‘Predator’ Review: Somehow, Men Doing Macho Things Still Works
I have a confession to make: When I watched Predator for the first time, I approached the 1987 classic with the false assumption that I would be watching Alien, but with a different title and different extraterrestrial creature. (I know, it’s sinful for a TV/film writer to live in such ignorance.)
After Hawkins’ (Shane Black) eye roll-inducing pussy joke and that shot of Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Dillon (Carl Weathers) famously flexing their outrageously huge, sweaty arm muscles, I realized I clearly had no idea what Predator is actually about, which is manly men doing macho things, like flexing unreasonably huge muscles, blindly rapid-firing their guns, and delivering cheesy one-liners, all while battling an invisible alien in full body armor. Let’s be honest: it has no business being as good as it is.
A Classic Action/Sci-Fi Genre-Bender
Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard) and written by Jim and John Thomas, Predator has long been considered a classic in both the action and science fiction genre, despite having been met with mixed reviews upon its initial release in 1987. A blend of sci-fi, action, and horror, plus a heaping dose of muscle, Predator follows a simple narrative: Vietnam War veteran Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, played by Schwarzenegger in his super muscular prime, is hired by the U.S. government to rescue a foreign cabinet minister and his aide from insurgents. Dutch enlists the help of his team (many of whom, unsurprisingly, are also muscular men), including CIA Agent George Dillon, weapons expert Sergeant Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura), expert tracker Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), Sergeant Mac Eliot (Bill Duke), mercenary Jorge “Poncho” Ramirez (Richard Chaves), and radio operator/pussy joke enthusiast Rick Hawkins. When Dutch and his team land in Central America and stumble upon three skinned corpses in the jungle, they quickly realize that there is something much more sinister at hand. Their rescue mission rapidly turns into a bloodbath as one by one, an invisible, extraterrestrial threat hunts down Dutch and his team for sport.
Predator is the perfect ’80s action film because it doesn’t ask for much from its audience. The plot is as simple as it gets: a team of highly trained special force ops fight for their lives in the jungle against a hidden assassin. There are pointless explosions, endless scenes of sweaty, muscled men blindly shooting at absolutely nothing, bellowing out nonsense (“Come on! Kill Me! I’m here! Do it now!”), and classic action one-liners that will live on in your lexicon for eternity (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) In short: it’s mindless, pointless fun. Does it age well? Not exactly, but that’s part of the fun.
Man vs. Monster
It may be packed to the brim with cheesy dialogue and corny ’80s action tropes, but at its core, Predator is a film about pure survival. According to the late Kevin Peter Hall, who played the Predator in the first two films, Predator was a survival story both on and off-screen. From battling extreme humidity, not to mention while wearing heavy tactical gear (Hall’s costume specifically weighed over 200 pounds), to fighting traveler’s diarrhea due to their hotel’s faulty water purification, most of the cast and crew had to adopt a real-life survivalist mindset while making what would become known as one of the most iconic sci-fi/action films of all time. There is something to be said about the dedication of the cast and crew, who seemed to suffer as much off-screen as they did on. The knowledge of the obstacles the cast and crew had to endure behind the scenes enhances the viewing experience just that much more.
The film tackles an age-old theme of man versus monster, but does so in a way that creates a strangely perfect balance between action, science fiction, and even a dash of horror. The entire film takes place in the jungle as each man gets ticked off one by one, raising the stakes for the film’s macho protagonist, who is clearly meant to be the epitome of human strength. Will humankind’s champion be able to face off against an unseen supernatural assailant? According to the screenwriters, their intent in the film was to “strip away elements of the modern, organized world,” forcing Dutch to prove that humankind can still reign supreme over a technologically advanced alien species. What makes this human versus alien face-off particularly thrilling is the fact that even though the film’s titular antagonist actually only gets about eight minutes of screen time, he still manages to dominate the film. And let’s be honest: the creative choice to give the monster a measly amount of screen time in a monster film can often flop if not done the right way. Predator does it the right way.
Throughout the film, we hear the unnerving clicking and gurgling sound of the Predator, originally thought up by Peter Cullen who did the vocal effects for the film. (As a fun fact, Cullen was reluctant to take the job after injuring his throat playing King Kong in 1976, but he eventually took the role after seeing a picture of the Predator unmasked.) Before we even get our first real glimpse of the Predator, we see through the Predator’s point of view, who sees the men in thermal vision and infrared vision. Even though we can’t see the Predator yet, it’s clear that this is no man, but a beast hunting its prey. To make it more terrifying, this mysterious creature clearly has different vision modes, which makes it an even deadlier foe. The combination of hearing that distinctive gurgling and watching the action through the alien eyes of the Predator not only raises that spine-tingling suspense, but also makes it that much more satisfying when the creature is finally revealed. And that reveal is certainly no let-down: that is one ugly motherfucker.
Predator moves at a lightning fast pace, the special effects (for the time) are superb, and the film ends with Schwarzenegger kicking an alien’s ass. For an ’80s action flick, what more could you ask for?