Just like the “Alien” franchise, I’m always a little surprised when another “Predator” movie comes out. It’s not that I don’t like the “Predator” franchise, (I’m actually a little bit too forgiving on its weaker elements) but I’ve always struggled to find other people who’ve watched the films or even enjoyed the films. It’s not hard to find people who’ve watched and treasured the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but now I feel a new generation is about to watch and treasure 2022’s “Prey.”
For “Predator” fans, the first question is going to be: “So is “Prey” a sequel, prequel or what?” The answer is uncertainty. The film takes place in 1717 in the northern Great Plains (Montana? Canada?), about 250 years before Scharzenegger and his crew of macho men gets torn apart by an unseen creature in the jungle. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is an aspiring Comanche hunter, despite the eye rolling done by her fellow tribesmen, hunters and even her Comanche hunter sibling. All that’s about to change with the arrival of an invisible extraterrestrial who’s made Earth its hunting ground.
Just like the first “Predator,” “Prey” spends the first third of the movie building up our hero’s backstory and arc while showing us flashes of the invisible to the naked eye space monster slashing and shooting his way through wildlife. As previous “Predator” films have established, this isn’t just a bloodthirsty creature, it’s a being that enjoys the hunt; much like Naru. So, throughout the film, there is this anticipation and build-up towards these two fighting to the death. Until then, we have some interesting character development…and a lot of blood and gore to get through.
If there’s been one complaint about each film in the franchise, it’s the humans; never the trophy hunting creature. Thankfully the humans aren’t obnoxiously flawed sacks of meat or overstay their welcome, or in the case of 2018’s “The Predator,” has a subplot where autism is a superpower. Naru not only moves and flows with her tribe, but she encounters French fur trappers who are about as likable as a wasp in summer time. So, their deaths are ultimately enjoyable and welcome. In that regard, “Predator” and “Prey” are similar in that the humans we like remain alive while the disposable flesh and blood is given to the least likable of the bunch.
That being said, this is the first time the protagonist has been a woman, but you’d never know it from the way the movie ebbs and flows. Instead of calling attention to itself or virtue signaling, the film uses Predator mythos to explain why Naru is the perfect match for this galaxy traveling warrior. It also helps that she plays into the film trope of, “We can’t believe what the woman/child says or sees, right?” It also helps that she immediately recognizes the danger while each man in the film puffs his chest and charges ahead before being ripped apart, stabbed, shot or any other myriad of horrific ways to die. It reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton’s work in the “Terminator” films. Not only do Naru and Sarah Connor radiate confidence, but they both prove their intellect and action-movie badassness each time they encounter their foe.
The one thing that’s kind of always fascinated me about the franchise, even in its highs and lows, is how much the directors and writers stay true to the creature itself, rarely rolling the dice on a bizarre character development, but instead attempting new things within the realm of logic for this fictionalized species. Director Dan Trachtenberg proves that he can provide an equal balance of substance and style, hopefully breathing life into a franchise that was nearly left for dead by director/writer Shane Black four years ago. Not only does Trachtenberg give us a neat origin story about the first Predator hunting expedition on Earth, but gives us hope that maybe, for once in this franchise, we’ll start to have a string of decent Predator films.