Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Predator: following the deadly encounters between a tall, dreadlocked alien race that scours the galaxy in search of dangerous species to hunt and kill — dangerous species such as man! Dun dun dunnn! The proper franchise spans three films, from 1987-2010, as well as two ancillary cross-over films featuring the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise.
The Installment: Predator 2 (1990)
Set in the crappy near future of crime-ridden 1997 Los Angeles, we’ve swapped out the actual jungle for an asphalt one. LA is caught in the middle of a heat wave and a gangland turf war between Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels, which makes it an appealing vacation spot for a Predator looking to test his mettle with some human hunting. Our previous Predator had the good sense to hunt humans in a secluded area without too many prying eyes. Our new Predator isn’t as savvy. When he rather conspicuously wipes out members of the Colombian gang during a shootout with the LAPD, grizzled Lieutenant Michael Harrigan (Danny Glover) takes notice. Now our brazen Predator becomes the hunted, as Harrigan becomes obsessed with bringing the alien to justice. Adding to the Predator’s problems is the fact that Dutch survived his adventure in Val Verde, and presumably told the US military what happened. So now the Feds are hip to the Predator’s jive, and a task force led by Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) arrives in LA to do some hunting of their own. Also: Bill Paxton tells terrible jokes.
You have to give Predator 2 this — it focuses its limited creative energy in the right place. The most successful element of the film is the handling of the Predator itself, specifically the expansion of the creature’s mythology and personality. Conceptually, this is precisely what the sequel should be doing. While Shane Black’s absence as a script punch-up man is far more apparent than one would hope, Jim Thomas and John Thomas approached their alien cash-cow with respect and some genuine inspiration. Moving from the jungle to civilization is a natural choice, but still a smart one (I dig the fake-out opening shot that makes us think we’re in the jungle again until the camera pans up from the trees to reveal the LA skyline). Another adventure in the wilderness would have felt like a rerun. And while New York or Chicago would be a more fitting “urban jungle,” the filmmakers do a good job of hiding the fact that the vast majority of LA is a monotonous sprawl of two-to-three-story buildings. It is a fresh and pleasing visual to see the Predator bouncing around rooftops and perching on gargoyles like Batman.
Though certain elements of the film play redundantly if you view Predator and Predator 2 back-to-back, I like that the film revisits and expands upon some of the cooler bits from the first film, like the Predator healing itself — what sets the Predator widely apart from your average movie monster is that he’s got a lot of sweet gizmos, so giving us a heavy helping of Emergency Aid tech was fun. We also get more weapons, weirder weapons. More trophy skulls. And more Monster Vision. It is a very cool embellishment of the iconic “heat vision” to discover that the Predator’s signature POV is actually just one of many “modes” the creature can set his mask to. In this way the Thomas Bros did a commendable job of moving us forward without ever going too far, or undermining what we liked about the Predator in the first film. Coolest of all are the expansions we get on the Predator’s honor code. Because the Predator ignored Anna in Predator, we know he (and by “he” I’m now referring to the species) isn’t interested in hunting humans who are unarmed. We get a lot of that in the sequel, particularly a scene where the Predator squares off against a little kid with a toy machine gun, unsure if the weapon is real or not. But coming out of the first film, you could have also made the argument that the creature just won’t kill women in general. We didn’t really know. This now gets clarified for us in one of the film’s most intriguing scenes, when the Predator is about to kill Leona Cantrell (María Conchita Alonso), and stops only when – using his heat vision – he discovers that she is pregnant. That small detail suddenly makes our villain significantly more complex.
The Predators get even more complex in the film’s crowning achievement: the finale, in which Harrigan goes toe-to-toe with the Predator inside the alien’s spaceship. Just being inside the ship is cool, especially if you’re like me and always wondered where the Predator’s ship (or pod or whatever) was in the first film. But the big mythology development comes after Harrigan kills the Predator, when a handful of other Predators suddenly make themselves visible and surround our hero. Harrigan is now all sortsa boned. But the Predators not only let him go, they acknowledge that he won fair and square. They even give him a present! A vintage handgun from 1715. This one small moment suddenly gives us a whole lot to extrapolate. First off, we now know that the Predators have been hunting on Earth for quite a while. But bigger than that, this also alters a particular impression about the Predator that we walked out of the first film with, namely that the Predator is a sore loser. While the Predator’s asshole-y laughter at Arnold’s expense in Predator clearly indicated that he was enjoying blowing himself up, the moment – and the moment in Predator 2 when our new baddie tries to blow himself up too – now seems like a tactic to destroy evidence of their existence, and not just sour grapes. There is something really odd and glorious about a monster that you can not only win over, but impress. The possibilities for sequels riffing on that one detail is wonderful. Might the Predators take a worthy human warrior back to their planet, not unlike the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Show him off as a celebrity? Or pit him in a ring against other alien warriors, like an intergalactic Bloodsport (which I guess would be 1989’s Arena)? Or even join forces in some capacity with a human in a whacked out buddy-cop scenario? We’re left with the feeling that we’ve just scratched the surface on this species. At the end of the film, when Agent Garber (Adam Baldwin) remorsefully says, “We came so close.” Harrigan’s response of “Don’t worry, asshole, you’ll get another chance” definitely captured my own feelings on the franchise at this juncture.
