Darnell’s Garage: Predator

Hey, welcome to Darnell’s Garage, a series on my blog where I take a look under the hood of stories to see what’s working and what isn’t. My first couple posts in this series have been largely critical, so I wanted to look at something positive in a story.

I’d consider Predator to be a pretty much perfect movie. It’s a classic in the action-horror subgenre. I don’t think anyone would really disagree in this regard, but I do think people tend to dismiss it as well-executed escapism. And while it’s certainly true you can enjoy it purely on a superficial level, I think there are some subtle things going on with the storytelling craft that makes Predator more than just spectacle.

“There’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man.”

So, what is Predator about? Yes, ostensibly it’s about a scary alien chasing around a bunch of soldiers, but is it trying to say something else? Well, I think it’s pretty clearly about masculinity. From the macho one-liners (“I ain’t go time to bleed!”) to the infamous handshake/arm wrestling competition, there’s a lot of Big Dick Energy on display in Predator. But unlike its knuckle-headed peers who aren’t in on the joke, Predator is subversive. And it’s not just as simple as “masculinity is bad.” It’s championing a specific type of masculinity through its hero, Dutch.

As this Reddit post explains, each of the Predator’s kills mirrors a critique of a certain thread of toxic masculinity. I won’t bother going through all of them; I just want to focus on a few key ones.

Hawkins is the first to die. Interestingly, he’s played by Shane Black who would go on to write and direct The Predator (2018). Hawkins is the scrawny radio guy who doesn’t really contribute much to the group. He doesn’t kill anyone in the guerilla raid and his masculinity is all posturing. Ironically, he’s always trying to joke about how big his wife’s vagina is and the Predator leaves him with a giant open gash in his stomach.

Next I wanna talk about Dillon. You sonuva bitch! Dillon has gone soft pushing too many pencils for the CIA and is easily beaten by Dutch in their arm wrestle. Of course, that’s the arm the Predator slices off with a lazer.

These soft boys are contrasted by Mac and Blaine. Despite all big guns and toughness, they’re also no match for the Predator.

That leaves Dutch, our Final Girl.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the Final Girl, it’s a trope often used in horror where the morally superior girl (read: virginal) either survives or is last to die. This was brilliantly deconstructed in Cabin in the Woods.)

Dutch is tough but without the macho bullshit. He has principles and knows when he’s outmatched. Contrast this to Billy, the last of the soldiers to die. Billy doesn’t swagger and is all about that action, boss. But, unlike Dutch, he’s unwilling to retreat. He tries to square up with the Predator and gets dusted. Dutch, however, is able to supplement his toughness with cunning. He runs and hides and sets traps. And that’s how he defeats the Predator.

just look at those glistening biceps

This is all masterfully set up in the first act. The rescue mission subplot is a brilliant red herring that accomplishes several things. First, it gets them into the jungle and gets the plot rolling. Second, it establishes stakes by showing how these guys are all the ultimate bad asses, which makes the Predator that much scarier. Third, the conflict between Dillon and Dutch reveals Dutch’s character. He abhors adventurism and insists that his team is a rescue unit, not assassins.

I think it’s also worth pointing out this movie came out during Reagan’s America, when the CIA were sending death squads into Latin America to kill political rivals. Dutch is also a Vietnam vet, America’s most infamous military disaster. You can’t help to interrupt Predator as a dig at the military industrial complex and “might makes right” ideology. Yet, at the same time, the story is sympathetic to the soldiers, the grunts on the frontline.

Cheers,

-b

~ by braddunne on May 4, 2021.

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