At last, a “Predator” spin-off that doesn’t make you re-watch the 1987 original to get the bad taste out of your mouth.
That doesn’t mean “Prey” tops the source material. Hardly. Director John McTiernan’s film has aged remarkably well, from its relentless pace to that glorious finale.
What “Prey” does is lean into the genre essentials. That, combined with a whiff of imagination, makes it superior to franchise extenders like “The Predator” and “Predators.”
Yes, the new “Prey” has its woke elements. We follow a hardscrabble Native American woman who wants to hunt as hard, and as successfully, as her male peers. And if she has to physically out-muscle men twice her size, well that’s what 21st century screenwriters demand.
Take that, Comanche patriarchy!
The focus remains on the predator, a creature whose trilling voice and deadly bag of tricks still grab our attention.
Naru (Amber Midthunder) longs to be regarded as a hunter like the men in her Comanche tribe. She’ll have to prove her worth, a challenge made all the more difficult when a mysterious creature enters her realm.
It’s tall, quasi-invisible and possesses strength beyond mortal men. Sound familiar?
We know all about the alien in question, but the tribe members have to learn the hard way.
The film doesn’t allow much time for nuance, culture or other elements that might enrich the saga beyond the use of authentic Comanche language. It’s all about the thrills, the alien antics and how this creature continues to intrigue us more than 30 decades after its debut.
Director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) keeps the action flowing, and he knows what franchise fans expect after all these years.
That template is slickly applied and makes the minimalist story easy to swallow. Ignore the 1:39 minute running time. This wraps in a clean 90 minutes, and that sense of efficiency alone deserves kudos in our bloated blockbuster age.
Midthunder captures Naru’s uncertainty and mental strength, making her a shrewd choice as the film’s protagonist. She’s not ready for any predicament, but give her a few beats and she’ll improvise.
At one point the predator dismisses her as a credible threat to its survival. A film set in modern times might have leaned into that sentiment, preaching along the way.
Team Trachtenberg lets the moment stand for itself, while audiences recognize the error of its ways. Case closed.
The Comanche backdrop separates the prequel from past efforts. It’s also a refreshing canvas on which to paint. How many action films engage in such an untapped setting?
— Bloody Disgusting (@BDisgusting) August 1, 2022
One mistake the prequel makes?
The creature’s technology is similar to what we see, centuries later, in the original ’80s film. That makes our heroine’s mission that much harder and more implausible.
Plus, it suggests the alien race didn’t evolve much over that period. Hmmm.
A subplot involving French hunters hints at a richer storyline, but it doesn’t earn enough screen time to matter.
FAST FACT: McTiernan says the original film’s producers wanted more “gun pornography.” So he did as told, uncorking a minute-long sequence where our heroes fire at everything, in sight.
Movies like “Prey” trip our cynical sensors from the jump. Oh, another desperate attempt to milk a franchise that should be put out of its misery. Can’t Hollywood come up with something new?
That’s true on the surface, but “Prey” is smart enough to acknowledge the obvious and give us enough thrills to squash our skepticism.
HiT or Miss: “Prey” can’t compete with the original “Predator,” but by staying lean and mean it blazes its own worthy trail.