Prey Saved The Predator Franchise

Please note…this is a SPOILER FREE review.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I love the Predator franchise and have since I was a kid. I saw the movies way earlier than I should have and I was immediately hooked. I have well over a hundred Predator figures and it’s actually the character I own the most individual collectibles from upon reflection. To say I’m a fan is an understatement and I’ve been eagerly waiting for a new entry in the mythos.

This past Friday, August 5th saw the release of Prey, the seventh film in the Predator franchise featuring extra-terrestrial hunters who travel the galaxy searching for the deadliest game possible. After the extremely disappointing release of The Predator in 2018, the franchise was not looking to be in great shape. 2010’s Predators by director Robert Rodriguez was an overall very well received sequel that seemed to have put the series back on its tracks after Alien Vs Predator: Requiem’s poor returns. Then the aforementioned The Predator was a flop and pressure was high on this next installment to be a hit.

And boy, fans were not disappointed…

Set in the year 1719 in the Northern Great Plains, Prey premiered directly to Hulu and Disney+ and shows us the first time a member of the Predator species, known as Yautja in the extended universe, arrives on Earth to hunt the various forms of life. It quickly realizes human beings are the alpha prey on this world. Among those human beings are our main characters, Naru and Taabe; siblings and members of the Comanche tribe of native peoples and the children of the War Chief, the tribe’s leader. Along with their faithful dog Sarii, they are young and clearly both very skillful and knowledgeable in all the various ways their people have lives off the land for generations.

However, as the time of Taabe’s kuhtaamia, a hunter’s rite of passage, draws near, Naru witnesses what she believes to be the spirit of the Thunderbird in the sky. In actuality, what she sees is the cloaked Yautja ship coming through the atmosphere to drop off the hunter. Naru takes this as a sign that her own time of passage must be coming as well. She begins noticing odds signs in the surrounding woods that don’t make sense. Taabe and others dismiss Naru’s observations as traces of bears that she is misunderstanding. But, we know she is right about something being off. The Yautja has begun taking small trophies like snakes and a wolf as it learns about the local wildlife. Now, it wants something larger and our characters are directly in it’s path…who will be predator and who will be prey?

Director Dan Trachtenberg has delivered a film that I truly love. Everything about this Predator movie FEELS right. The tone and set design are realistic, the soundtrack is powerful, the kills are brutal and the sense of humanity against beast is clear. But, what I loved the most about the film is the way the Yautja itself was presented. It’s a new hunter, known as the Feral Predator, and therefore it has no skull trophies on its armor and no ornaments in its tendrils. It hasn’t earned either of these things yet. It doesn’t use the trees for movement until more than halfway through the film because it hasn’t learned to yet. But, what Feral does have are both unmistakable Predator traits and new things we haven’t seen before. It has the classic cloaking device we have always seen but no shoulder mounted energy weapon, known as a Plasmacaster. This is an older version of the Yautja we know, so it doesn’t have its newer weapons. This version uses blades and projectiles similar to ones we have seen in the past but included now is the spear’s ability to disconnect into two separate weapons. There is also a completely new wrist shield and a sort of bendable dagger. This weapon load out gives us something both familiar and brand new which is what all sequels should attempt to do, in my opinion. Feral also has a mask made of almost all bone which is both new in the franchise and perfectly in tune with the film’s primitive setting. It’s badass and scary.

Aside from Feral’s gear, the creature itself is a newer version of the classic Yautja design. He’s part of a subspecies and this is something we have seen throughout the Predator franchise. The late special FX master Stan Winston who designed the original Predator in 1987 said when designing the City Hunter for Predator 2 in 1990 that the various Predator groups were like snakes. There are distinct differences between species but a snake is always unmistakably a snake. Feral is the usual height of a Yautja but more lean than others we have seen before with extreme musculature in the chest and stomach. It’s face it’s also much wider with larger eyes and a very large lower mandible that resembles the Berserker Predator from 2010’s Predators. Overall, I think it’s a fabulous design although I would have preferred a few more of the unmasked shots to have been practical effects over digital shots.

Basically, other than tiny nitpicks like that, I can find no major fault with this movie as both a long time Predator fan and a pop culture lover who is getting harder to please as he gets older. I loved the character of Naru and found her to be a naturally strong female character like Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley before her. Yes, there were a few lines acknowledging Naru being out of place as a woman on a hunt. However, this narrative is set in the eighteenth century, it’s fitting to have male characters openly question certain things she says and does. These moments don’t seem forced or artificial to me as is often the criticism of female lead comic book or science fiction stories today. Just show the character being strong in a way that is natural and audience will follow her. And audiences are definitely following Naru. As of this writing, Hulu has announced that Prey was the network’s highest viewed premier since its launch. In the days of modern releases seeing life immediately in living rooms on release day, Prey has bagged a record trophy it can certainly be very proud of.

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