The Predator Series Review: Now You See It

In the mid 1990’s I spent the weekend at my dad’s house. I can’t remember the exact year, I can’t remember my exact age – probably a little too young – but one thing I do remember is Bill Duke’s head getting splattered all over the screen. Carl Weathers arm getting blown off. Jesse Ventura speaking but not understanding a word – what the hell is an Alabama tick? Arnie backing up to the roots covered in mud. And the Predator! I surely remember that ugly mutha. My dad wasn’t the strictest guy around. He’d let me wander over to the supermarket by myself and book up whatever I wanted. I went to the pub to play two-up (thanks for the radio, bartender), and he even once paid me $20 an hour to be quiet while he was having some drinks with mates – I was pretty happy to walk away over $100 dollars richer – and he let me watch all the movies I wanted.

Or didn’t want. I really wasn’t too keen on Candyman back then. Actually, the one movie he didn’t let me watch, was Jurassic Park. I’d seen it at least 5 times by then and he was really sick of it. But then I started crying in the middle of the video shop – so he got it for me. It’s where I get my love of movies. Action in particular – I always watched action movies with my old man, he’s gone now, and sitting down and watching and old school action movie reminds me of him. Predator is the first action movie I remember watching – so in anticipation of “Shane Black’s The Predator” – I have decided to revisit the film that started it all – and its current sequels.

Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Predator was released in 1987 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, Carl Weathers as Dillon, Bill Duke as Mac, Jesse Ventura as Blain and ironically Shane Black as Hawkins.  Kevin Peter Hall, after taking over from Jean Claude Van Damme, stars as the Predator.

The film is about a team of Commandos – led by Dutch – that are given a mission by CIA agent Dillon to retrieve hostages from the Central American jungle, but instead find themselves hunted by an extra-terrestrial warrior. The premise for the film is simple. So simple. Nowadays there’s so many complicated twists and turns in action movies you can’t keep up and by the time you find out who the bad guy is you really don’t care any way. Gone are the days where Commandos just blow shit up and maybe think about asking questions later. Movies like the 1999 Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich starrer Chill Factor and the 1998 Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater vehicle Hard Rain marked the end of such films – for me at least. I’m not saying at all that I don’t like The Bourne Identity – but after that film, action movies were changed forever. Just like super hero films after Batman Begins.

The performances in Predator were great. Arnold, as always, is on point and got the best one liners – from “stick around” right after nailing a guy to a timber post with a huge knife to the extremely famous line “if it bleeds, we can kill it”. There’s also a great moment when Dutch first see’s old friend Dillon and they shake hands for the first time. The old who-can-grip-who-tighter-and-for-how-long game reveals two massive biceps, of course Arnie’s is bigger and wins the contest. From that moment on the testosterone levels run high, fuelling the non-stop action. Carl Weathers as Dillon is also great. Given the shape Weathers is in it is almost hard to imagine that not even ten years after Predator, Weathers plays and old man in Happy Gilmore. Overall, this is a perfectly cast film.

Director John McTiernan outdoes himself here. Predator is the pinnacle of late 80’s/early 90’s action. It didn’t become the pinnacle by accident though, McTiernan’s skilled direction helped make it happen. The scene where Arnie falls down the waterfall, surfaces and then covers himself with mud is as amazing as it is iconic. As is the moment where Arnie is silently lying in the trees, waiting for the predator fall into his trap, only to have the alien crawl right over top of him is equally great. McTiernan manages to build up tension almost from beginning to end, with the moment the team discovers Hopper and his teams bodies creating a mood that sets the characters on edge.

The next part of the film that is amazing is the location. The jungle is the perfect location for this film. It looks hot, miserable, thick, and horrid. Trekking through the jungle in intense heat, holding big guns, and lugging heavy back packs around is bad enough. But when you then have to defend yourself against an invisible enemy in a thick jungle – things can get really bad.

The Predator does not let up, not once. This is a perfect example of fast paced science fiction action. If you like action movies, you’ll love Predator. It’s as simple as that.

Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas

Predator 2, however, takes a different path. Directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost and the Darkness, The Reaping and Lost in Space) and starring Danny Glover (we all know who he is) Predator 2 was released in 1990, and oddly set in 1997 in gang war-torn Los Angeles.

Danny Glover plays Lt. Mike Harrigan, a cop in one of the roughest parts of Los Angeles. His team is made up of three others – Leona (Maria Conchito Alonso), Danny (Ruben Blades), and fast-talking young gun Jerry (an entertaining Bill Paxton). Harrigan and his team are out every day fighting the gangs, but they start to notice that the gang members are beginning to wind up dead in some extremely uncivilized ways. While at first appearing to be a new rival gang, Harrigan quickly realises that something else is on the loose after his team starts to get picked off. Rather than sit back and wait for his entire team to fall, Harrigan picks himself up and takes the fight to what he soon finds out to be an extra-terrestrial. A Predator. Enter F.B.I. Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) and a huge showdown gets underway.

Danny Glover manages the role quite well, he’s clearly not too old for this shit – whoops, wrong franchise. He plays Harrigan with ease. As we all know, hot weather can bring out a bit of craziness and this is surely true, as 1997 Los Angeles is very hot. Harrigan is in a craze to find out who is hunting his team as well as annihilating gang members left, right and dead centre. Glover portrays this intent and rage well, nothing is going to stand in his way. Not even a Predator. Alonso and Blades provide some great backup but neither have real stand out moments. The real scene stealer is Bill Paxton with his loud, quirky accent, quick wit and dirty humour. I was rather upset when his character had his spine ripped out of his body. Gary Busey as Keyes is well…Gary Busey – I feel that sort of explains it enough.

