"Predator 2" - Welcome to the Jungle!
Predator 2 (1990)
Starring: Danny Glover, Kevin Peter Hall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
The original Predator is still my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. The now classic 1987 shoot'em up mashed up all of my favorite film genres (sci-fi, horror, and action) and introduced one of the coolest movie bad guys of the '80s -- the Predator, a technologically advanced alien big-game hunter who systematically destroyed the members of Arnold's elite commando team in the South American jungle. What made Predator particularly fun was that for juuuust a little while, it looked like the mighty Ahhh-nuld might actually lose to that hulking extra-terrestrial!
Three years later it was time for Predator 2, without Arnold and set in a new locale. Rather than simply rehashing the first film with a new cast, this high-tech update took the next logical step with the Predator concept and brought the hunter into the urban jungle. The result may not necessarily a better movie than the original Predator, but Predator 2 is certainly entertaining in its own right, thanks to an impressive ensemble cast and lots of fancy pyrotechnic effects.
The "future" Los Angeles of 1997 (ha!) is not a nice place to visit and you definitely wouldn't want to live there. An ongoing heat wave has pegged the temperature around 110 degrees, and as the film opens we see rival gangs of Jamaican and Columbian drug peddlers waging open warfare in the city streets, with the L.A.P.D. stuck in the middle.
Into this mix comes Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (a strong performance by Danny Glover, basking in the glow of his post-Lethal Weapon success), a tough-as-nails L.A. detective who stumbles into a Predator killing ground during a firefight between gang-bangers and police. In spite of a warning to keep his nose out of it by a creepy DEA agent played by the always-welcome Gary Busey (yes, kids, there's one of those good ol' government cover-ups happening here), Harrigan and his squad (which includes the late Bill Paxton, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Ruben Blades) follow the string of grisly murders that follow, believing at first that they're the work of a human enemy. Eventually one of the squad members meets a grisly end at the hands (claws?) of the Predator and when Harrigan finally sees the creature for himself, it becomes personal. When the Predator escapes from a trap set by Busey's G-men, Harrigan steps in to bring the alien down, eventually leading to a thrilling mano-a-mano fight scene set aboard the Predator's spaceship hidden below the city.
With an entire city to play in, Predator 2 offers a greater variety of scenery than the jungle setting of the original, which allows for more extensive stunt and action sequences. The result is bigger, louder, faster and more colorful than the first film. Glover does a commendable job stepping into Schwarzenegger's shoes, playing a Dirty Harry-esque shoot-first, ask-questions later cop who's the complete opposite of the Roger Murtaugh character he'd been portraying in the Lethal Weapon series. Legendary trash-TV host Morton Downey Jr.'s turn as a tabloid TV news reporter was good for a few chuckles as well. When I saw Predator 2 in a theater back in 1990, everyone in the audience cheered when Glover's character punched him out!
Fun fact: thanks to his death scene in this movie, Bill Paxton is one of only two actors who've been killed on film by all three of the big '80s franchise monsters: a Terminator (in The Terminator) an Alien (in Aliens), and a Predator. (The other is Lance Henriksen, who scored the same hat trick with his turns in Terminator, Aliens and 2004's Alien vs. Predator.).
Director Stephen Hopkins keeps the explosions and gunfire coming throughout Predator 2 so it's never boring. It also takes some time to expand the Predator mythology and gives viewers more clues to what makes them tick. Predator 2 remains a worthy sequel that deserves a second look, it's far better than you might have heard.
Predator 2 didn't perform as well as its predecessor at the box office. The lack of Arnold may have had something to do with that, but 20th Century Fox also made the odd decision to launch Predator 2 during the 1990 holiday season rather than the summer-blockbuster period. It was swiftly crushed by family-friendly Christmastime competition like Home Alone and Three Men and a Little Lady, and faded from theaters with a mere $30 million in American box office receipts. Overseas ticket sales buoyed its total take to $57 million, so the film earned back its budget of $37 million, but its relatively weak performance meant there would be no Predator 3.
In spite of the lukewarm theatrical reception to Predator 2, the film's fan base slowly grew thanks to home video and cable-TV and the alien big-game hunters remained popular with science fiction fans thanks to their appearances in numerous comic books, paperback novels and video games.
The Predators finally made it back onto the big screen in the 21st century when they squared off against the dreaded xenomorphs of the Alien saga in two films, 2004's Alien vs. Predator and 2007's Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Fox then attempted to "reboot" the franchise with a new stand-alone film in 2010. Predators debuted to mixed reviews and middling box office returns, but a new film in the saga simply titled The Predator hit theaters in 2018, so it looks like there is still some fight left in these hunters!
© 2017 Keith Abt