After twenty-five years, two tussles with the Alien, and a recent reboot, is this much-maligned follow-up to one of the greatest action movies of all time an under-appreciated gem?
Who made it?: Stephen Hopkins (Director), Jim Thomas, John Thomas (Co-Writers), Joel Silver (Producer), 20th Century Fox.
Who’s in it?: Danny Glover, Rubén Blades, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Kevin Peter Hall.
Tagline: “He’s in town with a few days to kill.”
IMDb rating: 6.1/10.
Depending on who you ask, Predator 2 is a thoroughly lazy, hackneyed sequel to a film that deserved better. This vocal majority will swear blind that it isn’t “a real Predator movie.” It isn’t set in a jungle and the protagonist isn’t a hardened war veteran, but an equally stereotypical wisecracking cop. There also isn’t a focus on slow-burn suspense or tension, front-loading the film with explosions and over-the-top violence. Despite all this, there’s plenty of us who recognise Predator 2 for what it is: a faithful continuation of the same idea with enough tweaks to the formula to keep it interesting, and enough background on the title creature to make it a necessary addition to the mythos. Many also don’t seem to consider how well it functions as a down-and-dirty exploitation flick with a studio budget. Mean-spirited though it often is, you’d have to be a brutal cynic to deny the quality of the gonzo pleasures on show.
Imagine my horror, then, when big-time producer Robert Rodriguez threw it under the bus whilst promoting Predators (2010), the eagerly-awaited franchise reboot that split long-time fans down the middle. Clearly his film was superior. I mean, its set in a forest on an alien planet, and the lead is a battle-hardened veteran (played by a humorously cast-against-type Adrien Brody). Surely this was the “real” Predator sequel fans had always wanted? Except it wasn’t. By staying faithful to the 1987 original, the filmmakers made a product that was more homage than re-imagining. In retrospect, Predator 2 now looks more considered and accomplished. It doesn’t rehash the style or set-up of the first picture, and it definitely has better action sequences than Predators. Who cares if the plot is generic? The moment Alan Silvestri’s iconic score kicks-in, I’m hooked.
Helmed by the highly-competent if workmanlike Stephen Hopkins (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Predator 2 has remained one of my favourite sequels.You’d be right in saying it doesn’t match the skill and pressure-cooker intensity of John McTiernan’s predecessor, but those who expected a sequel to match the likes of Aliens (1986) deserved to be disappointed. After all, the original concept was hardly a stroke of genius. McTiernan’s work was an excellent fusion of action, sci-fi and horror, which used its principal location to full effect, but the story was a composite of unoriginal archetypes and it was populated with actors more comfortable flexing muscles than delivering dialogue. Therefore, it was a little mean to lament Predator 2 for being more of the same.
Of course, it’s the setting that gets most of the attention. Trading the jungles for urban ghettos, the screenplay takes a logical route. After all, if the film merely rehashed the same location, the filmmakers would have been criticised for their lack of effort (not that Predator 2 is anything but a cash-in quickie). Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas get a great deal of mileage out of the concrete metropolis, allowing Hopkins to employ a different atmosphere. But the location does introduce problems. After all, the wild is scarier than civilisation and the director can’t replicate the moody vibe that McTiernan delivered in spades. To his credit, Hopkins tries hard and succeeds more often than he fails. On release, Predator 2 was considered “futuristic.” Set in 1997 (a full seven years ahead of the film), the LA seen here is one dogged by a stifling sun and gang warfare that threatens to tear the city apart. Such a gimmick allows the action to be explosive, giving the Predator a pretty exciting playground, if little else.
Some fans had a problem with the cast, too. Stripped of Arnold’s gung-ho hero Dutch and his memorable team of rogues, the screenwriters had to introduce new characters. Glover, taking on the heavy-lifting, does an admirable job and clearly relished the chance to play the flip-side of his Lethal Weapon role. While he doesn’t convince as a one-man army and his dialogue is often coarse, Glover keeps the material engaging. Harrigan is a tough, get-it-done kind of guy who shows compassion for his co-workers but would rather work alone (making him the antithesis of the team-oriented Dutch). We’ve seen this type of detective many times before, but Glover’s energy makes Harrigan a delightfully unpredictable hero. I also appreciated the supporting players. We have the loyal partner, Danny (Rubén Blades), the tough-as-nails tomboy Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso), and jokester Jerry Lambert, played with enthusiasm by the one and only Bill Paxton (by this point in his career, he’d been killed on-screen by an Alien, a Predator and a Terminator). No way do they top the ensemble from part one, but I feel they hold their own. Alonso is a weak link, sure, but her interplay with Paxton provides the only emotional beats in a cold film.
