It’s easy to forget just how much of a star Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the 80s. Coming off the back of the two Conan films, The Terminator and Commando, the big Austrian was the epitome of action film heroes. An ex-Mr Universe man-mountain who wracked up body-counts in the hundreds with awkwardly delivered corny one-liners, this was a man whose time came before men had salon beard products and the word metrosexual meant something done illegally on the tube. It’s also easy to forget how completely panned his 1987 movie Predator was by critics. The New York Times said, ‘Alternately grisly and dull, with few surprises’, with the LA Times going one further; ‘It’s arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie’.
Now considered one of the defining films of its time, John McTiernan’s story of an elite Commando squad being tracked down by an armour-clad, semi-invisible alien trophy hunter was a box office smash. Anyone of a certain age will forever remember their first time seeing Bill Duke’s terrifying bulging eyes fill the screen as he first spots the blurry image of the camouflaged Predator – “I see you” – or the destruction of an acre of forest with some of the most insane ever guns caught on camera.
It’s fair to say however that the Predator brand has been diluted somewhat over the years. Although Danny Glover and the ever-wonderful Gary Busey do their best to drag Predator 2 through the run-time, the busy scenes of downtown LA and a Predator whose mystery has completely diminished make for a dull, lazy follow up. From there, it doesn’t improve. Alien vs. Predator wasn’t quite as bad as you remember but is still a straight-to-video shop outing at best. The explanations of the origins of the Xenomorph are also at odds with what was eventually depicted in the later Alien films; Prometheus and Covenant, though of course we’re slipping into ‘comic-book guy’ territory by going down that route. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem slipped the franchise even further down the food-chain in 2007 and most thought that would be it for the crab-faced ultra-maniac.
But Hollywood has a tendency to wring the last stubborn stains out of a once shiny dishcloth. In 2010, Predators returned us to the jungle, albeit on a different planet, fixing at least some of the problems Predator 2 had created, and last year 20th Century Fox announced that Shane Black would write and direct a new entry in the Predator family to attempt to get the franchise back on track. Black, who also starred in the original, was once one of the highest paid writers in Hollywood, raking in millions for The Last Boy Scout after huge successes with Lethal Weapon and its sequel. As director, his CV is limited and mixed; 2016’s daft crime caper The Nice Guys was a moderate hit and Iron Man 3, although the least enjoyable of the series, was a solid directorial effort.
Black is certainly making all the right noises; his criticisms of the sequels are all valid points; Predator 2 didn’t have the isolation; all of them lost the impact and mystery of a barely seen hunter. The problem with any sequel however, is that once you’ve revealed the monster, seen the monster and killed the monster, the impact is always going to be a little muted. Black has promised to amp up the Predator with new-found alien technology, but that sounds a risky way of bringing back the original terror. The plot brings some worries too; a child accidentally recalling the Predators and a response team made up of a crack group of elite commandos and a disillusioned scientist set the stock-character warning lights a’flashing. Even lead actor Boyd Holbrook’s character’s name – Quinn McKenna – sounds worrying, as does his casting in the first place.
Still, a Shane Black penned Predator film sounds exciting.
So take a step back to 1987 and re-watch Dutch and his small army of action figures do battle with one of the best enemies ever put to the silver screen in preparation for the new instalment. And remember, if it bleeds, we can kill it.
The Predator is out in UK cinemas from September 12th