Predator Isn’t the Movie You Think It Is

By Kieran Mulvaney


For most movies that have a twist in their tale, the twist comes in the tail, a last-moment jaw-dropping reveal. But there’s a whole other genre of movies that spring the surprise way earlier, that spend the opening reel unspooling one story only to suddenly veer off the road while cackling, “Fooled you, suckers. We’re going with this storyline now!”

Predator is that kind of movie.

The 1987 hit unfolds initially as a cookie cutter military/action adventure once considered essential viewing in the Reagan years. Action hero? Check. Characters who are strong adherents to military discipline and rank, and are damn good at blowing things up — but also possess a world-weary rebelliousness against The Man? Check check. Generic disposable and easily-quashed foreign hostiles? Check check check.

There are explosions, bad guys who are shot dead, and good guys who aren’t; there’s a deceit that doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense, but our heroes do what they came to do, and everyone is heading back through the jungle to the waiting helicopter when Oh My God! What the hell just happened? What IS that thing?

One moment Jesse Ventura doesn’t have time to bleed, and then suddenly, he’s been vaporized with a plasma ray. At this point, the movie has left the highway behind and is maniacally tearing through the trees. Forget about that whole military operation story, or the whose-side-is-the-CIA-really-on subplot. That movie is over.

Now the gang is in a straight-up fight for survival against an unidentifiable and, for all intents and purposes, indestructible alien on a killing spree. Where did it come from? We’re not told. Why does it gain so much joy from killing people? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter: Once the Predator comes to the fore, the plot is stripped of all unnecessary encumbrances, and is all the better for it. For much of the final 20 minutes or so, it’s pretty much shorn of any dialogue. It’s a straight-up street fight, except that it’s in a jungle, and there is a fantastically large amount of weaponry — until there isn’t, and it’s mano-a-predator and only one of them is getting out of there alive.

Predator is fabulously shot, perfectly paced, superbly cast — and, you’ll realize when the dust has settled and the credits are rolling, surprisingly and subtly subversive. It demands nothing of you, which is one reason it’s so easy to watch over and over again. Watch it while chugging beer and scarfing pizza; play it in the background while cleaning the house; stream it when you’re dead tired and you desperately need to unwind. But take notes: You never know when life is suddenly going to take a sharp left turn into the totally unexpected.