Having sat through a good number of better-than-average yarns, it was clear that the Predator offered creative angles for writers and readers alike. The singular hunter – or even a small band of them working in unison – could be situated in damn near any environment – primitive or advanced – and then the story could practically write itself. Granted, it may’ve been thematically limited – it’s not like the dynamics of the hunter and the hunted could necessarily lend itself to every hot button topic of the day (say, “pronoun usage”) – but it sure seemed to this member of the audience that scripters and artists had no difficulty exploring some reasonably hefty ideas against the backdrop of what it meant to be “in the hunt.” A good time was had by all.
Now, theatrically, that wasn’t the case. (And, yes, I’m speaking only from my perspective.)
Predator 2 (1990) exchanged the real jungle for an urban variety; and – while I thought the setting was equally promising the script by Jim and John Thomas just kinda/sorta left me cold. Danny Glover was, arguably, a step down from Arnold Schwarzenegger of the original; and I think the big city street life just wasn’t used as effectively as it could have been. 2010’s Predators – a futuristic, bloody potboiler – essentially repackaged the original but rocketed its elite commandos to an alien jungle planet; so I was equally disappointed in something that resembled what had already been done before. As for 2018’s The Predator? Well, frankly, it had some solid potential – again the focus was on a crack team of military commandoes squaring off against the grisly headhunter – but it fairly quickly devolved into little more than macho chicanery, never quite confronting the true menace of the hunters suddenly becoming the hunted … thus, it pretty much tanked.
This brings us to 2022, and 20th Century Fox truly took everything back, back, and back to the drawing board with the franchise in Prey. Screenwriters Patrick Aison and Dan Trachtenburg took the Thomas’ idea into the days of the American West, pitting a tribe of Comanche Indians in a quest to get out alive from the ultimate hunt-of-their-lives when a Predator decides to match his wits, skills, and weaponry against any adversary deemed a threat. The result is a primitive and back-to-basics thrill ride that deserves a bit of extra attention from fans who may’ve given up on the next-big-thing in the Predator universe.
Why, it could’ve even been plucked from the pages of a Dark Horse Comic …
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Naru, a skilled warrior of the Comanche Nation, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.”
If Google.com can be trusted, then a little ‘something something’ like Prey was made for the affordable price of $65 million dollars; and studios would be well to take whatever lesson they can from the endeavor. In fact, Prey is arguably smarter than any other sequel to the 1987 blockbuster that helped usher in the big screen success of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and – other than including one of the property’s signature aliens – it functionally has nothing to do with it. One might even think of it as little more than a creative riff on the ideas established in the first film because every other component of it stands on its own two feet, a rarity for an authentic sequel if ever there were.
Sadly, Prey was made for Hulu – the popular streaming portal – so there’s no way a reasonable person could estimate whether or not it could’ve recouped its production costs as a feature film, but I’m inclined to think that it could’ve done solid numbers. While understandably smaller than perhaps any other incarnation in the franchise, it’s still a compelling and thrilling story of a little warrior that could – this one female – who learns the lesson that surviving as a prey will likely mean one has to use more brain than brawn … though co-opting a bit of space-age technology and using against your attacker will never go out of style.
But in an age wherein studio tentpole features – like Star Wars and/or the wider Marvel Universe – has budgets spiraling upwards to the half-billion-dollar mark, it’s growing harder and harder for the producers behind such fodder to generate real profits. A humbler attempt – not unlike Prey – might just be the answer presently eluding those suits: instead of putting out a trilogy of flicks at that high price, why not figure out a way to do one big picture and two small ones and still preserve what makes your IP successful with audiences? Granted, it won’t be easy, and yet Prey might represent a safer way forward for the studios in the modern era.
Yes, yes, and yes: I can hear the voices of a few of the usual suspects crying that Prey might be little more than repackaged ‘female empowerment,’ but the truth to the rest of the story is that Naru only makes this journey as far as she does with the help of those warriors around her … and they’re all male. So while I understand how some might take what little they’ve learned about the film and dismiss it as modern politicization (would the Comanches accept a female in the role of war father?), such a castigation is an insult to the film as a whole. There’s far more to be taken away as lessons learned in this flick – especially when it comes to the ultimate showdown between the two warriors – and I’ve long ago learned that sometimes it’s best to set aside my own political opinions for the sake of being entertained. No, I’m not always able to do it … and, yet, when the storytellers accomplish it with so much bloody affection as they do here, I can live with myself and the fact that I enjoyed it.
Prey (2022) was produced by 20th Century Studios, Davis Entertainment, and Lawrence Gordon Productions. Presently, the film is available for viewing on Hulu or purchase on physical media via a variety of retail outlets. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the film’s sights and sounds were of exceptional quality, along with some fabulous special effects and even the occasional in-camera trickery. If you’re looking for special features? Technically, there are none on the DVD, but the disc does boast a variety of audio tracks including a Comanche version. Impressive, no?
Feel free to disagree – I’ve been wrong before – but I think it’s taken over three decades to get a sequel to 1987’s Predator that both captures the thrill of the original hunt and deserves to stand alongside it on any video collector’s shelf. 2022’s Prey is exceptional – the story of a girl who both embraces and rejects her role in this small universe and lives to talk about it. Performances across the board are wonderful; the effects and cinematography work about as well as possible; and the hunt is once more absorbing. Naru might be a fraction the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that wouldn’t stop me from betting on her survival in the future.