Cast your mind back a few years, and you may recall the release of The Predator – a sci-fi action movie, that was billed as being a big new Predator film to reinvigorate the somewhat bumpy franchise. The picture was released in 2018, and if you saw it, you know it didn’t achieve its goal.
It came, it opened to mixed reviews, and then it buggered off quite quickly. The Predator wasn’t the big comeback that was envisioned, and it certainly didn’t create any spark of excitement for this long-running series.
I was severely underwhelmed by The Predator, and instead of reigniting my interest in the franchise, which I’ve followed through various sequels and spin-offs, it essentially pulled the plug. In my own words I said “I think I’m done with this series”, adding “I don’t think I have it in me to offer up any more time to these movies.”
My reasoning is that with the exception of 1987’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring Predator, the Predator franchise has been largely one misfire after another. I have a little bit of time for parts of Predator 2 (1990), but as far as the other sequels go, including the Alien vs. Predator spin-off films, this is a series which keeps getting worse.
So, after 2018, that was it. I was done, and I vowed never to return. I had given way too much time and money to 20th Century Fox – the studio behind the Predator movies – and they weren’t getting a second or a penny more!
But then in 2019, Disney bought out 20th Century Fox, and as part of its new expansion and redevelopment, it looked at ways to revive and reboot popular Fox properties. One of these revivals was set to be a new Predator movie, and somehow, despite my vow to walk away, the Mouse House managed to get me mildly interested.
I was interested because Disney said they were taking things back to basics. This new film, which wouldn’t even have the word ‘Predator’ in the title, would attempt to return the franchise to its glory days (i.e. 1987), to give the series a much-needed jolt.
And that neatly brings me onto today, and the arrival of Prey – the seventh and latest entry in the Predator film series. The movie is available to stream on Disney+ (or Hulu in the US), and is hoping to win over subscribers, as well as those of us suffering from Predator exhaustion.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and starring Amber Midthunder and Dane DiLiegro, Prey is a sci-fi action movie, which acts as a stand-alone prequel to the previous Predator films. Set in 1719, amongst the Northern Great Plains, the movie follows the story of a young Comanche woman, and depicts her brush with a deadly alien hunter.
In the movie, Naru is part of a Native American Comanche tribe, living off the land and fighting for survival. One day, while out with members of her tribe, who are hunting a lion, she becomes aware of an unseen force who appears to be on the hunt too.
This unseen force is a Predator, who uses cloaking technology to hide its appearance. The alien has recently landed on Earth, has hunted a number of animals in the surrounding area, and has now set its sights on humans.
Over the next few hours, the Predator picks off members of Naru’s tribe, as it aims to do battle with the alpha predator amongst the group. This leads Naru into a fight for survival, with only one victor set to remain standing.
The above premise is pretty much Predator 101; and if you’ve seen one Predator movie, then you’ll know the concept by now. However, the main difference this time around is the setting.
Unlike all of the other entries in the Predator movie series, which are set in the present day or in the near-future, the events of this movie take place in Earth’s past – in the 18th Century to be exact. And because this movie is set in yesteryear, it gives Prey the opportunity to strip things back.
For example, the main protagonist doesn’t have access to modern technology or futuristic weaponry, because it simply didn’t exist back then. As such, there’s no need to worry about coming up with ways to out gun the Predator, because we the audience know this simply isn’t possible.
By taking things back to a more primitive time, Prey benefits from the understanding that the story doesn’t need to worry about going bigger than previous movies, or coming up with an over-the-top storyline. Instead, the film can shake off most of the baggage the franchise has acquired, and take things back to the drawing board.
This is both a smart move and an opportunity for rebirth. Prey doesn’t need to be concerned with anything other than telling its own story, and that means it can get down to business pretty easily.
And the great news is, Prey makes use of its setting to deliver a strong entry in the Predator series. Prey is a marked improvement on the previous sequels and spin-offs, and is a significant step in the right direction.
It’s not perfect, but it is good. The film gets more right than it gets wrong, and this is very important for the future of this franchise.
By placing this film in 1719, and by giving the lead character access to only rudimentary tools, Prey is able to inject an element of danger back into the series. Although it is fairly obvious Naru will prove to be more than a match for the alien hunter, the film is given the opportunity to explore her resourcefulness, through her cunning and guile, and this gives the film an edge.
The film also makes use of its landscape – not just to provide a beautiful backdrop for various battles, but also to depict isolation and danger. The Northern Great Plains become a character in themselves, with Naru having to be mindful of her surroundings as much as she is mindful of the Predator.
This backdrop also allows Prey to dip into the Western genre. Prey mixes many genres, including action, sci-fi, and horror, but it is the Western which is brought to the forefront throughout.
This gives Prey a slightly different flavour to what has come before, and it is certainly welcome. As too are some stunning shots of the landscape, which are placed throughout the movie.
It’s not just the landscape which looks good, there are some beautiful moments captured on film too. Prey benefits from some strong cinematography, which elevates the story at various points throughout.
I have to say, not all of the movie looks good, and one of its weaker points is the use of computer-generated imagery; specifically, when it comes to depicting animals. There are a few CGI critters that pop up here and there, and some of them look a little ropey, which is a shame.
With Prey being a direct-to-streaming title, and not playing on the big screen, I expect most audiences will overlook this dodgy CGI, but it is noticeable. However, had this movie opened in cinemas, with these effects being displayed across an enormous screen, they would certainly be open to greater scrutiny, so I’ll just say they should be a little better.
While I’m sticking with some of the slightly weaker points of the movie, I will add that the pacing of the film feels a little off too. It takes a bit too long to get going, and does feel a little disjointed in places.
However, once it finds its groove, Prey settles into a much better rhythm. It is a familiar rhythm, so don’t expect too much originality, but after so many duds in the past, I’m just thankful for a Predator movie that doesn’t make me want to stick my head through a window.
For long-time fans there are a couple of nice call-backs to the original film, and these prove to be a neat touch. However, I must admit I was a little disappointed that in a movie featuring tomahawks, no one uttered the immortal line: “Get to the chopper” – surely a missed opportunity?
I won’t dwell on this obvious faux pas; I’m merely mentioning it. I expect director Dan Trachtenberg was far more interested in making this movie work, than chucking in gags like this, and I’d say he did the trick rather well.
Sure, this film doesn’t take the Predator series off in a bold new direction, nor does it push the envelope, but it does the thing that movies are fundamentally supposed to do: It entertains. Perhaps most important of all, considering the discussion I’ve been having, the movie also doesn’t suck and this is to Trachtenberg’s credit.
Prey isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off, but it is good. It sets out its stall earlydoors, makes it clear what type of movie this is set to be, and then gets to work on delivering the goods.
In terms of its approach, it reminds me a little of 2012’s Dredd, which acted as a stripped back reboot of the Judge Dredd franchise. Dredd cast off the pomp and circumstance associated with the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie from 1995, to give audiences a simple-to-follow, low budget adventure story, and Prey follows a similar track.
It isn’t all bells and whistles; it is action, a bit of suspense, and a simple story. This is fine.
Do I want to see another Prey movie, that follows on from the events of this film? Probably not. I’ve seen this story and I don’t need to see it again.
But for now, I’m just happy to have sat through a Predator movie that I liked. It doesn’t beat the original, but it worked, and that’s enough.