Predator 2 (1990)
There seems to be an idea out there somewhere, I don’t know where it came from, that Predator 2 is a markedly inferior sequel. This is wholly unjustified. Surely, everyone has their own opinions on how this measures up to the original classic, but to me, this is a great follow-up which expands on the ideas and premise in exciting new ways. Predator 2 contains numerous admirable qualities, and is helmed by a director with a great eye for sleek visuals. Anything it doesn’t recreate from the original it replaces with a higher energy and larger scale action.
In the urban jungles of Los Angeles, Detective Lieutenant Mike Harrigan’s (Danny Glover) police force is at war with drug lords and gangs. But just as Harrigan admits he’s losing the fight, one by one, gang lords are killed by a mysterious, fierce adversary with almost supernatural powers – the Predator. Before long, the vicious creature begins to hunt the hunters – Harrigan’s men. Now, Harrigan doesn’t just want to bring the creature in – he wants to bring it down. However, he is hindered along the way by government Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) who has a shady motive to his secretive investigation who knows more about this ultimate hunter than Harrigan even suspects.
Surely, you would think going from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Danny Glover would be a strange swerve. I always imagined that if this was made a few years later that it would be Wesley Snipes as Mike Harrigan, but I’ll be damned if Glover doesn’t deliver here. The character is designed as a seasoned cop who’s been fighting this unrelenting war on the Los Angeles streets for a long time. He’s dogged, inventive, and is a cop who plays by his own rules, taking a backseat to no one. Glover portrays this with the rugged determination of a consummate street cop. He doesn’t like the politics that get rammed down his throat, and he slickly, yet passionately sticks it back in their faces. However, he is wholly loyal to his team, and treats them with respect as comrades in arms because they are fighting a war. Glover also demonstrates the emotional depth of Harrigan when his closest friend, Danny Archuleta portrayed by Rubén Blades, is gruesomely killed by the Predator. The flashes of enraged vengeance, and the heartfelt moment at the gravesite show Glover had the talent and skill for this role, which also demanded a lot from him physically. He greatly delivers on that end, too. I think making him a distinctly different protagonist than Dutch was the right way to go.
Many will indeed enjoy Bill Paxton’s performance as the jokey Jerry Lambert. He’s the newest member of Harrigan’s team known as “The Lone Ranger.” He’s a guy that’s gotten a lot of ego stroking and glory, but he quickly becomes an enthusiastic team player. This is Paxton at his full charismatic and comedic richness. He adds the levity to break up the grisly heaviness of the film. The rest of the supporting cast is filled out by Rubén Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso as the seasoned members of Harrigan’s team. Both bring their top level enthusiasm and talent adding to the cast’s vibrancy. Then, we get the late, great original king of trash television Morton Downey, Jr. as the appropriately cast tabloid sleaze-miester Tony Pope. He’s puts in a fantastically entertaining performance.
Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger was approached to return for this film, but he turned it down to do Terminator 2. Thus, his role was rewritten as Peter Keyes and re-cast with Gary Busey. I think this was an equally beneficial turn of events. The story works supremely better not knowing what Keyes’ agenda is, and allowing for him to be an adversary and foil for Harrigan. Busey does an excellent job bringing forth his signature energy and leaning Keyes towards the smarmy, shady side. He’s smart and cunning, but still a self-serving government agent who cares more about his findings for the military than Harrigan’s war on violent gang crime.
Also, I love the Jamaican gang here. They are totally savage and chilling with King Willie being fantastically awesome. He brings the mysticism into the fold with a wickedly cool scene opposite Harrigan, but also, a greatly visualized confrontation with the Predator. Calvin Lockhart is so awesome in this role. The theatricality, mystique, and powerful presence he brings entirely does justice to his Royal Shakespeare Company roots. He delivers my favorite performance of the movie. Knowing that director Stephen Hopkins was born in Jamaica, it doesn’t surprise me how rich and memorable these characters are here.
The visual effects are distinctly improved from the first movie. The Predator vision is the most obvious example as the infrared and other modes have more distinct color separation and possibly are of a higher resolution. The optical effects of the Predator’s cloak are used more dynamically and are integrated into more complex environments. We see it in more motion and detail. My favorite effects shots in the whole movie are when the Predator squares off with King Willie. First off, the tracking shot of the cloaked feet walking through the water is brilliant work, and then, the reveal of the Predator in the rippling puddle is awesome. Seeing how these are done in the featurettes on the Special Edition DVD are astounding and what I’ve always loved about movie magic. These striking, innovative images are largely due to do director Stephen Hopkins’ great visual style.
Teamed with regular director of photography Peter Levy, Hopkins gives Predator 2 its own unique visual sleekness. It has a great use of dynamic, intriguing angles. The action is captured remarkably well, and we even get a few scenes of atmospheric, moody lighting. Two of the best shot scenes are, first, inside the slaughterhouse bathed in blue light where the Predators assaults Keyes’ team, and then, the entire climax inside the Predator spacecraft. Counterbalancing that blue with a largely orange color scheme there is another sign of Hopkins’ great visual sensibilities. Beyond just the color schemes, these sequences have great use of sweeping cranes and steadicams shots enhancing the production and artistic value of the film.
This new Predator is recognizable, but has a bit different look and feel to him. He feels more brazen. He’s taking bigger chances, and taking on greater numbers. Hunting in a major metropolitan area means he’s attracting more attention to his work. So, he’s not as calculated, in general, but when he finds a prey he really likes, such as Harrigan, he takes his time to study him. He also taunts Harrigan as if he’s issuing an honorable challenge. I very much like that the filmmakers did this to show, even subtly, that this is another unique individual with his own personality, but with the same objective. It’s also great seeing the arsenal expand with the telescoping spear, the projectile net, and the flying disc. It gives the impression of a larger safari at hand where he’s equipped for bigger game. Kevin Peter Hall, yet again, does an awesome, exceptional job overall. He defined this role so perfectly, and it is a terrible shame that his life ended only a few years later. However, what he did laid the template for others to succeed him in this franchise.
The strengths of Predator 2 is that it is much more energetic and diversely entertaining than the original. The pace is faster as there is more going on here between the gang wars, Peter Keyes’ shady dealings, and Harrigan’s own dogged investigation. The action sequences are bigger and more dynamic allowing for a higher body count, but not as much gore. The film originally gained an NC-17 rating, but likely, Fox panicked and did more aggressive editing to secure an R rating. There is still blood abound and plenty of violence, but far less cadavers begin ripped apart. What we do see in that regard is obscured or done in heavy shadow. So, it ups the energy and action, but reduces the graphic content a little.
I would agree that these characters are not quite as captivating as those in the original. Neither film delves deeply into their characters, but it’s just the nature of battle hardened soldiers in a ominous jungle versus tough, seasoned cops on the streets of Los Angeles. One if inherently more intriguing than the other. There’s a little more levity in this film akin to a wisecracking John McClane in areas as Harrigan’s fear manifests in a few humorous quips. Since the film focuses more on an energetic pace with a more divided focus, there’s little mystique about the Predator himself. Again, he’s much more blunt and brazen, but you do lose that intensely dramatic build up to the third act. The Peter Keyes subplot sort of veers the emotional drive of Harrigan off-track, and the climax just becomes about having to stop this alien one way or another. There’s no more survival aspect, just hero versus villain. There is some peril throughout the third act, but none of it rivals the dire lethality and immediacy of the first film.
Still, the little teases we get at the end with both the Alien skull in the trophy room, the reveal of the half dozen other Predators onboard the spacecraft, and the flintlock pistol with the engraving of the year 1715 on it lay big seeds for a follow-up. However one might have felt about this movie, it surely left you intrigued to see how the next film could expand on these concepts further, but a proper third movie would not see fruition for another twenty years.
Predator 2 may not hit all the great qualities of the film first, but has entertaining trade-offs making it a more lively, faster paced action film. It again has a solid cast filling their roles with vibrancy. The violence and intense action are enhanced by stylish, sleek visuals and excellent editing. The optical visual effects are stunningly impressive pushing the ambition further, and with more time to plan, Stan Winston Studios developed the Predator further with great new weaponry and a fresh look. Alan Silvestri also returns adding some new flavors to his original themes, and adapting some of the feel to this film’s style and content. I would like to pay tribute to Kevin Peter Hall, Calvin Lockhart, and Stan Winston who have all passed on since this film’s release. All three did stunning work here that deserves notable credit and praise. This franchise, outside of the AVP films, has maintained a fairly steady stream of quality. The screenwriters of the first movie returned to expand on their own concepts, and it was executed very well by a competent and capable director. Predator 2 s definitely worth your while. It’s not as slam bang amazing as the first, but it’s a largely worthy sequel.