Unlike the 'Alien' Franchise, 'The Predator' Embraces Its Roots

The Predator Still 1 - TIFF Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF
While the 'Alien' series tries to distinguish itself from the films that came before, the Predator manages to hold on to ties to its past.

In the last few years, 20th Century Fox has tried to keep its science-fiction franchises alive in any way possible. In 2013 and 2017, it brought back the dreaded Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, films that explored the nature of humanity. They were technically connected to the Alien universe, but in such a way that felt antithetical to Scott’s 1979 seminal classic. But before Prometheus, the Xenomorph faced off against another Fox alien: the Predator, back in theaters now in The Predator, a film that is much more pleased to be similar to its predecessors.

For the uninitiated, there aren’t a bevy of specific Predator references dropped throughout the new film co-written and directed by Shane Black, a co-star in the 1987 original. The most obvious gag will be recognizable as a nod to a meme-worthy line from the first film: At one point, a group of military men branded the Loonies are attempting to escape capture and see a series of motorcycles. One of them (Trevante Rhodes) says, “Get to the choppers!,” referencing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous “Get to the chopper!” line from John McTiernan’s original. (Frankly, the dialogue in this pic moves so fast that you might not even catch the line.)

There are a few other references to the earlier Predator films, such as a couple lines of dialogue acknowledging that the Predators had visited Earth in 1987 and 1997. The latter year is when Predator 2 takes place, a movie that’s also directly referenced by the appearance here of Jake Busey, who plays the scientist son of a character played by his real-life father Gary Busey in the 1990 sequel. But the references are largely sparse, even as Black and co-writer Fred Dekker are telling a story that feels very much of a piece with the earlier films in the series. (The 2010 film Predators doesn’t get nearly so many callbacks here.) The Predator has its flaws, but it doesn’t ever get mired down in fan service, which is to its credit.

The recent revivals of the Alien franchise were, in their own ways, ambitious while also feeling radically unlike the first wave of films in that series. They ostensibly were meant to tell the story of how the Xenomorph came into being, while also delivering the bloody goods in a franchise where the alien is expected to destroy human characters as grimly as possible. But Scott, for good or ill, is vastly more interested in using Prometheus and Covenant as ways of depicting the bleakness of the human soul, and how that bleakness ensures the death of humanity by allowing the Xenomorph to flourish. Intellectually, that’s fascinating, but it hasn’t made for actually entertaining films (Michael Fassbender’s fiercely committed performance aside).

One might wonder if, seeing as the Xenomorph has faced off against the dreadlocked Predator multiple times, a new take on the latter would be as formally daring and creatively unsuccessful. On one hand, it’s good news that The Predator is basically just more of the same of what we may expect from this series. There’s plenty of solid humor in the new film, humor that feels part and parcel with the style Shane Black has displayed throughout his decades of work. And there’s plenty of violence. And that’s about it. The pic is about a group of misfits who aim to take down the Predator before they get killed themselves, and who aim to avoid being carted off for good by the government. There’s perhaps some of the same latent distrust of the establishment as there is in the Alien franchise with its nefarious Weyland-Yutani Corporation, but nothing quite so grim as what’s in Prometheus and Covenant.

While not a standout film, The Predator, like those other recent revivals, does boast a great cast and has some great jokes. It also reeks of postproduction struggles (and not just with the controversy revolving around Black casting a friend of his who is on a sex offender registry, leading to his scene being cut from the film). Like Prometheus and Covenant, there’s a hint of where this film could go if a sequel comes down the pike: In this one, we get the very overt suggestion that our sniper hero could end up as the next big weapon against any future Predator arrivals on Earth. Though it’s not as ambitious a project, at least if Black got to make another one of these films — not a guarantee at this point — it might work, even if it’s more of the same.