How do you get action fans to applaud an 18th century Comanche girl? By making her part of the Predator franchise. Just as with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mercenary Dutch in the series’ first instalment, Naru, this prequel’s protagonist, faces an intergalactic foe whose veins run with green goo. “If it bleeds, we can kill it!” is the suitably blood-thirsty refrain heard in both Predator and Prey.
Since the new movie is going straight to Disney+, much of its audience will be teens who neither know nor care about the goings on of the original. But to go by the reaction of the gala crowd this canny coming-of-age-story has something for everyone.
In a mixture of English and Comanche, Naru, played by rising star and Fort Peck Sioux tribe member Amber Midthunder, discusses with her brother Taab (newcomer Dakota Beavers) whether she’s ready to be taken seriously as a hunter. A rite of passage will test her abilities but, surprise surprise, the presence of a mysterious alien with dreadlocks changes the nature of the chase.
What follows looks stunning. Director Dan Trachtenberg is obviously keen on The Revenant and makes sure any visual effects are of a piece with the gorgeous but hard-scrabble landscape.
As for the script, it’s smart, rather than wordy. All roads lead to a showdown between Naru and the alien, but along the way it is clear our heroine’s world is crammed with predators and that she’s one herself. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has no place here; it’s how and why you slaughter that matters.
The French marauders who leave hundreds of flayed buffalo to rot represent a system that’s bad to the bone. When these guys talk, by the way, there are no subtitles, which sends its own powerful message. Unless you’re a viewer who can speak French, it’s the white Europeans who’ll strike you as Other.
Another wise choice: Naru takes a while to find her feet as a fighter. Truculent, self-doubting and inexperienced, she cuts it as a promising, rather than perfect, young woman (which makes it all the more satisfying when her skillset comes together). She’s brawny, brainy and not a single shot asks us to ponder her bra size.
Obviously, it’s not unusual, these days, to see a heroine go into action. The female-centric plot feels especially welcome here, though, because the Predator franchise has wasted the time of so many awesome actresses. Insurgent Anna, (Predator; Predator 2); sniper Isabelle (Predators); scientist Casey (The Predator). They’re just token gestures. Midthunder, essentially, is charging into territory that was off-limits to Elpidia Carrillo, Alice Braga and Olivia Munn.
Just as impressively, the 25-year-old isn’t the only Native American getting serious attention. Taab and his lithe, long-haired pals may look like they’re wandered out of a Vogue shoot, but they have distinct and intriguing personalities.
No sane person could begrudge Midthunder, Beavers et al their moment. Even stuck on the small screen (which is such a waste), they’re a huge deal.
99mins, cert 15
On Disney+ from August 5