Touching down 35 years after the glistening biceps and grisly kills of Predator, Prey puts the “pre” in prequel by taking us all the way back to 1719. Our setting is the Northern Great Plains in a mountainous region inhabited by a Comanche Indian tribe. The elements of the time are their own enemy and so is the wildlife roaming free. This includes lions and bears of the somewhat unconvincing CG variety. There’s also a gruesome scene where buffaloes earn their wings.
Dan Trachtenberg’s film poses the question – what if we dropped one of those Predators in this unique cinematic universe? The answer is a clever spin on the franchise that marks its own territory. It limits the callbacks to the original so that when they surface, they’re appreciated. The screenplay isn’t muddied by burying itself in nostalgia and that’s something plenty of other series can’t claim as of late.
There are no semiautomatic weapons or choppas for Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young warrior who longs to be a hunter. Her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) is considered one of the best. It’s clear that her community simply doesn’t view her as capable of doing the same. She gets the chance when that extraterrestrial entity (still a triumph of creature design) makes a visit. Her trusty hound Sarii joins her. Camouflaging itself to attack at the right moments and still giving its potential victims a fighting chance, this is indeed Predator’s best vehicle since part 1.
Predator 2 certainly had its guilty pleasures back in 1990 while 2010’s Predators was a mixed bag. By 2018, Shane Black’s The Predator fell apart as it went along and marked a low point. Prey‘s concept of taking the iconic monster back 300 years is simple and effective. Midthunder’s determined heroine is a huge plus and she’s easily the most engaging protagonist since Arnold. Predator isn’t the only predator around as French colonists surface to torment the Comanches. This group’s encounters with Naru and the beast are violent highlights.
Besides some occasionally questionable CG, it’s fair to say that Prey works on every level imaginable. I found myself immersed in the striking landscapes that its unwelcome guest crashes. Trachtenberg stages his action sequences with precision and there’s no time wasted in its 100 minutes. This is how you do a prequel. With this crew involved, I’d eagerly sign up for more predatory journeys through history.
***1/2 (out of four)