This article contains Prey spoilers.
It must be gratifying for filmmakers to know that the Monday after Prey’s premiere on Hulu (and Disney+ in Europe), many were debating whether the Predator prequel should’ve been released in theaters. The quality is certainly good enough with the film generally impressing most critics as demonstrated by its 92 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A majority of viewers also seem pleased if social media chatter is to be believed.
The emerging consensus about this one seems to be that director Dan Trachtenberg and a cast of primarily Indigenous actors knocked it out of the park, making the first truly gripping Predator movie since the original was released in 1987. And, truly, the final movements of Prey where Amber Midthunder’s tenacious Comanche warrior, Naru, lures a Predator into the ultimate deathtrap is as exciting a showdown between a human and a “Yautja” as we’ve ever seen onscreen.
Not everyone agrees though. Which on balance is fine. Disagreement comes part and parcel with art, entertainment, and anything else that is left up to the eye of the beholder. And yet, it is still difficult to ignore a small but particularly noxious element of online fandom. Over the last several months, and since well before Prey was released, they’ve made their “criticisms” known online—most of which are couched in thinly veiled forms of bigotry and misogyny.
It began when the first teaser trailer appeared for Prey, which highlighted the terrifying technological imbalance between Naru and a fellow Comanche warrior (Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat), and the Predator (Dane DiLiegro). In the original teaser, we see the pair hiding in tall grass while Kytwayhat’s character draws a bowstring and arrow from his shoulder… and the Predator’s infamous three-pronged light which signifies death appears on his head. By design, you are meant to experience a realization of dread by the contrast. However, many online influencers reacted with scorn at the very idea of a Predator movie focusing on Native American warriors taking on a pop culture icon from the Reagan Years… particularly since the main character among those warriors is a woman.
Based purely on the trailer, YouTubers were already reviewing Prey months ago with headlines like “How to Spoil a Good Idea,” and then lamenting that the fanbase “just wants a decent Predator movie instead of a fucking intersectional struggle session.” The same video, which we’re purposefully not linking to here, also snarks that unlike the muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger, Midthunder “has the size and build of a small child” and her facing off against the Predator will be “fucking ludicrous.”
Since the movie’s actual release, such criticism hasn’t gone away on social media apps like Twitter where memes have gone viral depicting images of the cast of Predator (1987) juxtaposed against Midthunder and text that reads, “A team of highly skilled badasses with years of experience had almost no chance versus a Predator. A girl with almost no experience beats a Predator alone.”
It is of course impossible to separate the misogyny and racist undertones of these “critiques” from any point they’re trying to make. A predisposed need to dismiss any film, particularly in genre and fanboy fare, as “ludicrous” or undeserving when it stars a woman is as common as mindless uses of the term “Mary Sue.” Writing off Prey because it stars a Comanche woman (who is played by a woman of Lakota, Nakoda, and Dakota heritage) as the ultimate survivor, as opposed to a 6’2” Austrian male bodybuilder, is the point.
Nonetheless, it’s still worth noting that such impotent attempts at fandom gatekeeping also fall limp because they reveal a complete and total misunderstanding of what director John McTiernan and screenwriters Jim and John Thomas were going for in the original 1987 picture. Yes, Predator had the most hyper-masculine cast in a decade where action movies were defined by big guns and bigger biceps—and the movie was mocking that image.
Generally recognized as one of the greatest action filmmakers of the last 40 years, McTiernan is still celebrated today for making one of the classic Schwarzenegger action movies in Predator, as well as more groundbreaking thrillers afterward like Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990). But what do those latter two movies have in common? They’re intentional departures from the brawny, exaggerated masculinity of the previously most popular actioners of the 1980s. Even McTiernan’s other collaboration with Schwarzenegger, 1993’s Last Action Hero, is notable because it was such a satire and deconstruction of the star’s onscreen persona in the ‘80s.
