Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing John McTiernan’s Predator back from the dead.
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura
IMDb rating: 7.9
Metacritic rating: 36
If Metacritic is to be believed, then Predator is a worse film than MVP: Most Valuable Primate, a title which in itself raises some weird questions – is the primate in question a great basketball player, or does he have a load of gold bullion shoved up his arse? (It turns out he’s a hockey player, naturally.) I digress, but the fact remains that, over at Metacritic, MVP: Most Valuable Primate is the better film. With that in my mind, then, I feel compelled, obligated even, to defend Predator, to rescue it from the monkey-with-gold-bullion-up-its-arse’s howling laughs of derision.
Predator is far from a great film, but it is a great kind of film, one in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, pumped and in his pomp, kicks some serious arse in the jungle. If 80s action cinema is to be taken seriously as a genre, then Predator must be seen as a key film in it, and, despite the japery above, there are some genuinely great moments throughout – even if they are only so in the context of 80s action cinema itself.
If 80s action cinema is to be taken seriously, then Predator must be seen as a key film, with Arnie pumped and in his pomp
An early scene lives in the memory, as Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and Dillon (Weathers) shake hands and hold their grip, sole purpose being to see who has the bigger arms, who is stronger, who is more macho. The sweat and tan on Schwarzenegger’s famed biceps serves to accentuate them, the lingering camera fetishising them as the shot is held and the bulge looks ready to burst. This is a new kind of leading man and a new kind of cinema: dangerous and animalistic, dripping with testosterone. You could even argue that this is, in a way, a hark of sorts to Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, a performance which forever altered Hollywood’s classical notions of the leading man. If that comparison sounds like hyperbole – which it definitely is – then so be it, because this is the 80s and this is Arnie, and since when did the 80s and Arnie do understatement?
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Other scenes stand out – a helicopter ride, soundtracked by Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally; Dillon’s severed arm still firing a machine gun on the ground – but it’s Schwarzenegger who gives the film its now mandatory ‘cult classic’ status (though it must be said that the support cast – Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura etc – are wonderfully crazy and colourful in equal measure). One only needs to mention the film for a chorus of “GET TO THE CHOPPA”s, or a crescendo of “I’M RIGHT HERE”s, to break out. If that seems crass and trivial, then again, so be it, because these are the things that helped Schwarzenegger form his legend, helped him to become, if not one of the best, then at least one of the most enjoyable and unique actors ever.
Predator helped Schwarzenegger form his legend, helped him to become one of the most enjoyable and unique actors ever
Furthermore, John McTiernan’s direction on Predator is slick and fast paced, setting the tone for the masterpiece – yes, masterpiece – he would make a year after Predator: Die Hard. For a movie rated so lowly by the omnipotent powers at Metacritic, it’s also worth noting that Predator has an Oscar nomination to its name; for Visual Effects. It’s easy to see why when you actually see the eponymous Predator: all mouth snarl and saliva, as created by the legendary Stan Winston. It’s when the film follows Schwarzenegger alone, however, that it reaches its pinnacle.
Here, we see this great beast of a man – this unusual presence in cinema – stalking, silent in a dark dense jungle, stalking the Predator as it, too, stalks him. It is at once dangerous and, to use that hyperbole again, beautiful – a bit like William Blake’s The Tyger, if we want to send that hyperbole into overdrive. If that’s not enough to resurrect Predator from the depths of critical despair, then consider the fact that, at one point, Arnie tells the Predator, to its face, that it is, “one ugly motherfucker”. Now no amount of basketball playing, ice-skating monkeys with half of Fort Knox up their arse can match that, can they?
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All images: 20th Century Fox