Review – Native Americans vs Predators? (“Prey”)

Okay, after six Predator movies (which include crossover films with Aliens), now we have a prequel where those nasty Predators are attacking/hunting people in the Comanche Nation sometime in the 1700’s. This should be interesting!

Y’know, it’s tough growing up in 1719 in the Great Plains, but as a Comanche Indian teenage girl? Fuggetaboutit! Naru (Amber Midthunder) is that teen. Damn smart, lethal in combat (especially with her trusty tomahawk at her side), her one goal is to have the tribe see her as a great warrior, just like her cock-sure brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). But being a girl, her prospects are limited. . . until the day she sees something odd in the sky. Yes, it’s a Predator being dropped off on Earth for a little R&R and hunting for some fun. After Taabe and some guys find an injured hunter, Naru is convinced that some huge creature is out there and strikes out on her own, with her faithful dog, to find whatever it is.

And boy! Does she ever regret it! This Predator starts to take on not only her own brother’s war party, but an entire camp full of French fur traders that are up to no good. Quicker than you can say, “If it bleeds, we can kill it”, you can see the parallels of this movie paying loving homages to the original 1987 film, with Naru taking over the Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer role played by Schwarzenegger. And yes, the impressive body count, blood, and gruesome murders are all here with the Predator, looking very Neanderthal-looking, using some technology but more primitive ways of wiping out his quarry. Nice! It’s not “just another Predator movie”, as this prequel has a terrific story of Naru, her coming-of-age life, the respect she tries so hard to achieve within her tribe, and finally coming out as the bad-ass hero in the end.

Truth be told, remove the entire Predator plotline and you could have told a decent movie about just Naru! It’s a real shame that it wasn’t released theatrically, because of a Disney/20th Century contract problem; Patrick Aison’s first-time screenplay is excellent and deserved to be up on the big screen instead of on Hulu. The characters are well fleshed-out and speak in both Comanche and English and are not subject to any stereotypes. And kudos to getting real Native American actors to play the key roles. Both MidThunder and Beavers are wonderful as brother and sister and really sell their roles. Okay, the finale is a bit of a stretch to get to, but the journey getting there is well worth it, as the performers are so likable

This is Dan Trachtenberg’s (10 Cloverfield Lane) second-only directed film, but he really shows a brilliant flair for heightening the suspense and drawing out the kills (if you like that sorta thing). Shot in beautiful Alberta, Canada, Trachtenberg takes advantage of the lush outdoor scenery and incorporates it every chance he gets. From what I gather, there is talk of sequels with Naru and more Predators (check out the post-credits scene), which is fine by me, as this movie is not only a superior addition to the Predator film franchise, but a fantastic throw-back movie without all the techno-weaponry that ruined all the others. Hey, about a Predator in Aztec times? The New World and the Colonists? The Wild West? Oh, wait. . . they did that one already, didn’t they? Ugh!

**Now streaming exclusively on Hulu

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Apparently, five screenwriters and director Jon Favreau thought that mixing the old West with space aliens was a really good idea. Heck, when you throw in mega-stars like Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, what could possibly go wrong? Well, in the words of Han Solo, “I gotta bad feeling about this”.

Waking up in the desert (circa 1873 New Mexico) is Jake Lonergan (Craig), with no memory, injured, and wearing a weird metal doohickey on his wrist. Boy, that must have been some hangover! He wanders into the town of Absolution, where Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) recognizes him as an outlaw and tries to arrest him, but as Jake is beating everyone up, he’s taken out by Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde). Taggart prepares to transport both Jake and a volatile drunk named Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) to Sante Fe for trial.

However, Percy’s wealthy and ruthless cattle baron papa, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), demands that not only Percy be released, but also Jake be released to him, since he stole some gold from him. Now, here comes the weird part: during the tense standoff, an alien spacecraft begins to attack the town! Percy, the sheriff, and other townsfolk are abducted by long, whip-like feelers hanging from the bottom of the ships. As luck would have it, Jake’s strange metallic bracelet activates and becomes a weapon; shooting down the ship and ending the attack. What the? Yeah, that just happened.

As Dolarhyde, Ella, and other townsfolk track down an injured alien that escaped from the downed ship, Jake travels to an abandoned cabin as he gets flashbacks to what happened to him. He recalls stealing gold, being abducted, a woman named Alice (Abigail Spencer), and some crazy aliens. With his memories back, Jake joins up with the posse and goes after the alien bad guys, but things don’t go as planned.

After Ella dies in an attack, she’s resurrected and reveals herself to be from a different alien race who traveled to Earth to fight the other aliens! The bad aliens, it turns out, are mining gold and abducting people and are far stronger and more durable than humans. BUT Jake’s wrist whatchamacallit weapon can kill them with a single blast. Well, isn’t that convenient! Armed with this knowledge, Dolarhyde and the local Apache Indians prepare to wage war with the alien drones, while Jake and Ella go underground to destroy the aliens’ mothership.

Yeah, it’s all as dumb as it sounds and looks the same. Based on a graphic novel (which I imagine was better), even five writers couldn’t make this bunch of nonsense make sense. The cast is impressive with Ford, Craig, Wilde, Dano, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, and more. Even Favreau’s (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) direction is decent, but that awful script is just the worst. It tries to be both a Western and one of those SyFy cheesy movies, but can’t make up its mind. The tone is all over the map, the pacing is dreadfully slow, and you kept wondering, “When’s this gonna get good?”. But it never does.

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