Hollywood has a weird obsession with resuscitating old franchises and refreshing them for newer, broader audiences, but there are more examples of when this tactic doesn’t always work. On the other hand, there are instances where something old can be new again, and in this case, the Predator franchise is in fact, older than what has come before it.
Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey is the latest in a long line of movies based on the alien hunting species, and the series, which started with the original 1987 classic. The Predator franchise has endured a fair share of few ups and plenty of downs. From the sequels and kinda-reboots that have amassed various results at the box office (there are some instalments we don’t talk about, like 2018’s The Predator, for example), Prey takes the series in an ambitious new direction, set 300 years ago before the events of the first film, before modern technology.
The protagonists are also not your typical white saviours, but instead a tribe from the Comanche Nation. These aren’t your Special Forces trained and sent to the jungle – these are the native warriors in the jungle, and they are trying to take down the alien hunter. But since it takes place almost three centuries ago, some things are different. The creature still retains his stealth cloaking and thermal vision technology, along with his arm blades, combi stick and net gun, but gone is the Predator’s fancy laser cannon.
To go with the new era, this Predator is slightly more feral, primal and instinctive than before, skewing the film towards thriller and gore rather than sci-fi and action. But no worries on the lore, as with classic Predator moves, he still skins his kills, rips the spine out of the body and collects the skulls as trophies.
The Predator is still one ugly motherf*****, but this one also gets a new look. Gone are the sleek shiny armour, replaced by a more ancient look of a tattered skirt and vambraces, as well as a shield to cover up places where he’s more vulnerable during attacks. The new animalistic prehistoric look makes the predator look scarier than he already is and we’re personally a fan of it.
The return to the past actually fulfils the unexplored notion that the species uses Earth as a hunting ground, as audiences have seen the trophies collected in previous movies. The one twist here is that the Predator isn’t the only hunter here, as after a battle with much of the tribe, he incurs the wrath of the movie’s main protagonist, Naru, played by Amber Midthunder. Seeking revenge, she sets her sights on him as a trophy she wishes to hunt down, in order to claim her spot as a hunter in the Comanche tribe she comes from.
Whilst no Arnold Schwarzenegger, Midthunder is impressive in her role. She performs her own stunts and can hold the attention of viewers with her keen and determined eyes. The relationship between Naru and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) is perhaps where Midthunder shows off more of her acting abilities, as the chemistry between the two seems natural.
As the first female lead character in the Predator film series, Midthunder’s Naru is hungry for blood and is incredibly lethal. Her motivation is different from Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, in that rather than save a group of people from the Predator, she wants to catch and hunt the creature down. It’s no longer man vs alien, but rather, man hunting alien, a flip from all the past narratives we’ve seen in the franchise’s past three decades.
And when it comes to action, Prey delivers.
Bloodier than before, Prey sees our protagonist through more strenuous fights. Without the privilege of technology or guns, Naru can’t simply shoot her opponent down. Instead, her go-to weapon of choice is a tomahawk with a rope tied to its handle so she can throw and pull the axe back ala Thor Odinson. We also see Midthunder take on nature, running and swimming in river streams and attempting to escape being swallowed by quicksand. However, nothing can prepare viewers for the final battle, a cinematic sequence that sees a sophisticated hunter battle it out against a young girl eager to make a name for herself.
It is also worth noting that like every Predator film out there, Prey involves a scene where the protagonist attempts to trap the hunter. Whilst we don’t want to reveal too much, we can say that Naru is one smart girl and her plan is perhaps the most feasible and effective of all the traps we’ve seen.
What makes Prey a unique addition to the franchise is that the film also attempts to shed light on Indigenous, specifically Native American people – a group of people rarely represented in media. As the film takes place before colonisation, viewers get insight on how Indigenous communities functioned and the values their communities uphold. Prey doesn’t delve into it too much, but this added layer makes an already tired franchise that has been rehashed one too many times feel different and new.
One major element from the film that is rather awkward though, is the way Trachtenberg navigates the spoken language. Whilst the Comanche tribe speaks in Uto-Aztecan, the characters from the tribe in the film speak English. It’s understandable why Trachtenberg did it as such, but it gets awkward when the film introduces French colonists who only speak French, but there aren’t any subtitles to help translate the conversations for non-French speakers.
And whilst Prey definitely meets the requirements of gore and action lovers, the film takes its time to get to the good parts. Prey’s pacing at the start of the film is slow and focuses more on establishing the time period, perhaps something that will annoy long-time fans who want to see the Predator in action from the get-go. It’s not a major flaw, but it could put off impatient viewers.
Ultimately, Prey is a refreshing addition to the Predator franchise. Unlike past sequels and soft reboots, Prey brings something new to the table whilst maintaining the elements that made the franchise iconic in the first place: gore, action and a fear-worthy Predator. Flipping the coin and making the protagonist Naru the hunter and the alien creature the hunted is something we’ve not seen explored, and is a smart way to keep viewers engaged whilst tapping into the legacy of the Predator film series.
Do we need another Predator movie, though? Maybe not, but Prey is good enough to deserve a sequel, and that’s what Trachtenberg hopes for, which you’ll see if you stay to the end of the cave drawings during the end credits.
Prey premieres on 5 August exclusively on Disney+ and on Hulu in the US.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Predator franchise has endured plenty of bad sequels and reboots and for the first time in three decades, Prey is the only worthy film from the latest instalments worth watching.
Story - 6.5/10
Direction - 6.5/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10