With so many of the most enduring cultural monoliths of the 1980s resurrected for modern audiences, the Predator the films were left in a curious state. Despite the classic status of the 1987 original, little is expected of the Predator franchise with it never having gone away and instead lived an existence in a greatly diminished capacity in search of the kind of relevance that has eluded many nostalgia-driven reboots. The collaboration with the Extraterrestrial franchise, although initially not terrible and at least managed to keep the Predator name in the ether, didn’t capture much of an audience, and neither the 2010 nor 2018 reboots managed to establish enough identity or provide enough thrills to restore the franchise to any glory. Whether Predator was going to have a place in 2022, it urgently needed a new overhaul, one that would leave the immature machismo behind.
When first announced, Prey seemed exactly that injection of innovation. Transposing the modern era setting to the pre-European settlement of the Great Plains of North America and focusing on a young Comanche woman’s quest to prove herself by tracking down a powerful predator, and with 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg in the lead, Prey promised the kind of fresh and exciting setting and perspective the franchise needed. However, expectations were quickly dampened in several ways.
For one thing, although the lead actors are indeed all bona fide Native Americans, the Comanche dialogue would be in English, an immediate blow to the film’s credibility (albeit with the ability to watch the entire film redubbed in Comanche with English subtitles). On the other hand, it would go directly to the first house, and not least by Disney! Surely a watered-down, Disney-ified reimagining of the small screen is the last thing the franchise needs. Plus, a potentially fun and inspirational new setting isn’t all you need for a great movie. So far my favorite iteration of Predator could have been the family guy The “Kramer vs. Predator” skit, and as beautifully silly as the redesign was, the contest was, predictably, brief. Whether Prey was going to restore faith in the franchise, it was going to have to get it right and move on with a great action movie.
Some of these fears were well founded, some were not. Yes, the comanche dialogue comes in English except for a few proper names, and no, Prey is not intended for viewing the interior of a theatre. However, the show hardly seems diminished, as the franchise’s tense, streamlined form has always been a plus, and the film has indeed been certified R, joining the likes of dead Pool and Logan bringing “strong bloody violence” to the Disney streaming platform.
The film holds back the bloodshed early on, however, with a fairly slow first act establishing the status quo that the alien game hunter is about to upset. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young woman yearning to prove herself as a hunter and join her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) in slaying the cougar menacing their tribe. But when she takes her dog and follows him and his companions on the hunt, she finds herself on the trail of much more dangerous game. However, aliens aren’t the only threat in store, with wolves, bears, this cougar, and more.
From there, the film takes off and does not let go of the reins. After taking its time with the preamble, it’s quick to make up lost ground, setting off one action scene after another with increasingly gnarly and gnarly results. The character work is good, establishing a strong, albeit predictable, dynamic between Naru, Taabe and their worried and ambivalent mother (Michelle Thrust) and it’s very well maintained by Midthunder who proves her mettle as a smart and headstrong heroine , but it’s both – period action that really sets the screen on fire.
The Predator’s respect for hunting and maintaining fairness was an inspired choice in ’87 and it serves the narrative even better here. The Predator’s toolbox is a little more retro and the familiar methods of fighting back are established through excellent early sequences, only to return satisfyingly during the climax, of which I’ll only say adding snow to a scene combat is such a cheat code. It’s a chef’s kiss every time. It’s also perhaps the most impressive design the Predator has ever had, with former basketball player Dane DiLiegro donning a distinctive bone helmet for the role that fits the film’s low-tech aesthetic perfectly.
In an age where every great action movie comes with a seemingly obligatory secondary order of self-parody comedy, it’s refreshing to have a reboot that avoids such flippancy, taking its characters and storyline seriously and taking the time to let them play rather than undermine them. . Prey also largely has the good taste to avoid playing too much on crude nostalgic reminders of the original. There’s an overt reference to be sure, but it makes as much sense in context as the line originally did, and Beavers delivers it like a badass. As Trachtenberg did with 10 Cloverfield LanePrey takes an established franchise plan and breathes new life into it by looking at it in a different way.
In addition to delivering a clean, action-packed sci-fi spectacle that’s genuinely entertaining, Prey succeeds in doing what these last Predator the movies failed to do it any other way: that makes me excited for the future of the franchise. Give us more of this, please! More Naru trains his tribe to defend themselves when predators return, more different societies are attacked, and let those cultures present their own version where possible! Give us Medieval Knights vs. Predator, give us Mongol Warriors vs. Predator, there are so many possibilities for this premise and each one opens up a whole host of possibilities for different stories. If any of them end up being as fun as Prey, I would be pleased.