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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The 35 Year History of the ‘Predator’ Franchise

You don’t need me to tell you how good Predator is. 35 years later, it holds up as one hell of a great genre-bender. Right before helming Die Hard, John McTiernan effortlessly blended testosterone-fueled action, horror, and science fiction. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name appears as big as the title, but, as the sequels proved, the titular creature (or Yautja, if you want to be formal) — one of the coolest practical monsters of the ’80s and beyond — is the real star of the show.

The original classic grossed over $98 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $15-18 million, and the Predator franchise was born. With its fifth installment, Prey, arriving this week, I’d like to remind you that all three previous sequels are Good, Actually.

Predator writers Jim & John Thomas returned to pen 1990’s Predator 2, reportedly delivering the first draft in a mere three weeks. Rather than repeating themselves, the sequel transplants the action from an actual jungle to an urban one. It was somewhat of a bold choice, as most sequels at that time stuck to the tried and true formula. Stephen Hopkins, coming off of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, assumed the director’s chair.

Set in 1997, Los Angeles is suffering through a heat wave while its streets are overrun with gang violence. The last thing LAPD Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) needs is for anything else to go wrong, but he soon finds himself protecting his city — nay, humanity itself — from an extraterrestrial warrior (Kevin Peter Hall, reprising his role from the original) that’s killing its citizens; law enforcement and gang members alike. To make matters worse, mysterious government agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) blocks Harrigan’s investigation with his special task force.

Predator 35th

The initial concept called for Schwarzenegger to return, but salary disputes prevented that from happening. Patrick Swayze and Steven Seagal were approached for the role that ultimately went to Glover, with whom producer Joel Silver had previously worked on Lethal Weapon. Glover is essentially playing a slight variation of his Lethal Weapon character, Murtaugh, so it’s no surprise that he’s in top form.

The Lethal Weapon reunion also includes Busey, once again cast as the bad guy that audiences love to hate (although he’s considerably less diabolical in Predator 2), and Steve Kahan, playing another law enforcement official. Bill Paxton (Aliens) brings his unparalleled vigor with a side of comic relief as a new detective working with Harrigan, whose team also includes Rubén Blades (Fear the Walking Dead) and María Conchita Alonso (The Running Man). Robert Davi (The Goonies) plays the police captain.

In true sequel fashion, Predator 2 admirably attempts to up the ante with a wider scope, bigger action, more gore, and additional Predators. It may not be as rousing as the original on the whole, but there are several strong action set pieces, from the opening fire fight to the over-the-top climax. It also expands on the Predator’s mythology, including the revelation that they’ve been visiting Earth for centuries.

Because the Predator in this film is not the same one from the original, special effects legend Stan Winston (who also designed the first Predator) took the liberty of giving it a subtle facelift. General audiences are unlikely to notice any differences yet they are apparent to fans, much like how any Halloween die-hard can identify each sequel based on the Michael Myers’ mask.

Underperforming with $57 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $20–30 million, Predator 2 is the lowest grossing installment in the franchise — but we all know box office numbers are no indication of quality. Despite a conclusion that left the door open for more, the wait for the next movie would be considerable. In the interim, the franchise thrived in comics and other media.

predator 2

The inclusion of an Alien skull among the trophies on the Predator’s spaceship at the end of Predator 2 had fans clamoring for a live-action crossover between two of the most iconic sci-fi/horror creatures, which had previously been explored the pages of Dark Horse Comics circa 1989. Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem were released in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Despite financial success, critics and audiences alike were largely unimpressed. The movies are generally not considered part of the main Predator canon, so the less said about them, the better.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the next direct installment, Predators, would come to fruition, although Robert Rodriguez had developed the script in the ’90s while he was working on Desperado. Alex Litvak (The Three Musketeers) and Michael Finch (Hitman: Agent 47) used his concept as the basis for their screenplay. It was initially presumed that Rodriguez would direct, but he instead opted to produce via his Troublemaker Studios, choosing Nimród Antal (Vacancy) to helm it.

Predators opens in medias res with maverick mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody, The Pianist) awakening mid-free fall into a foreign jungle. Intrigue builds as other strangers make similar crash landings: Israeli sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga, I Am Legend), cowardly doctor Edwin (Topher Grace, That ’70s Show), death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight), Russian commando Nikolai (mixed martial artist Oleg Taktarov), Mexican drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo, From Dusk Till Dawn), Japanese Yakuza member Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien, The Man in the High Castle), and death squad soldier Mombasa (Mahershala Ali, Green Book).

It’s not long before the motley crew discovers that not only are they being hunted, but they are, in fact, on an alien planet. It’s nice to see the franchise return to its roots with an ensemble cast in the wilderness (with on-location shooting taking place in Hawaii). Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) joins the fold as a rogue survivor whose time on the planet is impacting his mental health. Despite largely functioning as an exposition dump, he makes the role engrossing.

