with the survivors plotting how to get home as a new set of prey was airdropped in. 

The Predator (2018)***: 

IMDb Link

I actually liked this one (though the user reviews on IMDb are overwhelmingly negative).  I enjoyed the humor (I liked Alien Resurrection because of that same comedic horror).  It reduced the number of villains, which made for better, less confusing storytelling - there were two predators, and one obnoxious human (wonderfully played by Sterling K. Brown). The acting was good, the effects were excellent (blood from a human victim dripping onto a cloaked predator rendering it visible, was a wonderful touch).  For the first time, humans manage to use predator technology and that was excellent.  I thought the 10-foot super-predator was stupid (how much would it have to eat???), and the genetic hybridization storyline a little silly.  Also silly - calling the autism spectrum the next evolutionary step for humans felt ... trite, I guess? It was the fact that the kid was a genius that made him important. So it's not a perfect movie, but the storytelling was good, and it was entertaining.

Prey (2022)****:

IMDb Link

Holy mackerel, I loved this prequel movie.  I feel uncomfortable saying this, but ... I think it's a better movie than the original (it rises above it's B-movie origins).  It actually connects back to both of the first two movies in that it was inspired by the native American tracker in the first movie, and it includes an artifact from the second. 

The movie includes two villains, the Feral Predator, and also French fur trappers, but the storytelling is good enough that it doesn't suffer for it.  Rarely was I confused about what was going on, and then only because I think the filmmakers intended for us to wonder.   

The acting was great, the cinematography and special effects were excellent, and I loved the fact that for the first time, a woman led the story (this franchise is generally pretty testosterone-laden).  This is a nice connection to the Alien franchise, where strong women are the norm.  

Another thing I liked was the character growth - the main character actually evolved and grew as the story went along, something the previous movies mostly lacked.  

Two other really nice touches: the predator technology is crude compared to previous movies (though still quite advanced compared to both the Comanche and colonial weapons the humans had available) which makes perfect sense as it takes place 300 years in the past. Predator tech has progressed, just as ours has.  And the filmmakers also gave the script to two Comanche activists who ensured it was both culturally accurate and non-stereotyped.  Definitely worth watching.

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