Next month, Shane Black’s reboot of the PREDATOR franchise will hit theaters. While the premise sounds simple- elite soldiers vs. alien hunter- it’s impossible to determine whether this reboot will succeed. After all, if reboot culture has taught us anything, it’s that not every classic film needs to be revitalized. And this is a franchise that struggled to make two good movies where the Predators fight Xenomorphs.

Therefore, it’s worth looking back at the original PREDATOR film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what it did so well. As both an action movie and a monster movie, PREDATOR subverted well-known 80’s archetypes in order to make the powerful feel powerless. And given the absurdly muscular physiques of actors who garnered fame during this decade, that says a lot.

I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed

PREDATOR entered 80’s cinema at a time when two film genres reigned supreme: horror and action. The rise of the slasher film, popularized by HALLOWEEN, provided a mainstream take on the exploitation B-movie. Each film involved a humanoid monster brutally killing off teenagers for their debaucherous urges. The creativity of these kills helped elevate characters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees into pop culture icons.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in COMMANDO, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

By comparison, the action genre’s expert killers were unquestionably its heroes. Actors like Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme played characters that were anything but “relatable.” Instead, they were action heroes come to life, wielding enormous guns, even bigger biceps, and constantly speaking in one-liners. These actors didn’t need to rely on realism to win the hearts of moviegoers. They just needed to act indestructible, mow down waves of disposable goons and quip about the damage.

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If these two genres had one thing in common, it’s that they were more style than substance, relying heavily on aesthetics and personality than meaningful depth. PREDATOR’s original success stemmed from its subversion of the 80’s action hero as prey rather than killer. It openly asked the question “what if there was something that actually could kill Arnold Schwarzenegger?”

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Rather than be a solo Arnie film, PREDATOR instead featured him leading an ensemble cast of macho actors. Names like Karl Weathers, Bill Duke, and Jesse Ventura rounded out this elite squad of badassery. Even Shane Black himself had a role as the team’s radio operator. Combined together, they possessed more than enough guns, muscles and masculinity to take down the entire Soviet Union. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip of Schwarzenegger’s Dutch and Weathers’ Dillon simply shaking hands.

The cast of PREDATOR, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Even before the Predator made his on-screen debut, the film provides a demonstration of our hero’s firepower. The opening fight between Dutch’s squad and the Soviet troops stationed in Guatemala is basically a condensed personification of 80s action. These seven men take down the entire compound without even breaking a sweat, displaying the full might of American military power. Even when a character suffers a bullet wound, he bluntly states that he “ain’t got time to bleed.”

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This purposeful embracement of 80s action spectacle makes each character feel like the embodiment of their archetypes. They are tough, resourceful, efficient and have an endless supply of one-liners for every life they take. In other words, Dutch’s platoon is seemingly invincible by action movie standards of the Schwarzenegger era.

Predator & Prey

Naturally, if nothing on earth can defeat these men, then a space alien is the comically logical answer. But it’s a testament to the Predator’s appearance and hunting abilities that Dutch and his team feel completely outmatched. He’s taller than the biggest soldier and wields plasma weapons more advanced than the biggest gun. He doesn’t just hide in the jungle, but rather uses cloaking technology to stay out of sight. Oh, and his monster voice was supplied by Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen.

The Predator, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

This is where PREDATOR’s utilization of slasher tropes kicks in. When Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees kill, their targets are usually innocent teenagers. Rarely do these characters successfully defend themselves from the outsider, whose presence symbolizes a disruption of suburbia. Against a seemingly omnipotent and unkillable force of nature, they are nearly helpless.

PREDATOR is unique because it successfully achieves this dynamic with characters that are supposed to be anything but helpless. These are alpha-male, cigar-chomping, fast-talking, gun-toting heroes who respond to every question with bullets. But when facing up against this space alien, none of that matters. In this situation, Dutch’s platoon feels about as vulnerable as a teenager staring down Michael Meyers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and the PREDATOR Cast, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Because of this power dynamic shift, the audience genuinely fears for each soldier’s safety, Schwarzenegger included. The Predator’s treatment of his prey reinforces this tension, skinning the soldier’s corpses and keeping their skulls and spines as trophies. Unlike the vague rational of other villains, this character is upfront about why he kills: sport. Dutch, Dillon and their team are basically animals to him, which further emasculates their manliness in battle.

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It’s only when Dutch begins thinking like a hunter that he gains an upper hand. After a tense encounter where the Predator fails to notice him, Dutch realizes he can use mud to evade its infrared vision. This revelation forces the hero to rely on guerrilla fighter tactics rather than go in guns ablazing. The jungle, not action hero firepower, becomes his best asset in battle.

The Predator without its Mask, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

While Dutch’s new strategy isn’t enough to put him in control, his makeshift jungle traps ultimately prove more effective at weakening the Predator. Not only does Dutch disable the creature’s camouflage device, but he also deals enough blows to make the Predator view him as a threat. If anything, his resourcefulness earns the alien hunter’s respect enough to face him hand to hand with its face exposed.

Despite defeating his opponent, however, Dutch feels more exhausted than he does all-powerful. Even his final one-liner to the Predator, “What the hell are you?” suggests confusion rather than personal satisfaction. He can’t even kill the Predator before it self-destructs in a final attempt to claim victory. Dutch ultimately survives, but it’s still a surprisingly somber ending to the goofy premise of “COMMANDO vs. space alien.”


What Comes Next?

Unlike the ALIEN franchise, it’s hard to think of a PREDATOR sequel that successfully recaptured the original film’s magic. Perhaps that’s because PREDATOR’s familiarity with 80’s tropes made it a product of its time. The Predator wasn’t just scary because it was a uniquely designed alien. It was scary because it rendered the 80’s action hero practically helpless in battle.

THE PREDATOR 2018, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Given Shane Black’s filmography record, I don’t doubt that he will try to make a great movie. But successfully replicating the first film’s success will depend on how well THE PREDATOR implements two factors. First, the Predator needs to appear like an expert hunter and not a bloodthirsty CGI villain reliant on jump scares. And second, the soldiers fighting him need to feel compelling in their vulnerability.

Unlike Schwarzenegger era movies, modern-day action heroes are expected to be flawed and compelling. Simply shooting big guns and saying cheesy one-liners is no longer enough. Therefore, Black’s reboot must showcase the main cast’s military efficiency before having the Predator’s arrival overwhelm them. Otherwise, it’ll just be another case of “bigger is better” inadvertently bloating the final product.

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