Predator (1987) is a classic 1980s jungle marine drama, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger at his toughest and wooden best as Dutch, a special commando sent into the jungle with his crack team of soldiers. The film is ridiculously macho, cheesy and terribly cliched, but features a fantastic alien in the way of the Predator and final stalking sequence between Schwarzenegger and the beast.
At first, like all 80s military films, especially those featuring Schwarzenegger, its all about the weapons and the muscles. This confirmed by a ridiculous close up early on, of a bicep handshake, turned arm wrestle, between Dutch and Dillon (Carl Weathers), the man who will send Dutch on his journey. The shot is held for a lengthy period, as the muscles are flexed to breaking point. They struggle with each other for comical supremacy, until of course Dutch wins out.
Dutch has been called into action Dillon and commanding officer Phillips, to rescue hostages from guerrilla fighters deep in the jungle. Dutch honorably accepts the mission and his team of macho, snarling, quipping action men journey out to the insurgent camp. Thus far we are in typical 80s action movie territory that we have seen time and time again, as American film studios were eager to relive the jungle settings of the Vietnam War and paint the Americans as the conquerors of it.
As is tradition, things go from bad to worse as they raid the camp and discover human bodies hung up like pigs in the jungle nearby, skinned while still alive. This couldn’t have been the work of the Guerrillas, as it quickly unravels that Dillon had ulterior motives in bringing Dutch and a crack military unit out into the jungle. They were not there to free the hostages but to catch a mysterious force responsible for the disgusting killings of the skinned men.
One by one the squad fall down dead in the atmospheric, living, breathing jungle, usually while firing a hail of bullets in all directions, trying to kill their invisible foe. This is where the action starts to get interesting, as the hunters (commandos), become the hunted by an invisible Predator, who sees through heat vision. We see the Predator only vaguely, as the outline of his body shimmers as he jumps from tree to tree, we are reminded heavily of Alien (1979), as the commandos flee from a seemingly invisible and indestructible force. The beauty which carries over from Alien is the mystery and terror of not properly seeing the monster for long periods and the fact that it is a solitary threat, unlike the saturation of the Alien sequel Aliens (1986), where numerous aliens attack marines.
Director John McTiernan truly saves his best set pieces of action and drama for the final act of the movie, as Dutch remains as the last surviving member of the commandos, against the powerful Predator. Gone now are the ridiculous bullet spraying scenes of earlier in the film and cheesy one-liners, replaced with wholly visual action, as Schwarzenegger and the Predator play a deadly ‘cat and mouse’ game.
In this sequence Dutch and the Predator play dual roles as both the hunter and the hunted,as they both try to outwit each other, with Dutch camouflaging himself in mud to blur the heat tracking tech of the Predator and the Predator instead learns to track the movement of environment to track his powerful prey. The battle between the two is highly visual, full of explosions, traps and hand to hand combat, with an incredible unmasking of the Predator towards the end.
Predator is one of the few commando action movies of the 80s worth watching and appreciating, despite its cheesy and cliched opening two acts. The film features real innovation in its survival heavy final act, with great creature design on the Predator and stellar action in a fight between man and beast. As with the original Alien, in the Alien franchise, Predator, remains the best movie in it’s franchise, with the less said about Robert Rodriguez’s Predators (2010), the better.