The horrifying story of a rescue team attacked in Central America, Predator is essentially a jungle-based version of Alien, although that’s no reason to try to combine the two franchises any more than you’d consider crossing Avatar with The Smurfs.
Released in 1987 at the peak of action cinema, this sci-fi classic is better than a film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger calls a dreadlocked alien an “ugly motherfucker” has any business being. Arnie himself gives one of the best performances of his unfathomable career, despite his inability to pronounce the words “chopper”, “Mac” and, judging by some of his projects, “no”.
He’s joined on his extraction mission by Dillon Yousonofabitch (Carl Weathers), Sergeant Mac (Bill Duke) – presumably named after his Gillette razor, and Shane Black, whose recent sequel was such a misfire you wonder if he even watched the film he was in. It does everything right that Predator 2 and The Predator did wrong: keeps the story simple, the dialogue quotable and the Predator hidden.
Waiting well over an hour before revealing the fearsome-looking creature, the movie builds suspense through its infrared POV shots and Alan Silvestri score. John McTiernan’s direction shows great attention to detail, right down to the sweat on the burly men’s faces, making the action believable and frightening as a result. The stripped-down plot intensifies the stakes, turning the jungle into a pressure cooker of violently boiling blood.
This is Arnie’s First Blood, a Vietnam-inspired survival B movie, whose grounded roots were torn up by a slew of sequels that missed the mark as badly as the US Air Force. A major difference however between this and Rambo’s first outing is the relentless violence, following a band of mercenaries so badass they don’t even use shaving foam, enacting a level of deforestation to rival napalm and the meat industry.
It’s by subverting this American machismo that Predator gains traction, criticising the Vietnam War by throwing even the most capable men headfirst, misinformed and ill-prepared into a bloody conflict with a superior opponent and watching them literally go to pieces – among them Billy (Sonny Landham), a tribute to the role Native American trackers played in Vietnam.
Though its treatment of women and vultures leaves a lot to be desired, Predator’s near-flawless execution makes it a high-calibre slasher flick. With machine guns. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally. He could be describing the odds of the film working at all.