Spending the 80’s as the ubermensch of Reaganomics, Arnold Schwarzenegger was mechanical, glib, dominant. Ripped muscles, popped veins, and swagger feeding off the two early roles which would define his career: Nietzchean scrapper Conan the Barbarian, taking everything through force, and future shock slasher The Terminator, Michael Myers without the childhood. Both unstoppable. In Predator, the tables are turned on Arnold. John McTiernan recasts him as the head of a band of dick-swinging commandos (Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, and Shane Black) roped into some Latin American wetworks by an old war buddy (Carl Weathers), only to find an invisible, alien guerrilla warrior picking them off for sport.
Schwarzenegger, as Dutch, is a far cry from what would be considered a Final Girl: an efficient he-man, slaughtering human enemies, arm-wrestling Weathers into submission with a smirk, or puffing on cigars while a general feeds him details for his latest mission. Yet, there’s an undercurrent of disaffection, if not weakness and repression. An icy glare when rebuking a suggestion he take up political assassination; leaning back and saying “This just gets better” in monotone when told there’s no backup; telling Weathers “You never were that smart” for missing black ops. Dutch reads as resentful of authorities who see murder as his only use. McTiernan’s action flows, tracking actors through brush, but for downtime he fixates on Schwarzenegger’s contemplative face. When Dutch’s squad is obliterated, we see a completely new emotion from him: fear. The hulking Predator is Terminator 1.5, gunning for the prototype. After a lucky victory, Dutch asks, “What the hell are you?”, which Predator asks in kind. Both are murder machines, only one convinced he was more. With his compatriots gone, Dutch laments. Perhaps terrified what’s left of his soul has been crushed.