Predator as satirical Deconstruction of the 80s action movie and Schwarzenagger canon
Predator is not just a great sci-fi action/horror flick; it is also a rather clever deconstruction of the American action film as it was in the 80s, specifically of the kind made by its star - in particular, Commando. The first "section" of the film, before the introduction of the Predator, basically appears to be the typical Arnie action fare: loud, explosive, lots of cheesy one-liners and radioactive levels of machismo. In fact, this whole segment is so over-the-top it's impossible to take seriously, nor is it taken seriously within the film; there is obviously some sizeable tongue planted firmly in cheek here, as opposed to Commando, which plays everything completely straight. Then the Predator shows up, and what was a textbook Ahnold action flick rapidly descends into an increasingly suspenseful and genuinely creepy stalker film, with a scifi twist.
What follows is a systematic deconstruction of the 80s American action film. To give one example, the infamous More Dakka scene is where this is most apparent. After a member of the team is killed off, there follows a hilariously drawn out scene where the rest of the team fires blindly into the forest, an indictment of the action hero's tendency to solve their problems by throwing as much ammunition at it as possible.
But the true cleverness of Predator is a bit more subtle. It's been said that that the best villains are those who are the heroes of their own stories, and this is why Predator works: because the Predator is the hero, and the main characters (and by extension the audience) are put in the position of the mooks/antagonists. The Predator is a every bit the typical 80s action hero in the Ahnold/Sylvester Stallone in First Blood mold: an armed to the teeth One-Man Army who cleverly and brutally dispatches enemies who substantially outnumber and outgun him. The film brilliantly plays on the Slasher Movie dynamic whereby the audience at least in part ends up rooting for the monster. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers have all suffered (or benefited, depending on how you look at it) from this, and the Predator, thanks to the intelligence of its methods and the awesome character design by Stan Winston, ends up doing so as well. And here we come to the crucial element that has made the film as enduring as it has been and as effective as it is: Ahnold himself. If anybody else had played the role of Dutch, the movie would have been merely another (albeit quite good) slasher flick, but the presence of Arnie elevates it to something greater: the ultimate, unstoppable action hero up against something just as strong as he is, stronger in fact. This movie is that rarest of breeds: a film that makes it believable that the hero could lose, and in terms of the rest of Ahnold's films is quite singular in that respect; we know Ahnold will win, but we can believe that the Predator could triumph. Indeed, unlike almost every other Ahnold action film, he spends the majority of the movie completely on the defensive, and in the end is saved not by brawn and throwing around as much ordnance as possible, but by quick-thinking, strategy, and planning. Predator is a truly impressive subversion of the 80s action film, which would go through its next evolutionary step with Die Hard, and knowing this makes the experience of watching it much more enjoyable.