Then again, so is Predator. Sure, the movie stars Schwarzenegger at the height of his physicality, as well as a “pecs and pistols” cast of tough guy presences like Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura. In Commando (1985), Schwarzenegger was a one-man army who neither needed cover or body armor (or even a shirt!) as he mowed down an entire nondescript South American country’s military. In Predator, that’s multiplied by about five with Schwarzenegger now having a crew who’s equally adept at wiping out more ambiguously affiliated “guerrillas” in a South American jungle while cracking wise and not even breaking a sweat as they stand there and open fire.
Within 48 hours of that firefight though, they’re all dead except for Schwarzenegger’s Dutch. The biggest of them, Ventura as Blain, is the second to fall when a plasma blast from an invisible force wipes him out; the last few, including sweaty performances by Weathers and Duke, die wide-eyed and terrified as they go mano-a-mano with the Predator and are eviscerated.
Even the film’s hero, Dutch, doesn’t win because he’s stronger or tougher than the Predator; he is forced to crawl on his belly through the mud, hiding in the dirt and reverting to ancient weapons like a bow and arrow to eventually catch his more technologically advanced foe by surprise. Despite all of that intentionally primitive preparation Dutch reverts to, he still only wins by a stroke of luck with the Predator evading one trap Dutch set up while accidentally walking into another makeshift one, standing under a log that just so happens will fall right there.
The movie is about turning the beefiest and most cartoonishly masculine clichés of ‘80s pop culture into helpless terrified cattle before the slaughter. Schwarzenegger of course wins—it is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie—but mostly due to cunning, a back-to-basics approach, and finally luck.
Prey successfully digs into that back-to-basics ending and in some ways improves on it.
No, the Comanche of the Northern Great Plains in 1719 did not have machine guns, grenades, and the “choppas!” of Dutch and the boys. But it’s for that reason the Predator in the new movie underestimates them… particularly Naru. Much like how the character of Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) in Predator was deemed not a threat by that film’s titular monster—and Dutch even slaps a gun out of her hands when she tries to help—the Predator of Prey initially dismisses Naru as a non-threat. Also in-keeping with many of her sneering online critics, the Predator seems to veritably scoff at her holding a tomahawk, considering her less worthy of attention than a snake crawling in the grass.
This thematically is a piece with many of Naru’s struggles to be accepted as a hunter and warrior by the rest of her Comanche people. Yet, not unlike the Predator in the movie, it would seem modern critics are too quick to dismiss this civilization. The Comanche are generally recognized as perhaps the fiercest warrior culture among the Native American communities that lived among the Southern Plains. Historians even attribute fear of the Comanche as creating the limited borders of both Spain and France’s colonization projects in North America during the 18th century. And the wars between Texan settlers and the Comanche in the 19th century remain the stuff of legend.
So, too, does it appear that the Predator species is about to discover their limit by going directly against a Comanche fighter who has as much to prove to herself as her society. When Naru ultimately defeats the Predator, it is arguably more visceral than Dutch’s triumph. She doesn’t stumble toward a trap; instead she defeats the alien by luring him into a hidden pocket of her own land, which she knows better than the foreign invader. She guides him by torchlight into a quicksand pit.
With a keener understanding of the territory than those who assume ownership of it, she traps the prideful Predator in the mud and then uses his own more advanced weaponry against him, letting that special three-pronged laser be turned on its master’s own head.
The story of Naru’s victory over the Predator is a common one in history, including of the Comanche variety, where the more technologically advanced culture’s hubris leads to a fatal mistake against a ferocious opponent. It is also an element that returns to the ultimate theme of the original Predator. This isn’t a story about how tough manly men beat the alien through their “sexual Tyrannosaur” powers (as Ventura’s character quips early on). It is a story of survival and cunning. Who wants it more?
The reason so many folks have been impressed by Prey is because Midthunder’s Naru is so compelling—and convincing—at embodying just that in a narrative where the ultimately smarter hunter is the one still breathing, screaming cries of bloody victory into the cold night air.
Prey is streaming now.