I'm an artist, a writer, a director, a film critic and occasionally I cook. Here I will be mainly focusing on film critiquing.
Predator 2: Being a Passenger of the Little Boat
To put this bluntly, I’m fairly used to siding with unpopular opinions when it comes to the grand scheme of cinema history; the Star Wars sequel trilogy/Disney Star Wars movies are not the worst thing to happen to the franchise, Eli Roth is a terrible director, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the best Halloween sequel, Gotti was NOT the worst movie to come out of 2018, Terrance Malick’s entire film career (with the exception of Badlands) has been extremely overrated, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is the best Elm Street sequel, I always knew Ben Affleck would make a great Batman since the day he was cast in the role, I wasn’t a fan of Thor: Ragnarok, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot was neither great or terrible just mediocre, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake is awful, Vanilla Sky is bat sh*t awesome, George Lazenby is my favorite James Bond, 1998’s Godzilla was not that bad, both of the Boondock Saints movies are dog sh*t, and Predator 2 is possibly the most underrated sci-fi/horror/action sequel ever made. There. I’ve said it. Come at me, Internet!
The Predator Curse
From what I’ve noticed over the years, the Predator series (excluding Alien vs. Predator) cannot catch a break! Predator 2 made an ‘okay’ profit at the box office, but nothing compared to the Schwarzenegger action vehicle that came prior and was quickly disregarded by critics and fans alike. That underwhelming response led to the series basically in limbo for the next fourteen years until Alien vs Predator was released, but no solo installments for a total gap of 20 years.
Predators was the first solo outing for the Predator franchise in a very long time, and again, the film did fine at the box office yet somehow garnered unfavorable critiques by many fans and critics. Resulting in yet another hiatus for the series that lasted eight years before the public would receive Shane Black’s sequel entitled The Predator. What a surprise… it had modest success at the box office and the public hated it again. Now returning back to the limbo status from which the series came.
I don’t get it. I really don’t. Why does the Predator series have such bad luck? Why is it so ill-received time and time again, yet miraculously revered as a classic horror staple? The logic behind this is nonexistent and hurts my brain. Especially since I find that every sequel is honestly a good movie. Not all of them are great and I certainly have my occasional issues, but not a single sequel from strictly Predator would I declare to be even remotely bad. Especially when we’re talking about the first sequel, 1990’s Predator 2; the one that started it all with launching yet bombing the franchise simultaneously. Which is why I’m here today, to look deeper into this matter and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
*SPOILER ALERT* There’s not much, if anything, in this film that doesn’t work. So let’s strap in for this intergalactic hunt and take a look at Predator 2!
In the near future of Los Angeles 1997 (just go with it, don’t be a d*ck), a heatwave and a deadly gang war has hit the streets of L.A. During all the chaos going down, another alien Predator has started his own hunt for every gun wielding maniac in town. In the middle of the hunt, it seems that only one man is standing in the Predator’s path between him and his prey, veteran L.A.P.D. officer Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover). Who will win this city when these two fight for the streets? Also, there’s a Gary Busey and a Bill Paxton on scene, so that’s a plus!
Playing With the Formula
In my review for the 1987 Predator, I mentioned that there was an interesting combination going on with the screenplay as it seamlessly blended a high-octane war picture with a science fiction creature feature and they merged beautifully intense together. Predator 2 takes this familiar formula of melding two different genres, only this time we have a gritty early ‘90s cop thriller crossed with the sci-fi monster movie elements and it makes for an extremely solid follow-up to a classic. Yes, we have story beats reminiscent of the original film, but it never feels as though we are cynically retreading the first narrative all over again. Nor does it feel too foreign of a structure to where it’s unrecognizable as a sequel. Predator 2 does what every good sequel should strive to do; being unafraid to explore new avenues, do its own thing while still being respectful to what came before it, delve deeper into the world created and those who inhabit it, get creative with the weapons and special effects, maintaining the spirit and energy of its predecessor while trying to improve where possible, and above all else be entertaining. In my humble opinion, this sequel does everything listed perfectly.
Playing With Expectations
Something I truthfully admire every time I watch this movie is how much it plays with expectations of a sequel. When the film opens, we start on an image with what appears to be a forest of some sort, similar to the original setting. Then slowly revealing the L.A. backdrop past the trees to draw a fun correlation that this is a different form of jungle that we’ll be tackling this go around. Another example is how we go into this story under the impression that the Predator itself will likely repeat similar tactics to the first one, where it will spend half the movie stalking its prey to where the characters will be completely unaware of its presence for at least half of the runtime. In actuality, the Predator does some real damage within the city early on while still taking its time to stalk our lead characters; resulting in our team of hero cops to launch an investigation on what’s going down amidst this crazy gang war roaring up in the streets. Even how the third act is similarly setup akin to the first movie, yet is a climax all of its own. One more detail I liked is the callback to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line, “You’re one ugly mother f*cker” and it was executed in a way that still felt natural yet also added a bit of a jump element to the scene that provided some fun into the mix.
