Arnold Schwarzenegger

Prey

25/09/22

Disney+

In 1987, Predator was a palpable hit for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a sci-fi action adventure so stuffed full of testosterone it felt like it was going to explode off the screen. Its titular villain, an alien hunter sporting dreadlocks and a face like a shellfish casserole, was memorable enough to prompt a series of sequels, each one less satisfying than the last. Eventually, the creature was pitted against the villain from Alien, which really should have been the end of the story. It seems obvious: if you haven’t got anything new to add to a franchise, why bother?

And then writer/director Dan Trachtenberg has a great idea. What if the alien hunter has been around for a long time? What if he visits Earth in the 1700s? What if he has all those same hi-tech weapons at his disposal but his adversaries are native Americans, armed with nothing more deadly than knives, spears, bows and arrows?

It sounds like a brilliant premise and, from the moment I hear about it, I’m in. But annoyingly, Prey doesn’t get a cinematic release and is exclusively shown on Disney+. Which more or less explains how I wind up viewing it months after its initial release.

No matter, late is better than never, right?

This is the story of Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Commanche woman who cannot see why she is expected to stay in the tipi with her mother, Aruka (Michelle Thrush), cooking and being practical, while her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), gets to head off on hunts, killing rabbits and deer for the larder and even taking on the occasional larger animal, like the pesky mountain lion that’s been causing havoc amongst the tribe. Naru practises with her weapons at every opportunity, even devising a brilliant technique employing an axe on a length of home-made rope. She wants to be ready if Taabe ever grants her the opportunity to hunt alongside him.

Then one day she sees something in the sky, something she thinks is a vision of the Thunderbird. Of course, it really marks the arrival of the alien hunter, dropping by for another of his brutal safaris. Pretty soon, he’s attacking and killing everything that moves – and it’s only a matter of time before Naru and he are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival…

There’s so much to enjoy here – Midthunder is terrific in the central role (it will be interesting to see where she goes next) and Jeff Cutter’s sumptuous location cinematography sets the scene perfectly. The action sequences are brilliantly devised and filmed, but, unlike the original film, Prey has plenty to say about the nature of hunting, how different it is when people depend upon it in order to stay alive. This point is eloquently enforced when Naru chances on a whole field of skinned buffalo, the victims of a large group of French hunters, who we meet later in the film and who clearly embody the true nature of savagery. Furthermore, there’s a cleverly constructed plot here. Everything that happens to Naru is shown for reasons that will only become fully evident in the film’s final moments. Keep an eye out for Chekov’s quicksand!

Most critics have placed Prey as the second best film in the Predator franchise, but I’d go further than that. For my money, this effort leaves Arnold’s macho swagger in the dust.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Predator

14/09/18

First, a bit of history.

The crab-faced, dreadlocked super hunter from another planet first stalked Arnold Schwarzenegger through a rain forest in 1987. There was an iffy sequel starring Danny Glover in 1991, before the franchise sank dismally into the wretched nadir of the Alien versus Predator films in the mid-noughties. In 2010, director Nimrod Antal made a valiant attempt to revive its fortunes with Predators, but the results were, to say the very least, so-so. Which brings us to 2018 and yet another reboot, desperately seeking to inject new DNA into the format.

I’ll be honest and admit the only thing that tempts me to give this one a try is the name Shane Black, attached as director and co-writer. Surely, I think, if anybody can pull this off, he’s the one.

Well, to be fair to him, he gives it his best shot. Here, the action is split between three main stories. On a special mission in the Mexican jungle, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses the crashing of a stricken extra-terrestrial craft. He salvages some alien technology from the wreckage, and promptly posts it back to his home in the USA for safekeeping. It is soon discovered by his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is, like most Asperger’s kids in movies, some kind of super genius who manages to figure out how it all works. Meanwhile, University lecturer, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), is collected by special forces and taken to a secret laboratory where a captive predator is currently being experimented on. She is asked to put in her four pen’orth, as she is the ‘foremost authority on genetic hybridisation.’

