As 2016 has rolled in I’ve found myself in the middle of a movie dilemma. For what seems like most of my life I’ve been a Predator fan. I don’t simply watch the movies, I consume the comics, the figures, the mythology. There’s even a hand painted (badly painted) wall mounted Yautja skull in my living room. My problem is that of course there’s a new movie coming out, and a part of me craves it like I literally need it to live, but the other half of me is terrified that this may in fact be the movie to kill the franchise for good.
Predator, when it first came knocking around in 1987, brought a very different kind of sci-fi horror to the screens. It wasn’t the mask or the roars, or even the head first plummet into unadulterated gore that did it; that terrified me. No. It was the slow realization after the fact that every character the hunter killed, every single one from the first all the way to the last could have gotten the better of it. All they needed to do was put down their weapons. Surrender. Walk peacefully into the sunset. The thing that terrifies, truly terrifies isn’t the big bad alien with the plasma caster, invisibility and unforgettable grin looking to make us a center piece, it’s the powerlessness of us as an audience to prevent disaster when we know how easy the game would be to rig. Most horrors are going to force their characters to either run or fight in an effort to stay alive. Predator is one of the few movies where the characters are given the freedom to choose to fight. At pivotal points in both of the first two movies the main characters figure this out and choose to continue. They make the choice to stay in the game.
The Predator movies played with the audience in a way that few creature features ever would. Taking us along for a ride into some murky moral waters. Arnold could have very easily put down his gun when he realised what was happening and strolled merrily to the chopper but he didn’t. Even when confronted with the dim realisation that having a weapon makes you a certain target the characters in the movies just can’t help but arm themselves and square off. It was a chilling look in the mirror for humanity in general and you can’t stop yourself imagining all the ways things would be different; the ways earth would be different if we weren’t so prone to violence. If there wasn’t something in our very core DNA that proliferated the need to destroy on a primal level. The reality is this; if they didn’t think we were also worthy monsters we wouldn’t be worth the trouble of hunting. Because that’s the truth of it. Predator is fundamentally a movie centered around different types of monsters squaring off against each other. Some of these monsters look like monsters. Some don’t. Some of them have codes. Some don’t. They aren’t always the ones you assume, either.
Unfortunately, since the original movies these particular off-world hunters have been flogged to within an inch of their lives. They unsuccessfully tried paring them with Ridley Scott’s famous Alien. That was a disaster twice round and each time for totally different, equally frustrating reasons. They’ve tried rebooting them. In the process choosing to change the iconic hunter in literally every way. Codes. Appearance. Behavior. No real explanations given for any of it, nothing deeper than a shrug and ‘that’s the way it is now’. I loathe exposition filled scenes, generally I like being given a few good clues and the benefit of the doubt when it comes to figuring stuff out, but come on, nothing? Fans of the franchise were never going to be on board with that and the newer generation, for all us old people like to mock them with their fully functional knees, aren’t morons, they’re not going to accept inferior reboots just because they’re new and the makers somehow convinced Adrien Brody to accept a role in it. If you looked at the evidence of the last ten years you’d easily understand the fear associated with yet another movie in the franchise.
The problem now becomes more to do with the fact that this is a franchise that fans have become so familiar with. It is one that has spanned the course of roughly thirty years. We’ve seen it’s face. We’re used to its technology. We know how it thinks and what it does. We know it’s limitations. For Predator to continue they’re going to have to show us something new about the creatures we think we already know. The source material is there for it. The Yautja culture as it already exists is one rife with hypocrisy, xenophobia and rogue criminal elements. There are literally incredible places they could take this franchise if they had the mood for it and were willing to pass further into the sci-fi realms.
So where does that leave us with the latest Predator movie? Are we going to simply see a rehash of previous films? Will they come to accept their place among the sci-fi genre and look for newer ways of scaring us within that? Will they finally pick Adrien Brody and Alice Braga up off that stupid planet or at least tie off their stories? Only time is going to tell unfortunately. My opinion is that it’s chances are about as good as this guys.