The latest edition to the Predator franchise was released last weekend on Hulu. While it is sad to see a classic summer blockbuster action franchise no longer premiering on the big screen, this in no way is a merit of the quality of Prey. In fact, I would easily put Prey on par with the original Predator if not above. Now, that may seem too high praise or perhaps even a bit hyperbolic, but the film earns every word and makes full use of its cast, story, budget, locations, etc. to deliver an exciting and action packed entry into the franchise and action genre in general.
In many ways, the success of the film is not too surprising considering it is essentially the narrative of the original with a few twists. Like the original film, Prey begins by focusing on the band of humans and their relationships and actions before the titular alien of the franchise ever even shows up. In fact, much like its predecessor, Prey could completely work as a film simply by following the story and progression of Naru, a Comanche woman who is trying to prove herself and rise to the position of hunter alongside her brother, without ever including the science fiction elements or Predator alien. Why? Because even with limited dialogue, backstory, or exposition, Naru’s story is an engaging one that draws its audience in an makes us care about her, a missing element in many of the sequels. Doesn’t hurt that she also has an awesome canine companion throughout the movie, and before you worry, yes, the dog lives.
So, as stated before, it is in essence the same movie as before. Naru, like Dutch, is living her life with her friends, family, and allies. She embarks on a seemingly dangerous, but standard for her people, mission of taking out a large mountain lion that is attacking the tribe and its food source. (Dutch on the other hand was sent to rescue a hostage and take out a militia on foreign soil which was kind of standard for certain entities at the time) Naru, like Dutch, joins a band of warriors to complete this assignment. There are minor complications which are rather easily overcome. And eventually the mission is complete pretty early in the film at which point the movie turns when the party encounters the Predator. From here, like before, the Predator methodically and viciously takes out members of the party one by one until only it and Naru are left in the escalating standoff. As well, Naru, like Dutch, defeats the Predator through clever ingenuity, knowledge of the terrain and Predator’s skills, using every trick and advantage that can be mustered, and just a bit of luck.
Although the two films share many narrative and plot similarities, Prey takes on different themes and dimensions by virtue of simply starring and focusing on protagonists of differing gender and race. I know that is the rallying cry of whiny YouTube driven assholes who cannot stand the very concept of stories centering on non white male characters, but that doesn’t change the fact. By making the central protagonist a woman who wants to be a hunter/warrior, a new dimension is added when she must rely on her skills as a gatherer and knowledge of plants to defeat the Predator. As well, having the main fighters be Comanche alienates them further than Dutch and his team as they do not possess the strongest weapons (firearms) of the era, unlike Dutch and his team, and must rely even more fully on their skills and knowledge of the land. The inclusion of the French fur trappers and their inherent belief of superiority and dismissal of Naru and her brother as legitimate fighters of their own adds layers and commentary around the original Manifest Destiny ideology and how the Predator acts as a colonizer and conquistador as well. Of course, these themes and readings are not hammered on or even necessarily stated by the film as it focuses solely on seeing Naru through her journey. That is not to say they are not present or informed by the events on screen; merely, that, like all good stories, the themes and ideas of a narrative serve the story and vice versa instead of any specific agenda. And Prey is first and foremost a good story.
At the end of the day, that is really all that should matter. Whatever discussion about “wokeness” or “unearned representation” or other bullshit nonsense “critics” may try to bring up does not devalue or change that, at its core, Prey is a well executed, entertaining action film. Are there some conversations to be had concerning theatrical versus streaming release or the continuing of legacy intellectual properties versus constructing original work or how sequels, particularly to waning franchises, can and should be handled? Absolutely. And many more discussions have merit as well, but any worthwhile conversation should begin from the consensus that Prey was a good film. You, personally, may not have enjoyed it or found it to be lacking, but it is still, at the very least, a competent and well made movie. Anyone who cannot admit that much is not worth listening to.
All that being said, highly recommend watching Prey at your earliest convenience. Solid film that clocks at around 90 minutes and is available on Hulu and other affiliated streaming services. Perhaps with enough attention, the franchise and/or team behind the movie can get a full fledged theatrical release on their next project.