State of the Franchise: Predator

In our last State of the Franchise, we discussed how it’s shocking that a long running action series like Mission: Impossible has been able to get better with age. There were also a few action franchises that were name-dropped in that very same piece as films that suffered a dip in quality as their respective series continued. In a type of pseudo-premonition, here we are once again to address one of those franchises in full. Yes, there’s a new Predator film set for release this weekend. Unlike Mission: Impossible, critics and audiences alike have not been as kind to each new release. Let’s get right to it in this installment of Cinema Smack’s State of the Franchise on the Predator films.

The original film was written by Jim and John Thomas. Their script was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985 with Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon producing. With only one film under his belt at the time, John McTiernan, who would go on to direct films like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, was hired to direct. Films like Commando and Aliens had hit it big at the box office in prior years and, ultimately, 1987’s Predator would be a sort of hybrid of the two.

The film sees a team of commandos on a mission to rescue an official who’s taken hostage in a Central American jungle. The team is led by Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a US Army Special Forces Major. Along for the ride are Dillon (Carl Weathers), Blain (Jesse Ventura), Billy (Sonny Landham), Mac (Bill Duke), Hawkins (Shane Black), and Poncho (Richard Chaves). Upon their arrival, the team discovers a group of skinned Green Berets. After taking out an insurgent camp, the commandos realize that they continue to be hunted by something in the trees. One by one, the Predator hunts the commandos in the jungle using its alien technology.

Predator grossed nearly $100 million throughout its theatrical run and was second to only Beverly Hills Cop II at the box office in 1987. Despite negative reviews for its mostly non-existent story, the film has since become one of the most iconic action films of all time. It competently blends the action, science fiction, and horror genres and the Predator itself is arguably one of the greatest movie monsters. By 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger had already established himself as an action star in films like The Terminator and the aforementioned Commando. His supporting cast is especially good as well though. Littered with muscular actors like Carl Weathers, who hit it big as Apollo Creed in the Rockseries, professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and former adult film star Sonny Landham, the film also needed a formidable foe for the commandos.

Even for those who may not have seen Predator, it’s more than likely that you’re familiar with the title character. A technologically advanced alien, the Predator is able to camouflage itself in the jungle and appears during periods of extreme heat. The look of the villain changed over the course of development and even James Cameron contributed by stating he “always wanted to see something with mandibles” to special effects artist Stan Winston. The Predator is played by Kevin Peter Hall but, prior to Hall taking over the role, action star Jean-Claude Van Damme spent two days as the Predator. Van Damme was to use his martial arts skills as a ninja-like alien but this idea was scrapped. In addition, Van Damme was unhappy being covered up in the suit for the duration of the film and the change was soon made. In addition, Peter Cullen has been credited with “voicing” the Predator.

As is the case with nearly every moneymaking film, a sequel soon followed. Three years passed before Predator 2 was released in 1990. In this film, the Central American locale was abandoned for a “concrete jungle” set in 1997 Los Angeles. A new Predator arrives during a heat wave and turf war between Colombian and Jamaican cartels. Leiutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) inserts himself into a firefight between gangs. After discovering the skinned corpses of some Jamaican gang members, one of Harrigan’s detectives, Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades), is killed by the Predator. Harrigan vows to find Danny’s killer along with help from Detectives Leona Cantrell (María Conchita Alonso) and Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton). Of course, the Predator rips through countless victims before a final showdown with Harrigan.

When compared to its predecessor, Predator 2 falls well short in nearly every conceivable way. It earned just north of $57 million and received negative reviews. Absent from the sequel is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch as the actor declined to return due to a salary dispute. John McTiernan also didn’t return to direct the sequel. Stephen Hopkins manned the director’s chair fresh off his work on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Danny Glover’s Harrigan seems like a nutcase for the majority of the film as he throws temper tantrums, yells a lot, and even tries to attack his superiors. There’s a subplot with Gary Busey as Special Agent Peter Keyes that is largely forgotten about until the end of the film and never really goes anywhere regardless.

Kevin Peter Hall does return as the monster once again in Predator 2 despite being a different Predator altogether. Many of the weapons associated with the character, such as the spear and net, originated from the sequel as opposed to the 1987 film. While the character is fleshed out more here and, shockingly, the film received many cuts to avoid an NC-17 rating, it’s actually quite boring at times. On the whole, Predator 2 is looked at as an inferior film to its predecessor. Though, it has become a cult classic among fans. Not long after the release of the film, Kevin Peter Hall sadly passed away in 1991 from AIDS-related pneumonia following a blood transfusion in which he contracted HIV.

It would be fourteen years before the Predator was seen or heard from again on the big screen. In between films, novelizations, video games, and comic books including the character kept fans wanting more. Finally, in 2004, a crossover film, Alien vs. Predator, was released. As the title suggests, two iconic action/sci-fi/horror villains, the xenomorph from the Alien series and the Predator, collided with humanity stuck in the middle. A group of archaeologists assembled by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) travel to the Antarctic to investigate a mysterious heat signal. They discover a pyramid far below the ice where a Xenomorph Queen remains frozen. Soon, more aliens hatch from their eggs but the Predators return to the pyramid to battle with them while the archaeologists try to escape.

After the success of Freddy vs. Jason, the Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th crossover, more “versus” movies were dreamed up. However, the AVP idea actually came from a 1989 comic book pitting the two iconic monsters against each other. Also, an alien skull can be seen in a trophy case on the Predator ship at the end of Predator 2. Nonetheless, AVP did decent business by raking in over $172.5 million worldwide. As of this writing, it remains the highest grossing film in the Predator franchise. Overall, it’s not a great film but there’s some fun to be had. The fight scenes between the two titans are entertaining enough. Though, much of the final battle involves the main Predator, Scar (Ian Whyte), unconvincingly teaming up with archaeologist Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) to combat the aliens.

Alas, we’ve come to a low point, not only for the Predator franchise but also for Cinema Smack. Back in May 2017, we had to discuss 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem in our Best & Worst piece on the Alien series. Here we are discussing it once more. Basically, AVP: Requiem begins where AVP left off. The Predator ship with the body of Scar crash lands in a Colorado forest after a *sigh* Predalien, a hybrid of a Xenomorph and Predator, attacks the remaining Predators on the ship. The Predalien and some facehuggers escape and rapidly multiply across the community. A skilled Predator arrives soon after to destroy the Predalien. Of course, a group of humans is also caught in the middle of the battle.

Frankly, we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time on Requiem. It’s easily the worst film in both the Alien and Predator franchises. Unlike AVP, Requiem‘s fight scenes are dimly lit, disorienting, and plain ugly. Had viewers actually been able to see what’s going on, we could’ve maybe at least enjoyed some of this film. However, it’s an utter disaster. Somehow, it pulled in almost $129 million at the box office but there’s nothing redeeming about it. Again, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is a blemish on both franchises and there’s not much else to say about it.

After the huge misstep that was Requiem, the franchise seemed to find its way with 2010’s Predators. In this film, a mercenary, Royce (Adrien Brody), finds himself in the middle of a jungle after being thrown out of a plane with a parachute. He meets a handful of others who also have no memory of how they arrived at their location. Among them are Mexican drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Israel Defense Forces sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), San Quentin death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), a doctor, Edwin (Topher Grace), Spetsnaz soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), Revolutionary United Front officer Mombasa (Mahershala Ali), and Yakuza enforcer Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien). Soon, they discover that they’re on an alien planet being strategically hunted by something inhuman.

Produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimród Antal, Predators got back to basics for the franchise. The main focus was on the survival of the fittest. It explores what would happen when some of the most dangerous characters had the odds stacked against them while facing an even more dangerous foe in terms of the Predators. As an action film, Predators does exactly what it needs to do. You root for the characters throughout even though they’re not necessarily good people. Adrien Brody, who seems like an odd choice for this kind of role, is great as the tough guy/leader/all-around bad ass, Royce. The rest of the characters add a splash of flavor throughout the film and it’s a satisfying watch overall.

The public seemed to think so as well as Predators pulled in over $127 million worldwide against a production budget of around $40 million. The script for the film was actually written by Robert Rodriguez way back in 1994 while Rodriguez was working on his film, Desperado. Though, this treatment was initially rejected due to the projected budget being too high. Eventually, the studio rediscovered the script and moved forward with the project and Rodriguez’s involvement. If there are any negatives to the film, it’s that it’s predictable. Also, it takes place on an alien planet that, for some reason, looks exactly like Earth and, if you’re looking for any answers, Predators doesn’t offer any. It’s very much like the first film, though not quite as good obviously, and should be taken at face value.

That brings us to 2018. It has been eight years since the Predator last appeared on film. The wait is over as Shane Black’s The Predator has advance Thursday screenings beginning tonight with a wide release in theaters tomorrow. Yes, that’s the same Shane Black who portrayed Hawkins in the original 1987 film. For The Predator, which is actually a sequel and not a reboot, Black co-writes the screenplay as well as directs. Black, of course, is known for dark comedies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys as well as Marvel’s Iron Man 3. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles this film as the subject matter is quite different from what he’s actually known for. To this point, we’ve yet to see a definitive film in the franchise besides the original. With a quality director like Shane Black, there’s potential for The Predator to finally live up to the 1987 film. If nothing else, it can’t be worse than Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Can it?

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  1. […] we covered in our recent State of the Franchise, the Predator films have been pretty hit or miss over the years. Of course, the original 1987 […]

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