Almost before you can mutter, ‘Really?’ said Predator is on the loose and despatching laboratory technicians in a decidedly visceral manner – whereupon Ms Bracket, like all university lecturers in such situations, grabs a machine gun and morphs into some kind of action woman. But it’s all to no avail, because the creature has decided to take young Rory back to his home planet in order to make use of the boy’s special skills and has headed off to track him down.

Okay, maybe there always needs to be some suspension of disbelief in these films, but at times I struggle. Suffice to say that Black’s best addition to the franchise are the wisecracking  special forces misfits, who team up with McKenna and Munn in an attempt to retrieve Rory from his alien kidnapper. If the wisecracking isn’t quite as assured as Black’s previous efforts, well, let’s put that down to the fact that he has never worked in this genre before. He also throws in some extra-terrestrial hunting ‘dogs’ and (perhaps inevitably) a super-sized, hybrid Predator, bigger and more powerful than its predecessors. Because bigger is always better, right?

What else? Well, there are plenty of action set pieces, which are decent enough, but not really top-notch, and the film’s finale is so ridiculously OTT I find myself shaking my head at the sheer ridiculousness of some of the stunts. A coda that appears to set the film up for a sequel may just be wishful thinking on Black’s part. I really can’t see this nonsense setting the box office alight, but hey, who knows? At the heart of the problem, in my humble opinion, is the simple fact that the Predator films really want to be the Alien films, but are never in the same league. (Hell, the Alien films haven’t been in their own league for a very long time now, so what chance is there?)

And I just wish Hollywood would accept that there are some dead horses that have been flogged quite enough, and it might be time to try coming up with some new ideas.

Come on, how hard can it be?

3 stars

Philip Caveney 

Maggie

MV5BMTkyNzk0MTU2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDExNzMyNTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Unknown

24/07/15

– How about a zombie film? Starring Alpha-Republican-hardman Arnold Schwarzenegger, you say.

– Nah, I say. I think I’ll pass. I mean, I do quite like stories of the living dead, but I really can’t be doing with all that boring Mr Macho stuff.

– Go on, you say; it might be good. It’s been plucked from Hollywood’s infamous ‘Black List’ of unproduced scripts and championed by Schwarzenegger himself.

– And that’s supposed to make it better?

– Well, we haven’t got anything else planned for the evening.

And, you know I’m a sucker for the whole cinematic experience, even if I’m not so keen on the movie, so yeah, why not? And off we go.

And, oh, but am I glad we did.

Maggie is a zombie movie unlike any I have ever seen. John A Scott III’s debut screenplay is slow and tender, warm and sad. There’s only minimal lurching and wounding, and the bullets put through the zombies’ heads are shot reluctantly and with compassion. Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is a wayward teen, who, having run off to explore the bright lights of the big city, calls home to ask her father (Schwarzenegger) for help. She has been infected and is in quarantine.

This particular dystopia is more humane than most. Infected people are assessed and then allowed home to live out the remainder of their ‘human’ days. When the time comes, they are supposed to return to quarantine, where they will be dispatched via lethal injection. Police patrols have lists of those on furlough, and round up those whose families struggle to give them up. The focus then is not on survival; it’s not about encountering the slavering hoards and protecting what you have from others who want in. Instead, this is the story of a family learning to let go.

There’s not much in the way of backstory or character development – and I think that’s to the film’s credit. Maggie’s likes and dislikes, dreams and fears are just not that important now. She and her family are living in the present, dealing with the day-to-day. We are trusted to engage with their predicament on this human level; the fripperies we use to label and identify are stripped away and we are left with just the basics: love and empathy and muddling-through. I thought it was wonderful. Even the dragged-out ending (Now? No. Now? Not yet. Now?) served to underline the hardship: how do we know when the time is right; when are we ever ready to accept a loved one’s death?

So this is a zombie movie, yes, but it’s also unlikely to appeal to those in search of frights and thrills. It’s more of an allegory, really, for the way we deal with disease and disaster. (And yes, I know that zombie movies are usually allegorical to some degree, but this is one more so. It’s Allegory Plus.)

It’s definitely worth watching.

4 stars

Susan Singfield