I had expected machismo, testosterone driven angry loud men screaming and shooting an alien and injuring it before dying, some random female love interest in danger, and a male-centric man vs monster battle to the death in a very dull Hollywood-esque fashion. This is what I had come to expect when reading reviews or commentary about this franchise. Instead, I was blown away by how good this film was. This film took those “man versus alien” tropes and utterly smashed them to pieces. The battles fought and won were not due to hulking, screaming men charging blindly to face an alien, but using guile, trickery, and outfoxing a technologically superior and dangerously intelligent foe whose only shortcomings are that he’s not familiar with the forestation, wildlife, and the capacity of the human mind.
The film begins with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character of Dutch being called to assist in a rescue operation after some laughably stupid machismo moment of arm-wrestling. The director added a humane side by having Arnold’s character comment that his men operate as a rescue team and not as hired killers which is why they didn’t join the war in Libya. Arnold’s team gets tricked into helping target and slaughter a rebel group in the unnamed – perhaps fictionalized – Southern American country. They see mission US soldiers skinned alive from the inside and assume it is the rebel group after seeing their leader shoot one of the survivors while they’re on a scouting mission. This brings an intense gunfire battle that they win. After capturing the lone female survivor of the enemy group, they try to trek back to the US operations base only to be met with a sudden brutal murder when one of their platoon members needed to take a bathroom break while journeying back through the forest. They initially think it is a rebel ambush and then lose another soldier who had the female hostage with him. Upon seeing all his blood on her while her hands are still tied; Arnold’s character immediately asks the right questions of why the captured woman didn’t flee, why didn’t any rebel who attacked save her from them, and why was the dead soldier’s fully loaded automatic rifle left on the ground? Simply this dialogue impressed me. Arnold’s character used his wits and strategized based on those observations and assessments. After several ambushes and encounters with the alien monster known as Predator, the group decides they need to get to the US-side of the border quickly or face death. Previously the overly testosterone driven, masculine characters seemed invincible and when faced with a dangerous opponent beyond their capabilities, every attempt at emotional pushback is met with a fatality akin to Mortal Kombat, complete with spine ripping as the Predator’s prideful show of collecting human bodies. I wouldn’t doubt that Mortal Kombat was perhaps influenced by this film for those sorts of fatalities. The film is absolutely brutal and I loved it.
What I especially enjoyed was how the tropes got smashed. In one specific case, a character who lost his best friend and another character who wants to take a final stand is given an extra gun by Arnold’s character go after the Predator in hopes of killing it for all the losses endured. The character out to avenge his friend gets ahead of himself and falls into Predator’s trap. It ends with the Predator killing him with a clean headshot. No victorious Hollywood machismo of running at the Predator bravely and wounding it, no strategic move to act as bait so the other guy can wound Predator, and no victory of any sort for an attempt at avenging his friend. He simply dies from one careless act due to his emotional turmoil of losing his friend and the Predator moves on to the next target. The other guy, Arnold’s old friend, gets his arm ripped off and the other gun isn’t some surprise Chekhov’s gun against the Predator at all. The Predator rushes to him as he feebly shoots in pain unable to really target the Predator due to the pain of a missing arm and the bullets barely do much other than to temporarily slow the Predator before the Predator kills him. No victory of any sort or slowing down of the Predator is really gained. Arnold, the female hostage, and his last companion try to head for the chopper before the last companion decides to go out with a blaze of glory, taking off his shirt and tossing his gun, and taking out a battle knife. He screams in full machismo adrenaline-pumped action, ready to avenge all his comrades and buy Arnold some useful time.
After that guy is unceremoniously killed off-screen with only some terrifying scream to tell us the results before we see his dead body get its spine and skull ripped out as a trophy by the Predator, the Predator goes after Arnold and the female hostage. When he gets knocked down, Arnold tells the female hostage to get to the chopper and decides to fight the Predator alone because it’s too much of a danger to the civilians and military encampment he had come from for the operation. There is no love interest involvement nor forced Hollywood love story. It’s just sheer, brutal realism of survival. Arnold sets up traps, he discovers the Predator can’t track him when he’s doused fully in cold mud, and he uses wooden booby traps, sticks, and rocks to kill the Predator. Every time Arnold uses machismo male screeching to the skies with a torch, the Predator kicks his ass and injured him; every time Arnold slinks in the dark and uses his wits, the Predator and him go blow-for-blow in outmaneuvering the other. The film ends gloriously with the Predator not falling for a trap with spiked wooden stakes and then falls for one with a large boulder crushing his body. Arnold goes for the kill, only to ask why the Predator did it. But the Predator responds with a suicide bombing attack that Arnold has to flee from. Arnold is rescued, albeit heavily injured. The film doesn’t end with any moralizing; it was just a brutal, no-holds-barred wits and strategy game of murder.
Overall, I thought this film was exceptionally well done and I can see why it was so popular and how – if the snippets of its sequel films are to go by – why they haven’t been as popular as the original. This film gets a 10 / 10 in my opinion.