This 1987 American action film is directed by John McTiernan and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black and Kevin Peter Hall.
After a strange alien spacecraft passes by Earth and jettisons a small pod that lands in a Central American jungle, a special ops team led by Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) arrives at the same time to help lead a rescue mission to find a presidential cabinet minister abducted by guerrilla forces. CIA operative and former military buddy to Dutch, George Dillon (Weathers) accompanies them.
Dutch leads a squad of elite fighters compromising of Mac (Duke), Blain (Ventura), Billy (Landham), Poncho (Chaves) and Hawkins (Black) into the jungle. The team soon stumble across the skinned bodies of Army Special Forces hung and mutilated by the wreckage of their downed helicopter, which concerns Dutch as to the reasons they are there.
With motives not as clear as expected and the environment not as secure as planned, the team are unaware that they are being stalked by an camouflaged killer; the Predator (Hall). One by one, the team are picked off, forcing the survivors to use all their skill and training in order to stay alive long enough to reach the extraction point…
Just 10 minutes into this sci-fi action film, it’s clear this is familiar, testosterone fuelled, action territory with the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger sporting in a tight t-shirt, heavy stubble, chomping a cigar and giving the toughest high-five to Carl Weathers you’ve ever seen, muscles bulging off the screen accompanied by glorious macho-tough talk.
This film is what ‘The Expendables’ would have been in the 1980s with an all-star line-up working with Arnie. We have Jesse Ventura (former ‘Running Man co-star), Bill Duke (former ‘Commando’ co-star), Sonny Landham, Shane “Lethal Weapon” Black and a post-“Rocky” Carl Weathers, all armed to the teeth with machine guns, grenades, knifes and even a mini-gun to help save the day. They are likeable, funny, serious and totally memorable for their own reasons; some are vulnerable, some are heroic, all are human, and that’s what makes them entertaining to watch. They squabble, laugh and cry on screen and show their camaraderie as a tightly knit unit.
It’s something we don’t see very often in film, and more so today in action films showing us how NOT to assemble a tough-talking team. The fact our stars don’t play up for the camera to try and be a clichéd character makes them far more believable without being there to tick a box.
There is a fair amount of humanity sewn through the story as the soldiers are steadily reduced from tough-talking confident warriors to jumpy, paranoid trigger-happy survivors when they see their training counts for nothing against a being so much more technically advanced than them. It actually also shows Schwarzenegger is one of his more “humane” roles, evoking lots of ranges of emotion from pride, fear, anger, sadness and desperation, rather than just a one-man emotionless killing machine or unstoppable cop.
Once we are in the jungle with them, we are teased with the notion they are not alone. The haunting sounds of the jungle, mixed with the growls of the unseen hunter, portray a tense cat-and-mouse hour of action and horror as the unseen villain of the film, the Predator, stalks the soldiers like prey and gruesomely picks them off one by one, spilling blood and taking off limbs as it does. It’s never gratuitous and more times than most we only hear the haunting screams as they succumb to their grizzly fate, the same as what the squad hear rather than see. We are in the same boat as them, as we are never told when the Predator will strike making each kill and appearance all the more effective and shocking.
Arnie and his team work best gunning down the rebels as they discover they’ve been set-up to actually prevent a corrupt American and Russian arms deal from taking place, but it’s so much fun watching the chaos unfold with a brilliantly staged action sequence across the guerrilla camp that just looks like they’re all having so much fun. You’ve never seen an elite team work as well together as you do here, and as one of the very few action sequences in the film, it sure gives you everything you need from an Arnie film; puns, gore and black comedy.
The drawn out finale of Schwarzenegger vs Predator can feel like a lengthy duel, but it’s one with very little dialogue, and harkens back to Sylvester Stallone’s ‘First Blood’, with stealth tactics employed over loud gun-fire. It’s a tense finale and Arnie certainly shows his worth facing up against that “one ugly mother f****r!”
It spawned a disappointing sequel and for some reason a whole franchise of films and spin-offs, but you don’t need to watch any of them in order to enjoy this outstanding stand-alone action film. It’s one of Arnie’s best and is so full of great one-liners from all the stars, it’s worth multiple rewinds to catch them, a classic being; “You’re hit, you’re bleeding man.” “I ain’t got time to bleed!” Special mention also must go to SFX genius Stan Wilson for the brilliant Predator costume and design. Mixing radical armour, state of the art alien technology and lethal weaponry and a face only a mother can love, the imposing 7ft stature of Kevin Peter Hall created a deadly villain that will always be rendered as one of the greatest in science-fiction history with nearly no CGI used to bring him to life.
At one point during the film, Weathers reminds Schwarzenegger that at the end of the day, no matter what he thinks, he and his team are just “expendable assets”. It’s fitting that expendable action heroes are the ones that made the genre defining movies such as this, and nobody does an expendable asset as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and no-one probably ever will.
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