1987 was a good year for movies. The Untouchables, Full Metal Jacket and Good Morning, Vietnam are all masterpieces and nowadays regarded as classics. Spaceballs, The Princess Bride and Evil Dead 2 are classics too: cult classics. And then there was Dirty Dancing, a movie of questionable quality and intentions, but try to find a human female of between 25 and 50 years of age that hasn’t seen it. And Lethal Weapon and Innerspace and… I could go on for a while, but I think I have made my point: 1987 brought forth a lot of notable movies. Of course there was also Surf Nazis Must Die; not everything was glory and riches, you know. And then there was Predator.
Predator is a real classic nowadays. Ask anyone you know about great horror/sci-fi movies and Predator will come up sooner rather than later. Alien and Aliens will come up too, somewhere in the vicinity, as these movies seem to be irrevocably linked in people’s minds. (Which, if you think about it, is funny, since the first Predator didn’t have anything in common with Alien except the studio that made it.)
In Predator, an elite group of highly trained mercenaries is sent deep into the Guatemalan jungle to rescue an abducted diplomat from guerrilla forces. The mission is shady; it is clear from the outset that there is something that the CIA is not telling “Dutch” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his men. In the end there is no diplomat, only an armed-to-the-teeth guerrilla army, but that all becomes immaterial after the Guatemalan guerrillas get slaughtered to the man by Dutch and his people, who then in turn get slaughtered (almost) to the man by the Predator.
The premise sounds good, I have to admit. Aliens, the beautiful jungle of Central America, experienced fighters with occasionally quirky personalities and a premise that allows for political commentary. The result is somewhat different, I fear.
Predator is uneven at best. The writing is choppy and could have used at least one more revision. The visuals vary between unexciting and confused and do not take advantage of the glorious locations at which the movie was filmed. The acting might be one of the few redeeming features of this movie – a lot of talented people worked on Predator – but even they can not save these lines. Not always, anyway.
What is particularly disturbing, by the way, are Dutch’s one-liners. Disturbing in two senses: they seem completely out of place in the scenes they’re in, and they turn what should’ve been a highly questionable military operation into “a fun shoot’em up ride.”
A lot of stuff explodes in this movie. Dozens of Guatemalan guerrillas, shacks and houses in the Guatemalan guerrilla camp, several trees and about half an acre of jungle. And Dutch’s men, of course, from the Predator’s ray gun. (It is somewhat suspicious that the gruesome Guatemalan guerrillas don’t manage to hit even one of them, a small flesh wound on the arm aside.) The thing about all these explosions is that, at about thirty minutes into the movie, you can’t help but think: there’s only so many slow motion explosions that I want to see in my life, and I think this movie just filled up my quota all on its own.
Not that that is the only problem here. Predator goes into such a flurry of incoherent, sloppy shots whenever a fight is in progress that I really have to wonder what the hell the editor was on. Since the movie after a certain point consists almost exclusively of either fighting or running… well, it’s a bit of a problem, to say the least.
In the end everyone but Dutch and a girl named Anna that they captured in the guerrilla camp get slaughtered in some more or even more gruesome and grisly way by the Predator and Arnie is finally, after Anna has escaped, left alone in the jungle to kill the beast. He is the perfect warrior, the only one that can kill the alien, and here the movie does something right for once, because as we see Dutch slowly understand how the Predator hunts, he himself becomes more primitive, more animal-like. And just as the Predator was invisible to the humans in the beginning of the movie, Dutch becomes invisible to it in the end while its own cloaking device malfunctions, rendering the hunter visible to the hunted. And if the explanation for that last bit made any sense at all, it would be even more powerful. But it doesn’t, so it isn’t.
And that’s it. Predator, 107 minutes of incoherent running about, explosions, shouting and enough spent bullets to put Die Hard 1-4 to shame. One wonders how this movie ever managed to become a cult classic. It’s really not that special.
Moving on to Predator 2. After the relative disappointment of the original, we watched the sequel on the next day. Would it hold up to the test of time? Would the big-city setting work for or against it? And, most importantly: Predator was considered a financial success and was at least partially lauded by the critics, whereas the sequel has been trashed and reviled for twenty years and counting, but if the first one was bad… might the second one be good?
The answer to that is no. Just in case any of you were wondering. However, there is a but attached to that no: it’s not good, but it is better than the first movie.
Predator 2 suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessor. A script that could have used some more work and neverending, unexciting fight sequences. It also suffers from some typical 80s movie illnesses (yes, I know, technically 90s, but in movies just as in fashion we are often dealing with some decade-lag): comedy sequences that have no business being where they are, heavy character stereotyping and some really, really cliché performances, for example.
And then there is some stuff that can only be described as weird shit, like the scene where the Predator climbs up on a skyscraper in order to be hit by lightning. Makes one wonder if the scriptwriters had seen Highlander recently. Oh… and I forgot to mention studio stupidity leading to more weirdness. Let me explain: the movie is excessively violent, with the same, super-long action scenes that Predator suffered from, but the studio seemed to think that it was not okay to show the death of any of the main characters. The result is that the camera always just shies away from that final stab or shot, to the point where the movie becomes not only predictable but also almost comical. And why the studio thought that this was necessary, in a movie that has a bullet count of maybe 6 rounds per second, full frontal female nudity and skinned, rather realistic-looking corpses, is anyone’s best guess.
There is also good stuff, though, like Danny Glover’s acting. His portrayal of the sometimes painfully stereotypical Lt. Mike Harrigan really squeezes every ounce of quality out of the part, making the protagonist a lot more interesting than he would’ve been in the hands of another actor. Also, on a related note, it’s refreshing to see a movie that has a black guy, two Latinos and only one white dude as its protagonists.
[Note from Jonas: Roger Ebert thought this movie was racist, because we are supposed to associate the Predator with black men. So in this movie the Predator is evil because he has dreadlocks, but in the first movie it was OK, even though the Predator looked the same - the first movie also being the one where Arnie slaughters the Central American guerillas while delivering the one-liners Ebert praised. What the hell?]
Then there’s the Predator itself. I can give credit where credit is due: the scriptwriters really did well in that respect. The alien and what glimpses you get of its culture and technology are consistent (for the most part, at least; the only question is why they haven’t come up with waterproof cloaking devices yet). Things that were only hinted at in the first movie get subtly elaborated on in this one, like the Predator’s helmet/breathing mask, its weaponry and the ritualistic aspects of the hunt. And I love it that the movie at first seems to say that the Predator can only see infrared, until the Predator laughs the CIA agents in the face (briefly, before killing them all) and then shows us that the stupid humans were really silly for thinking that a spacefaring race of such capabilities hasn’t come up with a way of seeing other parts of the spectrum yet.
All in all Predator 2 is a mixed blessing. The good doesn’t outweigh the bad, but it at least serves to make this a better movie than its predecessor. That doesn’t necessarily mean much, but surely it counts for something, no?
In a way this puts the Alien vs Predator films into perspective. They have nothing in common with the genius of the actual Alien movies (the first two, that is, not the crimes against sentience that followed), but they’re not that different from Predator and Predator 2.
So let’s see how Predators turns out. I, for one, am looking forward to finding out… in a nervous sort of way.
- How Predator Should Have Ended
- Alien Loves Predator
- Predators trailer
- Predator IMDb entry
- Predator 2 IMDb entry
- Predator franchise Wikipedia entry