For a franchise about the ultimate hunter, the Predator series has been sorely bereft of killer movies. The original 1987 film, simply titled Predator, is a stone-cold action classic and a gloriously ridiculous celebration of over-the-top 80s machismo.
It's a tense, taut and thrilling film as action-superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger and his elite paramilitary team storm, guns blazing, into a Central American rainforest only to quickly find themselves sport. As they start being gruesomely picked off one by one, they realise they're being hunted by a technologically advanced, highly skilled foe. Eventually, they clock that it's an alien intent on killing the lot of them and claiming their skulls as grim trophies of his hunt.
Predator doesn't waste any of its running time. Right from the get-go, it's filled with firefights, explosions, corny action-film jokes and heads and bodies being blown apart in spectacularly blood-splattered fashion. It's a big, smartly dumb ride and one of my favourite films of all time.
It's also the high-water mark for the series. Predator is so good, so complete, that none of its many sequels or spin-offs has come close to matching it. While they haven't been bad enough to deliver a fatal blow to the series - although a few have come close - they've still landed enough damage to leave its reputation seriously harmed.
Which is why I approached Prey with trepidation. The movie, which is streaming on the adult-orientated Star hub on Disney+, is a prequel to the original film, time travelling back more than 250 years to America's colonial era. Such a giant leap through time is canon for the series as in Predator 2 it's established that the aliens have been visiting Earth and hunting our greatest warriors for hundreds of years.
Prey is set in 1719 in America's Northern Great Plains, and follows a wannabe Comanche hunter named Naru, played by the Native New Mexican actress Amber Midthunder. Rejecting the traditional role and notions of "woman's work", she is instead determined to prove herself a worthy hunter, despite the disapproval of everyone around her bar her supportive warrior brother.
When her people get word that a lion is stalking the area, she takes the event as a sign that it is time for her to undertake the rite-of-passage; to hunt something that is hunting her.
Of course, it's not a mere lion that is leaving a trail of dismembered animals in its wake but is instead a just-landed, invisibly shielded Predator arrived for a little game sport.
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Like the original, Prey doesn't waste time. There's a little set-up showing Naru's frustration at being underestimated by the men and a couple of sequences highlighting her battle skills and smarts and then it's straight into the action. It begins with both Naru and the Predator squaring off against the wild animals that roam the plains such as wolves, snakes, mountain lions and, in one blood-soaked set-piece, bears, as the tension mounts and they begin rocketing towards their inevitable and ruthless showdown.
The movie also borrows the simplicity of Predator, keeping an absolute focus on Naru and not letting itself get bogged down in side-plots or overcomplications. Naru and her fellow warriors are pursued through the trees, where a grizzly fate awaits, and that's pretty much that.
But, boy, are some of these ends spectacularly bloody and brutal, with arrows flying into limbs, spears thrust through bodies and spines just being plain ripped out. This Predator being particularly ferocious in his dispatching of anyone or anything that gets in his path and much more fearsome in his famously ugly appearance than previous visitors.
Prey doesn't go overboard with the fan service but there are some tasteful nods for the Predator faithful to enjoy. However, it's obvious that thought was given to their usage and they never feel shoehorned in.
In fact, it's obvious that thought and care have been given to every aspect of the movie. Naru's journey from feisty rookie to battle-smart warrior may not be the most original concept going but it feels earned and satisfying as she discovers ways to mitigate the Predator's massive technological advantage through her own failings and by watching him take out others. Midthunder is awesome in the role, her speed and smarts making her a thoroughly believable action heroine, especially when wielding her kick-ass signature weapon, an axe-on-a-rope that allows her to biff it at an enemy and then pull it back.
Aside from its barrage of kills and thrills, Prey also offers comment on gender politics, even if its musings aren't particularly deep or subtle. But this is a movie where a giant alien dripping in human blood and wearing a bony skull mask rips off a person's arm before cutting off their head with a razor-sharp shield. Subtlety is not exactly what this franchise is about.
Prey's back-to-basics approach, stunning landscapes and brutal thrills is the refresh this action series needed. It proves wildly successful, hugely entertaining and can be considered the cinematic equivalent of a clean headshot.