Release Date: June 12th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John McTiernan Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black
ajor Dutch’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) elite team of combat soldiers – including Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves), and Hawkins (Shane Black) – is conned into invading the blistering jungles of Central America by General Phillips (R.G. Armstrong) and his lackey Dillon (Carl Weathers). On a so-called rescue mission, the rough-and-tough commandos march through the dense brush to wipe out a guerilla stronghold and free political hostages. But something hellish and not of this world is hunting down Dutch’s squadron one by one, pausing along the way to collect human trophies. Matching wits, will, and brawn against a physically and technologically advanced predator proves to be the ultimate challenge for the division of heavily armed professionals (not unlike the Colonial Marines of “Aliens” one year before), each possessing unique, memorable personalities and weaponry.
“Predator’s” approach is all guns and guts – and this makes for a very unique thriller. Introducing the crew of oversized warriors, the opening scenes take their time to demonstrate the team’s massive firepower and its ability to move swiftly and silently. Slinking into the enemy camp, they engage in a heated shootout with enough ammo to start World War III (it’s one of the very best action moments of any film, brimming with awe-inspiring slow-motion, jolting explosions, and chaotically flailing bodies, all before the main plot even gets underway).
Although unusually exciting, director John McTiernan doesn’t forget that his star must also have time for valiant one-liners. Schwarzenegger plays his usual straightforward hero, using brute force and bulging muscles (and brief sarcasm) only when necessary for saving lives or defending against attacks. Here, he’s slightly more calculating and even primitive when it comes to surviving, but he never crosses the line of white-knight heroism as he plots to conquer the beastly opponent. Arnold’s fitting charisma and the forceful gunplay thoroughly distract the viewer from the existence of an alien being, providing the perfect grounding in reality and tonal seriousness – qualities always appreciated in these kinds of movies to keep things as believable as possible.
The predator camouflage suit and infrared heat signature special effects are a bit clunky, but the creature design, armory, and makeup are ageless. Still just as terrifying decades later, the towering humanoid organism, with its auto-targeting shoulder-mounted cannon, razor-sharp hunting blades, and quadruple-jawed grimace, is a spectacular image – thanks to Stan Winston and his crew (who were nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar). The radiation mask the predator uses to track its prey adds dread and foreshadowing (along with the brilliant commentary on mimicry, like a supernatural equivalent of a duck call) as audiences watch the aggressor stalk the team from afar, through its perspective, during the first half of the film – all prior to revealing the ogre in its entirety. This method of keeping the antagonist obscured is a similarly welcome and foolproof suspense tactic.
Despite the humorous coincidence of costar Jesse Ventura and Schwarzenegger both ending up in politics, the acting in the film is exactly the way it should be, with authentic fear, panic, camaraderie, and fortitude (who would have thought Arnold could ever find another role as fitting as his turn in 1984’s “The Terminator”?). The sheer intensity of the skilled troopers makes for some worthy chase sequences and boisterous battles. While it is entirely for entertainment, the violence in the film also enhances the severity and immediacy of the situations, increasing the nerve-wracking nature of the hunt – rousingly garnished with thundering music by Alan Silvestri. Transcending typical creature features with its mix of genres, including action/adventure, horror, and science-fiction, “Predator” has proven itself to be much more than just a cult monster movie. This superior blend of firepower, machismo, bloodshed, and one of the most exhilarating showdowns in cinema is often imitated but rarely equaled.
– Mike Massie