Jamaican born and Australian raised Stephen Hopkins clearly has a rough time directing the film. To begin with, the film seems very low budget, although according to IMDb it had a budget of $35 million, which I would assume is pretty big for when it was filmed. The sets are very basic – old buildings, alley ways and subways are about the gist of it. The editing and continuity is often poor, for example in one scene, the Predator throws his spear at Harrigan and it flies past him into the building. Harrigan then runs to get the spear which is in a different spot to where it was thrown.

In saying that, Predator 2 was not a terrible film, but it was only half as good as its predecessor. The pacing of the film was quite good, there was action throughout the entire film, there were plenty of guns and a lot of violence. It was actually quite relentless. The subway scene was easily the best scene in the film though, unfortunately it resulted in the death of the best character.

It also made no sense to set the film seven years into the future. Nothing about LA looked futuristic, the weapons weren’t any different. The cars, the buildings – nothing. Maybe the film was just predicting climate change by setting it so hot in the future. The urban setting also let it down. One of the major drawer cards, in my opinion, for the first Predator, was the jungle setting. Having to use the terrain and the surroundings to defeat the alien really brought the location into the movie. A decaying, urban jungle, Los Angeles really had nothing to offer.

After all is said and done though, Predator 2 is an ok movie. The best thing about the simplistic action movies of yesteryear is that you can have all of these little continuity issues, budgetary constraints and acting flaws and it really doesn’t take that much away from the movie. Because all anyone cared about was blood, guts, guns and explosions.

Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas

2010’s Predators takes it back to the jungle setting. Just on an entirely different planet. It’s directed by Nimrod Antal who brought us the 2007 unflinching escape room thriller Vacancy, which starred Kate Beckinsale. Predators is a completely different kettle of fish though. In it, a group of Predators have abducted an entirely diverse group of eight human killing machines to hunt on a planet referred to as a “game preserve” by an extremely, and I know how unlikely this sounds, buffed up Adrian Brody.

Brody plays Royce, an ex-military man and current mercenary. He is joined by Isabelle (Alice Braga), Sniper and likely CIA agent, Medical Dr. Edwin (Topher Grace), death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), and a few other random soldiers from different parts of Earth.

I loved Brody as Royce, I thought his casting was absolutely perfect. He was able to bring a bit of coldness to the role, a bit of swagger and again, as unlikely as it sounds, after putting on 11.33 kg of muscle, a bit of toughness. While he didn’t get any great comedic one liners, his delivery of “I’m not, but I’m fast” was amazing – you wont get what I mean by reading this, but if you watch the scene, it was cool. Braga was also great in her role, she is tough and smart, but as is so often with female characters, not heartless. While Royce is willing to leave everything and everyone to survive, Isabelle would much rather save lives – I would have preferred that she was just as ruthless. She did remind me in parts of Ripley from Alien though – perhaps because of her characters fearlessness.

Topher Grace’s character is a little less appealing – in fact, he’s down right annoying. I really don’t believe his character made any sense whatsoever. While he is, I’m assuming, a serial killer on earth, he clearly isn’t the type that goes around with guns etc, how would the predators know to take him? His character was a waste of time and space and was only put in to add a little twist at the end, which almost any other, better written character could have done. Another standout cast member though is Walton Goggins, he is a fantastic actor, as witnessed by his Boyd Crowder character in Justified which was amazing. I’ve never seen him turn in a bad performance. My only issue was (and I’m assuming he didn’t plan these lines) the jokes about rape that his character made. I am not a big fan of making light about that subject. Laurence Fishburne also makes an appearance as Noland, a survivor of previous hunts. He’s adapted to his surroundings and is able to provide a temporary shelter to the group. His performance is pretty good, especially as he’s a bit loopy after spending two years as an alien on an unfamiliar planet, making the conversations that he has with himself great.

I really liked that the film was set on another planet, we get to see different examples of the Predators technology and different tactics that they use although throughout the film they seemingly mimic tactics from Earth, which was a bit uninventive. The Predators in the film looked really good too. They’ve looked good in all of the films, thanks to Stan Winston’s great creature design, but with evolving technology, skills, and experiences, 20 years after Predator 2, they look even more amazing. We were also introduced to another two species, another alien species that was being hunted – which is designed similar to the original suit that Jean-Claude Van Damme wore before exiting the first Predator film in 1987. And a type of hunting dog that the Predators used to split up the humans and bag their first prey. They were really cool, although underused.

Predators is well paced, but a touch slower than the previous two films. Even with a little less action, it was still quite good. Not as good as Predator but definitely a step up from Predator 2. Royce’s showdown with the final Predator at the end was a great, so it ended on a high. It was great to see such a diverse cast used as well. Predators is a well paced action film which fits well with the franchise and certainly leaves it open for many more other world adventures.

Director: Nimród Antal
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga
Writers: Alex Litvak, Nimród Antal

Travis Akbar

Travis grew up on the west coast of South Australia and has been interested in film since seeing Jurassic Park and Predator for the first time in the mid-nineties. Particularly fond of the action and thriller genres, he met his long-time idol, Jean Claude Van Damme, in 2016, talking with 'the muscles from Brussels' about his upcoming films and the hurdles he has faced in the entertainment industry. Some of his favourite films include Jurassic Park, The Salton Sea, Apt Pupil and Any Given Sunday. Travis loves the way a film can make people feel such a diverse range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to fear and sadness. He believes that creativity is what helps the world evolve and that the arts, is the centre of creativity.

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