Speaking of alien invasions, want to see a better movie that handles that same subject better than The Tomorrow War? Well, if you have not seen Predator (1987) already, drop what you are doing and check it out. Actually, they are two very different films, though both deal with extra-terrestrials that come to this planet and are up to no good. In the concerted averageness that is The Tomorrow War, ravenous beasts are set loose on Earth that push humanity to the brink of extinction. It has all the digital tomfoolery we have come to expect from modern moviemaking, and is thus boring. In Predator, you have a really tall dude in a rubber suit running around the jungles of Central America as the title off-worlder (Kevin Peter Hall). It is much more personal, and much more interesting.
Still, we do not get to “see” said alien until well into Predator. The reason for the quotation marks will be become apparent momentarily. Yet, we know something is up when it opens with a spaceship sending a pod out to land on our planet. We do not know what it is, but you know something serious is afoot when they call in Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of elite soldiers. They do not entirely understand the situation as yet. They think they do, though, thanks to the line fed to them by Dutch’s old comrade turned Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Dillon (Carl Weathers). According to Dillon, a high-level diplomat’s helicopter had gone down in the mountainous rain forests and Dutch and his men have been recruited to find him. And despite Dutch’s protests that he and his men work alone, Dillon is coming with them. It is not long after setting foot in the jungle that they locate the helicopter, but no sign of the diplomat. Their ace scout Billy (Sonny Landham) does find tracks, and with Dillon’s urging they press on further into the tangled growth. Dillon’s suggestion is that the diplomat had been taken hostage by rebels in the area, and it does not take Dutch’s team long to locate their base. However, while on their trek, there is a sense that they are not alone, that they are being watched, and not by rebels. Interspersed with shots of their hike is an as yet unseen force shadowing their movements, and seeing them through the bright colors of infrared. It stays on their tail as Dutch’s soldiers take out the rebel base with a practiced ease. In the midst of the destruction of the base, it becomes obvious that they had been duped by Dillon into becoming his personal squad of assassins. This does not sit well with Dutch, and he insists that Dillon is on his own with the hostage he has decided to take with him. It is during their hike back to the designated pick-up spot on the other side of the border that things start to go sideways. One-by-one, Dutch’s soldiers are killed by this alien who appears to be hunting them. It has the ability to blend in with its surroundings, making it virtually invisible, and it makes gruesome trophies of their body parts. Eventually, they are down to just Dutch and Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), Dillon’s hostage. This is basically when Dutch shouts the famous line, “Get to the choppa!” in an effort to protect Anna from the beast. In fleeing himself, getting it to chase him, he learns that if he camouflages itself with cooling mud, it cannot see him. Having evaded it for now, he is able to prepare a series of traps using what remains of his weapons to finally finish it off. Doing so brings him face-to-face with the alien, who he is able to disarm, but while also taking a beating himself. Not content to bow out after having a giant log crush it, the Predator decides with its dying breath to arm a mini-nuclear warhead it carries on its wrist. The helicopter that had already picked up Anna sees the small mushroom cloud as it comes to retrieve Dutch. They find him covered in ash but alive, and that is where it ends.
Predator is not a terribly complicated movie. At its most basic level, there is a monster and a bunch of people have to kill it in order to stay alive. What is somewhat interesting about it from a Faith perspective is the attempts at restraint. Dutch’s men are cocky and irreverent, making crude sex jokes, chewing tobacco, and are extremely sure of their skills. And, oh man, the muscles. Muscles, muscles, muscles. The fact that there is something out there that is potentially stronger and better at killing than they are is unnerving. Still, the film takes pains to show that shooting guns and destruction is not their sole purview in life. When they arrive at the beginning, none of them are dressed in uniforms, each looking like they were just plucked from any random street in America. Shortly thereafter, Dutch emphasizes that they are a rescue team, not assassins. This reticence for death also trickles down to the Predator. At one point, they figure out that it will not kill anyone who is unarmed and/or not seeking to do it harm. Towards the climactic moment in the film, Anna gets a hold of a weapon intent on opening fire with it. Dutch kicks the gun out of her hands, clearly trying to get the Predator’s attention. Anyone who has seen this film would probably think that what I am seeing here is a stretch, a sham attempt at making characters who delight in death seem more human. Perhaps, but my Catholic senses appreciate at least the attempt. Clearly, there was no evangelizing the Predator, and even the thought of such an endeavor could be construed as laughable. At the same time, our Faith teaches that it is okay to defend yourself in extreme circumstances. To be clear, I am not making excuses for the violence in the movie. At the end of the day, though, the good guys win and the bad guys lose because the only thing the Predator wants to do is kill and Dutch wants to stop it.
I may have been going out on a limb with the previous paragraph. I do not really care because this is a Catholic movie review blog, and Predator really is not the worst film, morally speaking, sex jokes aside. Heroes are heroes, and villains are villains. And it is a genuinely tense movie, particularly if you have not seen it. If that is the case, and you are in the mood for some simple action, take a look. If you are familiar with it, it is one that you can watch a number of times and it is still good.