Few film franchises have taken more of a beating than the “Predator” franchise. After the iconic first movie featured Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime facing off against an alien hunter in the jungles of Central America, every sequel that followed proved to be a bigger and dumber disappointment than the next. But up until now, the franchise has been able to resist leftist cultural whims.
With standards so low, it is a nice surprise to enjoy and appreciate the latest installment in the franchise movie, “Prey.”
In many ways, “Prey” gets back to basics, pitting highly skilled hunters against one another in the largely unoccupied wilderness. By minimizing irritating dialogue and superfluous details, it maintains a serious tone and heightens the tension of surviving in the wild against an alien threat.
The movie’s plot is also simple and clean, much like the first film. A young Comanche huntress, Naru, discovers the Predator and aims to prove herself by taking him down. Neither her fellow tribesmen, nearby French trappers, nor the Predator thinks of her as a threat, but she’s able to use this to her advantage. In other words, she uses her image as “prey” to help her become the most dangerous “predator.”
Technically speaking, the movie has some issues with pacing, and its CGI is cheap and unrealistic. Since this is a sci-fi action movie, these problems shouldn’t be taken lightly. Instead of a steady plot and character progression, the movie’s action sequences are too spaced out and disconnected to allow for any coherent buildup. Similarly, Naru transitions from a young apprentice practicing with her hatchet to a Comanche version of John Wick, dispatching opponents left and right with perfect ease — all in the span of 10 minutes.
However, the movie’s real problem is its heavy-handed feminist, anti-colonial message. While there’s nothing wrong with mixing up the formula and creating something unique, the characters and story still need to adhere to the logic of the world contained within the film. Even in a fantastical situation, they need to be at least halfway believable. Instead, “Prey” childishly plugs modern-day progressive sensibilities three centuries into the past.
The film’s protagonist defies traditional gender roles by challenging the apparent hunter-gatherer patriarchy. And the antagonists, including the space alien, are dimwitted sexists with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The action plays out predictably, as the antagonists fall to the hands of a woman who finally learns to unleash her inner strength. The female empowerment on display is quite literal, and anyone who questions it is a bigoted troglodyte.
What’s disappointing is that the film really didn’t have to work out this way. In the early scenes, there was reason to think that Naru was strong yet fallible. The audience could relate to her struggle as well as her development and eventual triumph. Her personal trajectory was a mix of circumstance and personal will, and her death was always a possibility.
Instead of sticking with a realistic portrayal of human fallibility, the movie tries to make Naru a girl boss icon. Put another way, in the first half of the movie, she resembles the animated Mulan, a strong woman who nonetheless has to work within her limitations, while in the second half of the movie, she resembles the live-action Mulan, who’s basically superhuman. For that reason, there’s never any real doubt that she may lose to the Predator or learn something from her experiences in the film.
Although it might be somewhat ridiculous to expect nuance from an installment in a sci-fi franchise, even a slightly less cartoonish story and setting would have made the movie much more interesting.
The attack of a super advanced alien hunter could have brought together these former enemies and helped them realize their common humanity. Naru could have learned that there’s more to hunting than knowing how to slash and kill, and her French counterparts could have learned that superior firepower is not as important as teamwork. As it is, the dynamics of the setting and culture are left unexplored and function more as a novelty than a significant part of the story.
Despite this, “Prey” still stands out as a solid action movie, and its writers had the good sense to avoid sanctimonious preaching. The film is nothing revolutionary or thought-provoking, but it does the work of entertaining the viewer and pulling the franchise away from its excesses.