Danny Glover / Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
Most audiences would argue that a film is only as strong as its lead actor, the first Predator movie had an exceptionally strong lead in that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A man regarded as one of the greatest action heroes out of the 1980s, as well as of all-time. So going into a sequel without the muscleman himself, how can one compare? Easy, you don’t compare. Yes, in some cases it is difficult to separate a follow-up from its predecessor, however with this specific sequel, since it manages to provide its own voice and style different enough from before I find it effortless to accept Danny Glover in the lead role. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arnold and I went over the moon in my admiration for the man in my Predator review, so it’s no secret that I’m a mega fan of Schwarzenegger. However, I think Danny Glover does a terrific job handling himself in the action and I would say he is on par with Arnie’s performance in the balancing of charisma and intensity throughout the picture.
At no point am I getting the feeling that Glover’s portrayal is ever trying to be like Arnold’s nor should it be, the character of Harrigan is his own. Does he have the occasional one-liner? Sure. Does he operate a team similar to Dutch’s from the first? In a way. But these are clearly different individuals. Both are cool and collected for the most part in high tension scenarios, but Harrigan’s tough demeanor does begin to wane over time as the stress of losing his partners weighs on his mental and emotional state. More so than Dutch anyways, who is somewhat more capable of carrying out the mission of survival without many hiccups. Harrigan feels a little more grounded in that sense of when he loses the people he cares about, it is very visible of how the situation is affecting him and draining him as the situation get worse.
How I see the Harrigan character, the best way I can describe him is a fascinating combination of both Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. A bit of a cowboy at times, a slight loose cannon. He can easily take the reins when needed and perform some incredible stunts in order to deal with some baddies, yet he’s tactical and tries to always think before he acts, although occasionally can be impulsive. He’s a loner when he has to be, but he will work with the team in order to do what needs to get done. Again, I like Glover’s performance quite a bit as he’s working with a lot of material here in this character and I believe this to be a compelling lead we are privileged to follow. Would this movie be better if Arnold had stepped in instead? Hard to say as Danny Glover does a great job here and helps me transition myself to accepting a new lead with him at the helm of it all. Ultimately, these are night and day performances that shouldn’t be stacked up against one another. Simply enjoy them both for what they are.
In my eyes, this aspect is possibly the most contrasting difference between the two movies; that being the supporting cast of the lead’s personal squad. How I described the team from the first movie was basically they were walking-talking bodies of testosterone and they were a freaking blast. Their camaraderie and banters were hilarious as most of their runtime was spent as a d*ck measuring contest between them all as they constantly tried ‘out-manning’ one another. Each had a distinct personality, had a loveable charm, and were totally badass. The team in Predator 2 is an entirely different animal frankly.
First of all, the testosterone levels in the sequel have diminished significantly and I would also argue that the personalities of each member aren’t quite as colorful as the gang from before. With that said, these are still a fairly likable group and it’s easy to tell that this is as close to a family unit in the force as they can get without being blood related. They joke around, rib each other from time to time, but they also provide a support system when anyone begins to faulter. Not to mention, Bill F*cking Paxton being his Bill Paxtonest. Paxton is having a total riot here, supplying so much levity to every scene he’s in, but this movie also is sure to give him a soul. He’s not just the comic relief who comes in, makes a slew of jokes and goes about his merry way. He too starts caring for his team as friends and family, yearning somewhat to prove himself as a good cop and not just some young hotshot.
If I had to compare the two teams and decide which I preferred, I would say that they’re vastly different from one another. Although I must admit that I have a personal fondness and soft spot in my heart for the special ops team from the first movie slightly more than from the team in Predator 2. Even though I still like Harrigan’s unit and they still are cool, there’s something about the first squad of cartoonishly manly men being @$$holes to each other that brings a smile to my face every time. Completely different groups, both have their merits.
A reprising role that one might not expect from the first movie is that of the boiling heat of the jungles making its way to the city. Surprisingly I love the inclusion of this terrible heatwave going on in L.A., giving the film somewhat of an identity to separate itself from the average cop thriller while simultaneously linking itself spiritually to the original Predator. All the residents of Los Angeles, including our heroes, sweating buckets worth as the temperature keeps rising. Oddly enough the heat brings a unique aesthetic that I would have enjoyed seeing brought back for future installments. The high temperature and how impacting it is to our characters makes the heat a character all of its own and it’s a shame that it wasn’t utilized further into the series.
On the surface it’s likely not difficult to draw up the conclusion that the newest Predator here is no different than the one before and truth be told there isn’t much in the way of contrast. Although I’d still debate that there is slight and noticeable variations between the two antagonists. While both are certainly intelligent, taking their time with stalking the prey they consider to be the prime candidate, and they definitely enjoy screwing with and tormenting some of their victims before they truly attack. This time around though, this newest Predator is somewhat more headstrong in taking on big situations which include several targets. Also, this one is a bit vindictive when taunting his targets. What I mean by that is it seems this particular Predator grew an instant fascination with Danny Glover’s Mike Harrigan and in doing so it appears as though the creature wants to eliminate his compatriots in order to get a mono y mono fight, seemingly ignoring most other potential trophies just to specifically track down Harrigan’s friends and kill them one by one. In short, this Predator is a total jerk. Even at one point displaying the man’s deceased friend’s necklace near his grave just to give him a little sign he’s always being watched, messing with the poor guy’s head on another level than previously seen.
