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‘PREY’ Review: a Predator franchise game-changer that oftentimes overshadows John McTiernan’s original

SYNOPSIS: The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.

Since 1987’s instant cult hit Predator, the ensuing sequels have been largely hit-and-miss (albeit always entertaining) affairs. For this reviewer, the two standout sequels are Predator 2, courtesy of the Thomas brothers and director Stephen Hopkins making the bold-but-deft decision to transport the action to an urban jungle, and then Predators which served as a stellar, out-of-this-world homage to the 1987 original whilst simultaneously shuffling everything up by pitting a motley crew of memorable characters against a band of Yautjas and delivering a wealth of new insight into the Predators’ evil agenda.

But, none of the direct/indirect sequels ever really succeeded in living up to the original … until now.

Finally, 35 years after “Get to the Chopper” et al. became pop culture quotes, filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg (“The Boys,” “10 Cloverfield Lane”) has crafted a franchise best-in-show successor, breathing ingenious fresh new fluorescent green blood into the saga. This is the first time watching a Predator sequel left my chin chafing against the floor in awe just like the original film did when I first saw that as a teenager.

This entry ultimately upstages all the previous sequels thanks to screenwriter Patrick Aison (“Jack Ryan”, “Treadstone) and Trachtenberg taking things back to the Northern Great Plains 300 years ago. This allowed them to maintain the look and feel of the Predator franchise and strip everything back to the basic elements that made the original an instant hit whilst wisely refraining from following in the footsteps of the homage-heavy sequels that overdid it with the incessant hat-tips to and direct quotes from the first film that served as completely pointless reminders that the audience was watching another Predator movie.

And what really sets Prey apart from all its Predator predecessors – the 1987 original included – is Trachtenberg’s resolute determination to provide an authentic portrayal of the Comanche nation, with a cast comprised almost entirely of Native and First Nation’s talent. This unprecedented approach lends itself to a sui generis take on the franchise that’s as rigorously researched as it is narratively gripping and fascinating, providing audiences with something that still feels very much a quintessential Predator movie whilst simultaneously feeling completely unfamiliar and also arguably the scariest entry in the franchise.

Setting it in a more primitive era, and with this being the Predator’s first visit to earth, also served as a springboard to draw comparisons between the Predator’s deadly designs and human’s disparate motivations for hunting. Accordingly, the title of the movie is particularly fitting as the film highlights just how similar the psychological implications of trophy hunting are for both humans and Yautjas.

Trachtenberg also uses this more rudimentary time setting to his advantage by creating a fine balance between how much, and how little, Predator technology had evolved by then. What we get is a perfect mix of the mortal gadgets we’re all familiar with but this time operating differently than we expect them to. And these more primitive versions provide far more surprises and are far more entertaining to discover than all the state-of-the-art Predator tech revealed in previous sequels put together. Armed with much more abecedarian instruments of death also results in Prey packing some of the gnarliest kills the franchise has seen to date.

All of the above is anchored by a commanding, physical and inspirational performance from Amber Midthunder (“The Ice Road,” “Roswell, New Mexico”) as the opinionated, fierce, and endearing warrior, Naru. And, as she’s been raised in the shadow of legendary hunters, most of them very much against the idea of female warriors, Prey also packs a keen and potent meditation on gender bias, prompting Naru to stand her ground not only in an attempt to defeat the Predator but also to prove herself a worthy hunter amongst her peers.

Case in point: There’s something out there, waiting for you, and it ain’t no average Predator movie. Audiences are in for an intense, visceral, terrifying, and aspirational ride, rife with moral takeaways, and I, for one, hope that Trachtenberg gets a chance to stick around for another entry as Prey is exactly the kind of mold breaker the franchise, and fans, sorely needed.

VERDICT:

The newest entry in the Predator franchise, Prey will stream August 5, 2022 on Disney+ under the Star banner.

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