Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
When the original Predator (1987) was being made, the idea behind it was an extraterrestrial hunting the most dangerous species, humans, and “the most dangerous man,” a combat soldier. That premise could be interpreted as a critique or a form of jingoism. Either way, it’s less likely director John McTiernan or writers Jim and John Thomas were trying to deliver any kind of grander statement beyond just capitalizing off the bodybuilder, beefcake as action star of the 1980’s. Thus far, this franchise has spawned about a half-dozen entries. Each one is basically about an individual battling another that’s bigger, stronger and has more advanced technology. Here, director Dan Trachtenberg and writer Patrick Aison decide to put the protagonists at more of a disadvantage by setting the story in the early 18th century among Native American people. Yet, the alien beings are equipped with the same advanced technology as the aliens from the 1987 entry.
Now, it’s a positive that Trachtenberg and Aison have centered Native Americans as the protagonists, and particularly as the heroes, which is arguably lacking in mainstream cinema. Obviously, the Western genre has been a source of contention, providing opportunities for Native Americans to be depicted but also having those depictions be controversial or not accurate. Often, it comes down to depicting Native Americans as savages, whether violent savages or even peaceful savages. There’s problematic aspects of both types. Trachtenberg and Aison avoid those stereotypes here and lay down an arguably authentic look at the Indigenous characters.
Amber Midthunder (Roswell, New Mexico and Legion) stars as Naru, a member of the Comanche tribe in 1719 who lives in the Northern Great Plains, probably Alberta, Canada, where the film was shot. She lives with her mother and older brother. There’s no sign of her father or any other family members, at least not any that are identified as such. She mainly interacts with other young men who seem the age as her brother. These young men seem to be responsible for most of the hunting, whether it’s hunting for food or hunting for protection to make sure wild animals like mountain lions don’t attack their tribe. It doesn’t seem like women typically engage in the hunting, but Naru wants to buck that trend.
It’s not clear if her tribe suffers from some form of sexism or if Naru’s struggle to become a hunter that is seen as equal to her brother or to the other young men is the result of something else, such as her age or experience. At one point, her brother acknowledges that she’s a good tracker and good with medicine. However, at other times, she’s told to go home and not into the woods to hunt, so I’m not sure that dynamic is fully established. She’s told that she has to undergo or she could undergo a rite of passage known as “Kühtaamia,” which is the process of hunting something that is also hunting you.
Dakota Beavers, in his screen debut, co-stars as Taabe, the older brother to Naru. Taabe is considered the best hunter in their tribe. His nickname is “War Chief.” This is probably due to the fact that he is also a skilled fighter. It’s not clear what the standing is with other male members of the tribe, but Taabe is celebrated as the one who will protect them, if not guide them. He’s very young and can seem boyish but he contains the kind of gravitas that would make him a believable leader here. How he came to be in this position or the entire social stratum of this tribe could have been by itself a great subject for this film. Unfortunately, that great subject is interrupted by placing these characters in what’s a science-fiction formulaic fight.
If one has seen the 1987 film, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, then one knows pretty much all the beats of the fight that goes down here. From the mud, to the body heat to the booby trap, everything that happens in the last act specifically is a re-run of the last act in the ’87 flick. In that way, this film is to Predator what The Force Awakens (2015) was to Star Wars (1977). In another way, it’s more beneficial in terms of representation because it’s saying that one doesn’t have to be a bodybuilder, beefcake in order to defeat a powerful adversary. One doesn’t have to be or look like Schwarzenegger in order to be a hero. It also goes more toward the “David and Goliath” myth. It even goes more toward the Rocky IV (1985) comparisons that were part of the genesis of the ’87 action film. It says that Native Americans can be the heroes.
The ending does posit a thought that is perhaps unfair, but one worth considering. Knowing the history of Indigenous people in the United States, we know that European colonists defeated and destroyed them in ways that were certainly more horrible, if not as gruesome as we see the alien do in this film. European colonists are present in this film, specifically French fur traders, so it’s not as if the alien being is a kind of metaphor for European colonists, although one could still make that connection. The unfair thought then becomes if Naru is capable of defeating this alien being with advanced technology, technology even more advanced than the French traders, then how is it that the Native Americans could be later defeated and destroyed by the coming European colonists?
It’s basically the same dilemma that underpinned my thoughts about Harriet (2019), which basically depicted a historical figure of the mid 1900’s as being akin to a super-hero, overcoming incredible odds. Yet, that doesn’t become endemic of the people she’s representing. She’s just one individual who wins a particular battle. The overall war is one that is lost, thanks to what we know about history, which only made the ending bittersweet for me. Trachtenberg did give Naru and Taabe some cool, action moments. One could possibly revel in horror thrills of blood and gore present here but it’s nothing new or even as intense as the ’87 version, which didn’t rely as much on CGI as this film does.
Rated R for strong bloody violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.
Available on Hulu.