However, they all play second-fiddle to the late Kevin Peter Hall. Given first billing on the end credits, his turn as the Predator is probably the best performance in the picture. His towering frame made the creature an imposing screen presence. But he did have help from Stan Winston’s bravura costume design. Just as memorable as H.R. Giger’s Alien, the Predator is a wonderful visual. The comic book would eventually broaden the designs (and even hack Paul W.S. Anderson played with the look), but this terror is a true original. Drawn by heat – a fact Anderson overlooked with the snowbound Aliens vs. Predator – he kills purely for sport, which makes the fiend unique. After all, here is a creature of honour and skill that refuses to kill for blood alone. His bag of tricks is intimidating, too, and Hopkins took great pleasure in improving his arsenal. The implements here include a circular saw that flies through the air, a net that cuts through flesh and a retractable spear. All of which make Harrigan’s police-issue pistol fairly laughable. Lest we forget the Predator’s heat vision. It once again provides an unnerving bird’s eye view, as the creature prowls rooftops around the city. Add the invisibility cloak and you have one formidable opponent.
Adding to the chaos is government agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey). Naturally, the men in black have been on the creature’s tail ever since the events of the first film (bringing to mind the shadowy “Company” in the Alien saga). It’s a little-known fact that the character of Keyes was supposed to be Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, but in his defence, Busey’s slightly offbeat character adds another tantalising sub-plot to the film. While it doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution, the effort is welcomed. Predator 2 is all about action, and in that respect, it delivers.
The momentum reaches its peak in the final act, which starts with the famed subway train sequence. After stalking Jerry and Leona, the Predator boards the train, inadvertently takes out the power, and proceeds to face his targets in total darkness. It’s the only moment in Predator 2’s run time that possesses any considerable tension, and Hopkins milks the situation for every last drop of suspense. Of course, it’s all just a build-up for Harrigan’s confrontation with the creature, and the conclusion provides enough surprises to satisfy. The cop traces the Predator to his hideout, which is, rather fittingly, a slaughterhouse. Another bloody battle ensues, with Busey’s government cronies thrown-in for a body count. There’s enough excitement to be had in the last thirty-minutes that many of the flaws are forgiven, especially when one final revelation is revealed (no, it isn’t the Alien skull neatly concealed in the Predator’s trophy cabinet). Those who hated the rest of the film probably won’t be swayed, but the crew here gave it their absolute best.
After all this time, Predator 2 still carries a bad reputation with many. I don’t have a clue why. Is it better than the classic original? Certainly not, but it’s a rollicking blend of detective clichés and sci-fi conventions that make the faults easier to bear. The action rouses, Silvestri’s score sweeps, and the blood is plentiful. Predator 2 isn’t big, and it definitely isn’t clever, but it gets my vote as one of the most underrated sequels there is, and the best successor in the series.
Take that, Rodriguez.
- At one point, Patrick Swayze was approached to star in the film but was unable because he was injured during the filming of Road House.
- The film was re-cut over 20 times, according to director Stephen Hopkins, because of more graphic shots of mutilated bodies and decapitations by the Predator.
- John Lithgow (the “Trinity Killer” in Dexter) was Hopkins’ first choice for Peter Keyes, but producer Joel Silver pushed for Gary Busey instead.
- Firefly‘s Adam Baldwin appears as Garber, Keyes’ right-hand man.
- Rubén Blades was giving a live TV interview to Good Morning America from the set of this movie. During the interview, Hopkins walked on camera and ordered Blades back to work very loudly. The incident was so embarrassing that Blades and Hopkins did another interview days later to apologise.
- Putting the Alien skull in the Predator’s trophy cabinet was Hopkins’ idea. It was also a nod to the Dark Horse Aliens vs. Predator comics which were quite popular at the time. Since Fox owned the Alien franchise, it was easy to obtain the rights to use the xenomorph head in the film. This increased the popularity of the Aliens vs. Predator crossover, leading to more comics, novels, video games, toys, and the eventual movies.