When examining movie monsters, the towering crab-faced star of the Predator The franchise doesn’t just stand out for its outstanding design or excellent action set-pieces. The most interesting thing about this iconic extraterrestrial threat is the unspoken yet inarguable set of rules and traditions that guide their behavior.
1987’s Predator told a very simple story. A group of hypermasculine commandos are ambushed by the eponymous entity and must struggle to survive being its prey. Its technology is clearly centuries beyond anything mankind has ever seen, yet its culture is dependent on seemingly ancient hunting rituals. Five movies and countless other media have followed that original work, with another film on the way later this year, and much has been learned about the Predator and its lifestyle.
The first time a Predator reveals anything readable by the audience as personality or emotion comes about halfway through the original film. It’s clearly intelligent from the beginning, at least more so than any animal. Contrast its behavior with that of its mortal enemy, the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise. Both stalk their prey using stealth, both hunt and pick off their targets one by one, both spring traps, but that’s where the similarities end. The Predator uses technology, rather than its strength or natural weapons. It uses weird misdirects, like recording its victims’ voices or leaving them as bait. It behaves like a hunter with no sense of decency. It’s cold and efficient, the perfect killing machine. This is what makes it so stunning the first time the audience sees it accept an honorable duel .
When Billy Sole, the team’s Native American tracker, challenges the Predator to a fair fight with nothing but a machete, he seems to be the only one who understands its rules. He’s quickly dispatched offscreen as the rest of the group run away, but he’s also the only one who the Predator takes as a trophy. Predators took this idea and ran with it by showing the fight. When taciturn Yakuza enforcer Hanzo encounters the Predator, he too exhibits a strange understanding of its ways. He engages it in a duel, wielding a katana against its blade, and the Predator fights on his terms. This apparently heartless killer believes in the honor of a fair fight. That’s why it only ever faces off against trained soldiers, hardened criminals, or serial killers. To a Predator, a hunt isn’t a hunt if its prey isn’ t capable.
Predator 2 offers another interesting piece of lore for the species and its interaction with humans. Most of the movie is a weak misfire that squanders the potential of the first film, but its final moments do introduce an interesting wrinkle. After Danny Glover’s loose cannon cop successfully kills the film’s new Predator inside its spacecraft, he’s approached by a sudden entourage of its apparent peers. There’s a moment of tension, fans have never seen two Predators in one place, now there’s a handful. Then, the Elder Predator, their evident leader, hands Glover an engraved flintlock pistol and sees him off. No words are exchanged, but it’s clear what’s happening. Glover has been rewarded for a successful hunt, he’s respected by their people, and he’s proved themselves amongst them. The novels hold a backstory for that pistol, but it isn’t necessary to communicate its meaning.
Predators and The Predator shows off a variety of subtypes of the alien species. Each new type has a different specialization, such as increased physical size, improved visuals, or the use of animal companions. Predators was the first, and thus far only, film to take place anywhere other than Earth. It’s probably not the homeworld of the creatures, it’s a planet used as a game reserve so that Predators can hunt on their own terms. There are apparent feuds between the groups, they compete and fight. It’s hard to tell exactly what they have to fight over, but it’s clear that their relationships are of tribal animosity. It’s this tribal societal structure that raises questions about the larger society of the Predator’s home planet.
The Aliens Vs. Predator films, while rarely considered canon, gave the audience a ton of information about the creatures. The Predators have a long relationship with the Xenomorph hordes, hunting them for sport and using their natural power as a proving ground for their initiates. A Predator encounters a man suffering terminal cancer, realizes that he’s dying, and leaves him be. Once he proves that he’s still a threat, they slay him easily as a fair fight. When the show’s lead slays an alien queen, the Predator marks her as one of their own, just like the pistol handed to Danny Glover. The Predator reinforces itself as a hunter with a culture of honor and rules that allow for other species to gain rank.
The lion’s share of information fans have about Predator culture comes, not from the films, but the novels and comic books. The name Yautja is derived from that source as well, but the films have only ever called them Predators. There’s a ton that fans wouldn’t know about the species from the medium that originated them. Hopefully, later films can allow greater depth for the Yautja species.
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