Code of the Predator
In the first film, we got a vague sense that the Predator lives by a bit of a code when hunting. For instance, we learned in the McTiernan movie that it doesn’t simply kill to kill, it analyzes every single situation before jumping in plasma canons blazing. So if this intergalactic space warrior comes across someone who is completely unarmed, the Predator will be more inclined to ignore that individual because it doesn’t see any reason to bother with someone who isn’t actually dangerous and there’s no honor in it anyways. In the next movie, we see those ideas expanded upon when the Predator has a chance to basically disembowel a woman trying to kill it but ultimately refuses after discovering that the woman is actually pregnant and deems the kill dishonorable.
Another moment fleshing out the culture of these Predators *SPOILER ALERT* is after Glover’s character kills the Predator in battle, its tribe reveal themselves and don’t retaliate in vengeance of any kind. Instead they seem to accept the demise of their fallen warrior as an honorable death and let Glover go. Even rewarding the man with a parting gift of a nearly three hundred year old pistol. Pretty frikkin’ sweet if you ask me!
At this point, it’s indisputable that the majority of iconic Predator imagery comes from the 1987 production. However from what I gathered, some of Predator’s trademark weapons that many fans know and love actually originated from the 1990 sequel. I find it relatively interesting how this entry of the series as a whole seems to be speedily glossed over, yet somehow the shiny new weapons that made their debut here are remembered quite fondly. The netgun that tears through a gangsters face like butter, the disc/smart disc that slices a Busey in half, the spear/combistick that turns a man into shish kabob, the speargun that ruins a Jamaican’s hat, and the chieftain’s sword all made enough of an impression to return in future sequels and video game counterparts for many years after Predator 2. Just a funny little tidbit that even though this movie doesn’t garner a lot of love, there are still elements fondly remembered by many.
The Secondary Baddies That Aren’t From Outer Space
One element I strangely must confess about Predator 2 is the fact that it actually supplies better and more memorable secondary baddies than the first movie. In the first movie the guerrilla army that Dutch and the gang face are a bunch of throwaway, faceless nobodies for our heroes to gloriously wipe off the face of the Earth in explosive fashion. Then there’s Predator 2 coming in with these over-the-top, crazed lunatic, murderous Columbian and Jamaican gangs that are so weird that it’s awesome. I mean, it gets into some real outlandish material involving the Jamaican gang leader named King Willy who’s deeply into voodoo magic and tosses around chicken bones to predict the future. Again, very weird, but I can’t help myself from loving it. There’s just something so beyond words for me to describe about the quirky gang matter which pulls me straight into it. It makes for some fun entertainment and is another distinguishing detail that separates itself from the ’87 flick, so I respect it in that regard. Also, who could ever forget Gary Busey being awesome Gary Busey? No one, that’s who!
What a Coincidence!
Another odd tidbit about Predator 2 is how it was directed by Stephen Hopkins, the same man who directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child… Which means that there were two separate sequels to two different John McTiernan action movies, both of which were released in 1990, and they were both directed by two different guys who previously made Elm Street sequels. Because the other 1990 McTiernan-less sequel I’m referring to is Die Hard 2: Die Harder, directed by Renny Harlin who brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Coincidence?! Yes, but it’s a very peculiar and impressive coincidence, I might say. I’m also now wondering why there wasn’t a ‘Freddy vs. Predator’ movie in the works for the last thirty years; clearly it’s been set up, where the hell is the payoff now?! Probably couldn’t be any worse than the Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator flicks, so why not?
The Visual Style
Yes, there was indeed a reason why I brought up Elm Street 5 director, Stephen Hopkins. That being the ambitious visual style the man brings to his cinematography. I won’t lie when I say I’m no fan of Elm Street 5, but Hopkins’ use of color and creative camera angles bring almost a graphic novel quality to the direction and I mean that in the best way possible. This quality is transferred quite beautifully over to Predator 2 and it’s yet another aspect to wildly admire. Occasionally feeling akin to a French-noir thriller, only with a homicidal alien on the loose. What’s not to like about that sentence?
Predator 2 is a sequel that has a lot going for it; it’s fun much like the original Predator film is fun, with great action and some truly outstanding special effects. Predator 2 is different, but not too different; taking familiar elements, story beats, and a unique formula of genre blending and forming it entirely into its own identity. The tone is weird and totally bizarre in the most delicious way. The music is still as great as the first movie with Alan Silvestri continuing to produce a fantastic score. The Predator itself remains scary to behold and addicting to watch all at once. Danny Glover handles solo steering an action flick more than competently enough and gives a performance that stands apart from Schwarzenegger’s without any complications.