Predator is a bona fide classic of science fiction. Predator 2 is, by most accounts, utter trash – one of countless sequels from the late 80s and early 90s that live in the shadow of their predecessor. Yet such is the way that the predator has been tarnished by almost every film that has come since, Predator 2 stands up as one of the creature’s best outings. Stephen Hopkins’s film stands up well to repeat viewings and is far less dumb than it first appears. It has its dumb moments but still has more brains behind the brawn than it receives credit for.
Aside from a handful of customary call-backs – some of which are gleefully dreadful – and Alan Silvestri’s largely recycled score, Predator 2 is comfortable doing its own thing. It’s more plot-heavy, less subtle and happy to play almost all of its cards at once. Here, the titular monster is less a takedown of toxic masculinity and more a metaphor for the consequences of society’s endemic violence. The year is 1997 (technically the future, since the film was released in 1990). Global warming means that Los Angeles is in the midst of a heatwave, and there is a brutal drug war going on that sucks the city down with it. The hot temperatures and the heat of battle draw the predator in. First the predator goes after the drug gangs, then the police and then finally the public, attacking a subway train full of armed civilians. In search of more trophies, he is a harbinger of death to those living in a society saturated by lawlessness and bloodshed. Much like other cutting-edge science fiction stories of the time, Predator 2 takes aim at our world’s many shortcomings and our failure to address them.
Just as well then that there is another hyper-masculine, morally righteous action man ready to take him down, right? Except there’s not. Instead, we have Danny Glover as seasoned cop Mike Harrigan, who like Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon is just too old for this shit. Harrigan sounds out of breath every time he speaks, sweats profusely and is stuck with wearing an incredibly unflattering pair of middle-aged man slacks. He shouldn’t stand a chance, yet you know that somehow he triumphs anyway. Watching him overcome the odds to best the malevolent creature is an absolute riot, particularly in the final 25 minutes where the action kicks up another gear. If Harrigan screaming “that’s right asshole, shit happens” as he buzzsaws the predator’s guts out isn’t a heartwarming ending to a true underdog story, then nothing is. And he is brought to life with gravitas and humour by Glover, who deserves praise for making Harrigan even easier to root for than Predator’s motley crew of super soldiers.
Worthy of praise too is Maria Conchita Alonso as one of Harrigan’s partners on the force, who makes a welcome change from the passive female presence in the first film. Smarming it up in equal measure are Bill Paxton and Gary Busey as Jerry Lambert and Special Agent Keys respectively, to seriously entertaining effect. Paxton in particular channels an even more hyperbolic version of his character from Aliens with a pantomime mixture of action and comic relief.
But the real reason Predator 2 doesn’t deserve the stick it received is because it manages to be absolute buckets of fun. And not in a CGI-saturated, hollow, hard to appreciate way. The script is full of wicked humour and action that expands on the mythos and technology of the creature, making it an especially rewarding watch when double-billed with Predator (and the teased crossover with Alien at the end is wonderfully played). It is silly and over-the-top, perhaps in a less satirical manner than the original but in a way that still leaves a massive smile on your face. A smile big enough to block out the film’s numerous but far from chronic weaknesses. This is a film where the predator gets struck by lightning simply because it looks cool – and it does. That’s all there is to it.
Hopkins knows exactly what he is doing with Predator 2. He is cobbling together a cheap thrills and spills B-movie sequel that rides high with nonsense and bloodshed, and settles for doing that as well as it reasonably can. It isn’t trying to be anything that it is not, and there is a blissful simplicity which some of the more structurally complex blockbusters of recent years could learn a thing or two from.