Predator (1987)

Directed by John McTiernan

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Predator begins awkwardly, with cliche-laden, expository dialogue between muscle-bound action stars, but once the story gets going it finds its own rhythm and becomes quite fun.

A military rescue team, led by Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is tasked with rescuing a series of hostages held by insurgents deep within a South American jungle.  Later they will learn that they were lied to, by Dutch’s old friend Al Dillon (Carl Weathers) no less, and the group will find themselves paying for their own sins, in the form of a transparent alien, the “predator.”

This predator harkens back to Ridley Scott’s Alien, but rather than feeding on the main cast of characters, it kills for sport, much as humans do (and this would be much of the film’s subtext, I believe).  It is technologically savvy, and it can move through the jungle mostly undetected, tracking its prey like the best military super soldier.

The succession of violence the predator inflicts upon Arnie and company feels like a rebuttal to the excess of violence our ‘heroes’ inflict upon the insurgents in the film’s first set piece.

When they sneak up onto the compound, an enormous display of gunfire and explosions ring out, and the sequences plays out much longer than you would expect, considering the massive damage each bullet and bomb surely causes.  It’s excessive, perhaps glorified, and it’s the ‘original’ sin in some ways, an example of what humans do to each other, particularly when the playing fields aren’t exactly level.

The predator is more powerful than the American soldiers in every way imaginable.  It is more stealthy, stronger, has more firepower at its disposal, etc.  The predator, in its transparency, is at first believed by one character to be the jungle itself.  She, captured from the original compound, claims that the jungle is fighting back, defending itself from the American intruders.

This dynamic reminded me of a couple Werner Herzog jungle movies, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982).  In both films, the main characters are out of their element in the jungle, fighting the wild.  There is no ‘enemy,’ just the eventual understanding that there are some places we don’t belong.  The Predator is an extension of this.

So there is some interesting subtext here, about American operations in third world countries.  I don’t know enough to comment on it in detail, from what I understand this could be an indictment of CIA operations in countries in which America’s motivations are less heroic than the government might imply.  This pertains to missions that seek to aid a political frontrunner or even initiate a coup altogether, ultimately in an attempt to benefit America.

So the main cast of characters, the special ops team, has no business hiding out in this jungle.  We are still meant to root for them but mostly because they were lied to, meaning that Arnold still gets to be the hero, as he usually was in movies like these.

It also makes the action that much more clear, by having us side with the suddenly rag tag group of guys fighting back against the Goliath to our David.  We know who we want to win, and the film makes the enemy a faceless with motivations we can’t understand, at least until we see that he is collecting trophies (human skulls) of his victims.  This revelation makes him more than just a natural force of the jungle.  He becomes human-like in his motivations precisely because of how corrupt they are.  He doesn’t just want to survive, he wants to win.

The movie wouldn’t work if the action wasn’t entertaining, and it is, culminating in a spectacular and spectacularly silly final battle between Arnie and the predator.  By embracing the absurdity of the whole thing, the film becomes quite enjoyable, unlike (in my opinion) another silly Schwarzenegger film, 1987’s The Running Man.

Up Next: Clean, Shaven (1993), Operation Finale (2018), BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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