Brody is a little hard to buy as the heroic lone wolf, particularly beside such intimidating castmates, although for his part he put on some 25 pounds of muscle. Antal and Rodriguez made a conscious choice to avoid a Schwarzenegger type for the lead, preferring a more realistic soldier physique. Braga seems to be channeling Michelle Rodriguez as a gun-toting badass; even with female representation limited to one role, she has more agency than any woman in the previous two films. Goggins, as he’s wont to do, often steals the scene. Grace dependably provides comic relief.

As if the cast wasn’t stacked enough, even the creature performers are notable: Derek Mears (Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th remake) plays Classic Predator, based on the original film’s creature design; Brian Steele (the T-600 in Terminator Salvation) plays the Berserker Predator, whose helmet is adorned with an alien jaw bone, and the Falconer Predator, which uses a drone-like device to hunt; and Carey Jones (The Book of Boba Fett‘s Black Krrsantan) plays the Tracker Predator, identified by a pair of tusks on its helmet. KNB’s Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero handled the special effects.

As one might insinuate from the title, Predators aims to be to Predator what Aliens was to Alien. It’s not entirely successful in that regard — unlike Alien/Aliens, there’s little debate as to which Predator movie is best — but Predators was a good course correction following the lackluster Alien vs. Predator movies. It didn’t perform quite as well as either of those films, earning $127.2 million worldwide, but on a $40 million budget, it was a success.

The Predator franchise returned with… The Predator. The 2010 sequel is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys), a fascinating choice not only for his unique storytelling voice but also because he had a small role in the original Predator. Black co-wrote the script with his old friend and occasional collaborator, Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad).

After witnessing a UFO crash, U.S. mercenary sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan) helps himself to a few souvenirs — including a Predator mask — which inadvertently puts his autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay, Doctor Sleep), in the line of danger. Fearing that Quinn knows too much, government agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us) turns him into a patsy.

Quinn is relegated to a group of discharged soldiers suffering from various issues, played by Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Thomas Jane (The Mist), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), and Augusto Aguilera (Chasing Life). Upon seeing the Predator’s destruction firsthand, the ragtag band of misfits agree to help Quinn stop it. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn, X-Men: Apocalypse), a biologist unexpectedly called in to help the government, reluctantly joins the mission as well.

The Predator underwent significant reshoots and edits. The 108-minute final cut maintains a good momentum but suffers from chopping editing and a flimsy timeline. Most egregious is the uncharacteristically generic third act that limps to its CGI-filled conclusion, which is incongruous with the smart setup that preceded it. Another major gripe is the introduction of the so-called Ultimate Predator, a more evolved version of the monster (think Jason X). It’s wholly unnecessary to introduce an even bigger bad when the Predator itself is already a seemingly indomitable threat, and the new design is unable to improve upon the wow factor of the original.

The Predator further expands the franchise’s mythology while paying respect to what came before. The recycling of classic lines is unnecessary, but that bit of fan service is thankfully exhausted early on. The casting of Jake Busey (Starship Troopers) serves as another wink to fans; he’s technically playing the son of the elder Busey’s character from Predator 2, although there’s no direct mention of this connection in the final film.

Predator franchise The Predator

The movie earns its R rating with plenty of gore and crass humor. Some of the CGI is spotty, especially when it comes to digital blood, but numerous practical effects shine through. The film’s suburban setting is a welcome change of pace, and Black eschews his signature Christmastime setting in favor of Halloween. While the autumnal backdrop lends itself to an inspired trick-or-treating scene — which ends in the first of several holy-shit moments — the film doesn’t have a substantial Halloween atmosphere.

Holbrook is serviceable but lacks the charisma of the franchise’s previous leads. (Benicio del Toro, who was in talks for the role before dropping out due to scheduling conflicts, was a far more interesting choice.) Thankfully, the supporting cast members pull their weight and then some. With each character given their own quirks and opportunities to shine, The Predator arguably develops its ensemble of grunts better than the original film.

Everyone also has their share of funny lines. Key is a natural when it comes to comedy, but Sterling and Tremblay earn some of the biggest laughs. Unfortunately Jane’s character’s Tourette syndrome is used solely as a conduit for cheap comedy. Despite some humorous moments and one tender one, it’s a poor representation of the disorder and a waste of his talents. Tremblay’s character being on the spectrum is handled comparatively gracefully, but it too ultimately serves as a plot device.

The Predator may not be the franchise’s strongest entry, and it’s far from Black’s best work (as previously proven by Iron Man 3, his voice is better suited for original material), but the nearly nonstop action, laughs, and bloodshed offer enough entertainment value to overlook most of its missteps. It made $160.5 million worldwide, although at $88 million it’s far and away the most expensive Predator film to date.

Predator is an uncommonly accessible franchise, in that every entry maintains continuity yet can stand on its own. None of the sequels are ret-conned or otherwise disregarded, but there is little direct continuity or even recurring characters (despite efforts to get Schwarzenegger involved every time) outside of the Predators themselves. With Prey being set in the past, it seems that trend will continue. Let’s hope it also maintains the series’ consistency in quality.

Prey brings the Predator franchise to Hulu this Friday, August 5th.


The post If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The 35 Year History of the ‘Predator’ Franchise appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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