I grew up in the heyday of the beefcake action genre and I’m not going to lie – I loved it. Throughout the 1980’s to the mid 1990’s names like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris, Van Damme, and Seagal had a constant presence in movie houses across the country. Granted, when looked at through a more discerning eye, lots of their films were much of the same. But even some of the bad ones were undeniably entertaining.
And then you had the really good ones. These movies were not only fun during their day, but they have stood the critical and evaluative test of time. Tops on that list may be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Predator” from 1987. This energetic mix of military action and creature science-fiction still stands as a genre classic.
Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, the leader of an elite special forces rescue unit. He and his team are summoned to Central America after a helicopter carrying a cabinet minister crashes in the guerrilla-occupied jungle. Dutch is tasked with finding the wreckage and bringing back the survivors. He reluctantly allows CIA Agent and old military pal Dillon (Carl Weathers) to tag along.
The six-man unit plus Dillon find the wreckage and discover the bodies of its passengers skinned and hanging in a tree. The team’s tracker (Sonny Landham) picks up a trail that leads them to a guerrilla camp (and to one of my favorite pure action sequences of the decade). Dutch and his team takes out the camp, learn why they were really sent in, and then venture deeper into the hostile jungle towards an extraction point.
But then things take a turn. Since the beginning director John McTiernan drops hints that there is something else in the jungle; something perhaps not so human. When this otherworldly creature takes out a couple of Dutch’s men it becomes clear that the humans have now become the prey.
Brothers Jim and John Thomas wrote what would become their signature screenplay. Their cohesive blend of straight action, survival elements, and sci-fi thrills inject “Predator” with a cool and unique identity. It all leads to an unexpectedly primal final act that pits brawn versus beast. Is it silly? You betcha. But it’s also a ton of fun.
Obviously this is Schwarzenegger in his prime, but “Predator” is one of the first movies where he begins to show a better understanding of the acting process. Clearly he has a dominating physical screen presence, but this performance sees him as more human than robotic. A game supporting cast including Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham brings even more muscle and personality.
There have been several attempts to recapture the magic formula of McTiernan’s original “Predator” but none have really come close. Sure, some may find it easy to dismiss the film as more 80’s meat-headed action. But “Predator” not only stands out in what was a crowded action genre, but it has held up extremely well for over thirty years. And I’ll confidently herald it as being among Schwarzenegger’s very best films.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS