Released: 21 November 1990
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $20 to 30 million
Stars: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, María Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Ruben Blades, and Kevin Peter Hall
Ten years after the first film, stubborn and abrasive Lieutenant Mike Harrigan’s (Glover) attempts to combat the rising violence between heavily armed Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels on the hot streets of 1997 Los Angeles are further complicated by the arrival of a heavily armed extraterrestrial hunter (Hall). When the bodies begin to pile up and shady government agent Peter Keyes (Busey) arrives looking to capture the creature, Harrigan is forced to use all of his wits and resources to tackle the alien predator head-on.
Predator (McTiernan, 1987) began as the ridiculous concept of pitting Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) against an extraterrestrial opponent, evolved into a B-movie with a budget that had Jean-Claude Van Damme running around a jungle in a big bug suit, and finally became a box office hit regarded favourably as one of the best of its genre. While development of a sequel took some time, the concept of placing the titular hunter in the “urban jungle” was a persistent idea right from the start. Although the original plan was for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return and be teamed up with either Patrick Swayze or Steven Segal, the Austrian Oak ultimately passed due to his dislike of the city-based setting and dispute over his salary. Under the direction of Stephen Hopkins, the titular hunter was slightly redesigned by the legendary Stan Winston to be more “hip”, fearsome, and both visually similar and also distinct from its predecessor. Sadly, Predator 2 grossed just under $60 million, substantially less than its predecessor; however, paradoxically, the critical reaction was far more positive. Considering I’ve long argued that the film is an under-rated entry in the franchise, I’m glad to see that it has developed a cult following over the years as its expansion of the Predator lore and society had a significant impact on the franchise’s subsequent sequels, videogames, and comic books. Since there was also a fan movement to declare June 12th as “Predator Day”, this seems like a perfect excuse to revisit this film, even if I’m a day late due to this date clashing with “Superman Day”.
When I was a kid, I did not really care for Predator 2; Predator was such an influential film on me and I was such a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan that the sequel felt like a bit of a let down from his absence alone and, as other sequels from around that time didn’t suffer in this way, this definitely stuck out to me as a negative. Over time, though, I’ve really come to enjoy it for the new elements it brings to the franchise and the influence it had on the series; it also helps that I became a Danny Glover fan in the intervening years and I now regard it far more favourably than that naïve little kid who didn’t know any better.
Glover stars as hot-headed Michael Harrigan, a Los Angeles cop with a lack of respect for authority, rules, and proper police procedure. Harrigan sees himself as a soldier fighting on the frontlines of an ever-escalating gang war and has little time to appease the whims of his superiors; he’s the kind of cop who cruises around with a boot full of small to heavy ordinance, drives head-first into a firefight to get injured cops to safety, and barges into a building full of armed gangsters rather than wait for a “bullshit special unit” since he wants to bust ass before the perps get a chance to dig themselves into a dominating position. Critically, Harrigan isn’t some infallible super soldier; he’s incredibly emotional, quick to anger, and deathly afraid of heights and yet remains deeply committed to fighting his war with a strong emphasis on cooperation and trust within his team. Harrigan’s service record is littered with instances of aggression, violence, and insubordination but also examples of bravery and an unparalleled arrest record; while his methods rub his superiors the wrong way, he definitely gets results but it’s pretty clear right from the start that he’s on very thin ice when a series of gruesome murders only escalate the tensions and violence on the streets.
Luckily, Harrigan isn’t alone in his efforts as he’s part of a very close-knit team of detectives made up of his partner of fifteen years Danny Archuleta (Blades) and tough-as-nails Leona Cantrell (Alonso). While both are far more cool-headed than Harrigan, they willingly follow him into the fray, which ends badly for Danny after he begrudgingly agrees to return to a brutal crime scene to investigate further and ends up being killed by the new Predator. Danny’s death weighs heavily on Harrigan, who came up through the force with him, and his guilt only fuels his drive to track down whoever was responsible for his partner’s death no matter whose feathers he has to rustle. In an interesting change of pace, there is no romantic tension or subplot between Harrigan and Leona, who remains a strong and spirited independent woman who’s just as apt to offer emotional support to the grieving Harrigan as she is her skills with a gun and an aggressive retort to anyone who tries to get in her way. Initially, she turns this fire on newcomer Jerry Lambert (Paxton), a loud-mouthed braggart who, despite often being a source of comic relief, specifically transfers to Harrigan’s team in order to contribute to a greater cause. Known as the “Lone Ranger”, Lambert quickly proves to be a valuable asset to Harrigan’s team not just through his own tenacious nature but also his bravery in trying, in vain, to fend off the Predator.
Although there’s friction between the team and Peter Keyes’ special operations unit, Harrigan quickly develops a fierce hatred towards the shady agent as their paths cross more and more; immediately suspicious of him (primarily because of Harrigan’s distrust of authority figures and his intense dislike for Federal government agencies), Harrigan initially feigns co-operation with the smooth-talking Keyes but tensions between the two only escalate when Harrigan continues to disregard orders regarding the Predator’s handiwork, especially after Danny’s death. Convinced from the start that Keyes is covering something up and keeping him out of the loop, both characters warn each other off for different reasons but Harrigan’s stubborn nature leads to him investigating Keyes almost as much as the mysterious killer the agent appears to be protecting. When Keyes reveals the truth to Harrigan, he displays a personal investment in the capture and study of the Predator that leads to him recklessly endangering his men and vastly underestimating the hunter all to show off to the hot-headed cop. While Keyes has certainly done his homework and is unquestionably the authority on the Predator’s capabilities, he massively miscalculates how clever the creature is; having set itself up at the slaughterhouse, the Predator is quick to notice something amiss and filter its vision accordingly, meaning that all of Keyes’ carefully-laid plans are for naught and Keyes ends up first horribly scarred and then skewered, despite a valiant effort to try and cryogenically freeze the alien in order to reverse engineers its technology.
As mentioned, Los Angeles is a veritable warzone thanks to escalating and violent conflict between the Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels; the most prominent figure in this conflict is King Willie (Calvin Lockhart), who openly practises voodoo rituals and brutality to spread fear and intimidate his rivals. When both sides suffer losses from a vicious and mysterious third party, Harrigan arranges an unorthodox meeting between himself and the voodoo priest who, similar to Billy (Sonny Landham), exhibits some supernatural knowledge of the titular alien hunter. The Predator itself is largely very similar to the one from the first film; the build-up to the creature’s reveal is very familiar, though doesn’t take as long as in Predator, which results in a far more action-packed movie and a focus on the Predator’s brutal slaughter of gangbangers and cops alike. The Predator again stalks its prey using its camouflage and still has its shoulder-mounted plasma cannon but this one is also sporting a far more impressive and diverse array of weaponry compared to its predecessor: it wields a deadly spear, a razor sharp net, tosses a smaller sharped implement that kick-starts Harrigan’s investigation, and skewers Keyes with a circular disc. After Harrigan damages its weaponry, the Predator switches to a wrist-mounted blaster and has a far more intricate medical kit that allows it to cauterise gunshot wounds and its stump of a hand, and also shows off a whole range of different visual modes in its helmet that allow it to easily get around Keyes’ well-thought-out plan to capture it.
For me, moving the sequel to the urban jungle was an inspired move; the high-rise skyscrapers, dark alleys, and swelteringly hot Los Angeles streets make for a veritable boiling pot of tension and violence that is both relatable and outrageously dangerous. As overwhelmed as the city police are by the gang wars, even reporters are aghast at both the violence, the inability of governmental officials to step in and, paradoxically, the extreme measures used by the police. Plus, setting it in the city helps the sequel to be visually distinct from the original; if it’d been in the jungle again, it would’ve been criticised for being rehash so it did the best thing a sequel can do (in my opinion) and change the setting up a bit.
The city setting allows for far more diverse and interesting scenes; the film opens with an all-out gunfight in the streets that results in a bunch of crackheads being cut to ribbons by the Predator, includes an extremely intense (if brief) sex scene that is followed by a brutal voodoo ritual that leaves a man with his heart cut out, and also allows for the Predator to be placed in all kinds of new and visually interesting environments. In addition to slaughtering his victims while fully cloaked, we also get an impressive shot of the invisible hunter as it stalks King Willie but two stand out scenes are obviously the subway massacre (where the Predator tears through criminals and pedestrians alike while bathed in ominous strobe lights) and Keyes’ futile effort to corner and freeze the creature in the slaughterhouse. Following an absolutely blinding rooftop chase, Harrigan eventually goes one-on-one with the hunter in its ship, which is a Lovecraftian nightmare filled with smoke, trophies of former kills, and all kinds of intriguing alien architecture. It’s pretty clear to me that the special and practical effects from the first film have only improved in the sequel; yes, the Predator’s camouflage can look a little dodgy and there’s a few dated composite shots, but I always found this to actually work in the context of the film since the Predator would obviously be actively bending light as it moved.
The Predator tags Harrigan early in the film when he valiantly risks himself to break up a firefight and chases El Scorpio (Henry Kingi) to a rooftop; from there, the two cross paths again and again, with Harrigan constantly being one step behind the creature and left with little more than the blood-soaked aftermath of its slaughter and trace pieces of evidence. Like in the first film, this culminates in a massive showdown between Harrigan and the Predator that begins with the methodical massacre of Keyes and his team and sees Harrigan chase the creature halfway across the city. Although Danny Glover lacks the size and screen presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrigan is by no means a lesser protagonist; emotional and tenacious, he’s also as vulnerable and incredulous as he is fiery and adaptable. Rather than laying traps and resorting to makeshift weaponry like his predecessor, Harrigan arms himself with as many weapons as he can and even uses the Predator’s own weaponry against it; he makes notable use of the creature’s Smart Disc to slice its hand off, fend off its wrist blades, and finally deliver a killing blow aboard the alien’s ship. However, he also takes a lot more damage that his predecessor and is far more human in a lot of ways; he responds to pressure with a biting wit or explosive anger and uses those emotions to drive him forwards to a messy but impressive victory.
Crucially, the film also does wonders for expanding upon the Predator lore and society. While visually similar to its predecessor, the new Predator is just visually distinct enough to be unique and, as mentioned, it has a whole bunch of new toys to eviscerate foes with. Like the first Predator, the hunter lures in prey with its voice synthesiser and demonstrates an unwillingness to kill unarmed or dishonourable prey; we see it hold off from blasting a kid with a toy gun and, most notably, it leaves Leona alive after seeing that she is pregnant. Thanks to an amusing scene that shows that practically all of the city is armed in some way or another, to say nothing of the violent war between the two factions, the Predator isn’t exactly short on victims to take as trophies for its collection. Like in the first film, the Predator resorts to honourable combat using melee weapons when challenged by a worthy foe, such as when King Willie pulls a sword out on it and at the end, when its other weapons have been disabled and it’s left to battle Harrigan in knife combat. Finally, after Harrigan emerges victorious, we see the extent of the code of honour amongst the Predator’s species as Mike’s left a trophy of his own, something that would be a prominent and recurring element in future Predator stories.
While I wasn’t initially as big a fan of Predator 2 compared to the original, I now have more than enough time for the sequel thanks to the way it takes everything that worked from the first film and expands upon it, bringing the alien’s technology and twisted code of honour to the big city and giving the creature far more opportunities to kill its targets. An intense and fast-paced action-packed sci-fi horror, Predator 2 is absolutely unrelenting; the tension and escalating conflict is palpable and, crucially, it’s both a very different film from the original while still hitting some familiar beats to satisfy fans of the influential first film. Augmenting the Predator’s skillset, weaponry, and lore to the point where the franchise and its spin-offs would have a wealth of material to pull from and expand upon, Predator 2 is bolstered by strong, memorable performances from Danny Glover and the late, great Bill Paxton (who looks like he’s having the time of his life as the grandstanding Lone Ranger) as much as it is by the ambitious practical effects used to bring the Predator’s advanced technology to life. While it may not be as notable or as impactful as the first film, it does more than enough to hold its own as a worthwhile follow-up; my fondness for it has grown to the point where I often choose to watch this one over the original and I’ll always defend Predator 2 as a worthy successor.
Are you a fan of Predator 2? How do you think it compares to both the first film and its successors? Were you disappointed that Schwarzenegger didn’t return for the sequel and what did you think to Danny Glover’s character in comparison? What did you think to the new Predator, its new weapons, and the way the film expanded upon the species’ code of honour? Which of the Predator sequels and merchandise was your favourite and did you celebrate Predator Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Predator 2, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.