Though, objectively, the biggest success of the entire film is a single shot that last only a few seconds. That would be the shot of the Predator’s trophy case. We catch a tantalizing tease of the case in the middle of the film, when the Predator puts a fresh human skull on the display, and we spend the rest of the film dying to see more. Then we see it, full of a variety of alien skulls, and smack dab in the middle is a huge xenomorph skull. What was probably a joke idea tossed out by Stan Winston or someone, ended up exploding the entire franchise. The aliens from the Alien franchise live in this same world?!?!? That’s some next level sequel shit right there. In a way it immediately ruins the entire Predator franchise. Fuck Predator 3. Everyone wants an Alien Vs Predator now!
I enjoyed tossing some Rastafarians in the film with the Predator. And I very much respect that the filmmakers left things at that, and didn’t have any awful jokes or one-liners about that Predator having dreadlocks. And I enjoyed some of the film’s goofy humor, namely the subway scene in which it turns out that every single passenger is carrying a gun. I’ll even give the film a pass on the wacky old lady who seems strangely unfazed by the fact that a hulking extraterrestrial breaks into her apartment and destroys her bathroom. A typical desensitized New Yorker movie gag, even though the film is set in LA.
King Willie (Calvin Lockhart), leader of the Jamaican gang, is a great one-scene character, played with scenery chewing mysticism by Lockhart. He ultimately serves no purpose, but Lockhart makes Willie earn his keep. His one scene, in which he and Harrigan have a private powwow in an alley, is one of the few really great scenes from the police procedural phase of the film. The scene features the nifty special effect of the Predator, in full cloaking mode, walking invisibly through a puddle of water. And the end transition/reveal that the Predator decapitated King Willie is the kind of cheeky filmmaking Predator 2 could have used a lot more of.
What Doesn’t Work:
For all the commendable thinking the Thomas Bros put into the Predator mythology, sadly they immediately get off on the wrong foot when it comes to the film itself. Predator 2 is hobbled from the get-go by the fact that we switched heroes from Dutch to Harrigan. The problem isn’t that we lost our lovable hero from the first film. For this kind of franchise that is standard (one of the many reasons the Alien franchise is so unique). The problem is entirely a structural one. We already know what the Predator is. We know that he isn’t really invisible. That he is from space. That he is hunting humans for sport. Yet the filmmakers force us to the go through the motions again with Harrigan, as he detectives his way around LA slowly figuring out that he’s fighting a goddamn 10-foot-tall alien and not a gangland hitman. That’s what we fancy-pants writers like to call “dramatic irony.” If there had never been a Predator, Predator 2 would work a whole lot better. As it is, the entire first 2/3s of the film are a pointless chore as we wait around for Harrigan to finally learn what the hell is going on and actually engage our villain, re-treading bits like a Spanish-speaking character telling our heroes that they were attacked by a ghost or demon. Unsurprisingly, the moment that Agent Keyes pulls Harrigan into his high-tech trailer (and fills the poor bastard in) the film suddenly picks up and becomes pretty decent all the way up to the killer climax.
Presumably the filmmakers thought the dramatic irony would make for a fun narrative, but it makes a lot of the film inconsequential and worse, it makes all the subplots dead-ends. The war between the Colombians and the Jamaicans ends the moment Harrigan learns that the Predator is an alien — something, by the way, that he learns only because another character outright tells him (good job detective!). Shouldn’t the gangs have come back into play somehow? Same goes for Harrigan’s subplot as a wild card cop. The film gives us a stale cop storyline featuring the great Robert Davi as the Deputy Chief of Police, and a bunch of other cop characters we need to remember. Only two of those characters die. Yet, once again, the moment Harrigan gets pulled into that trailer by Keyes, they never reappear. Not even at the end when Harrigan is swarmed by police cars. Harrigan closes things out with one of Keyes’ stooges. Predator 2 might have been able to solve some of these issues by not having the film take place over several days, and once again treating the Predator’s hunt as a one-day activity. I see the appeal of having a detective hunting a monster in the city. It worked in Q: The Winged Serpent. But I don’t think it is what this franchise needed as its first sequel — at least not how it is presented.
I understand why the filmmakers didn’t want to tell a story about Agent Keyes and his team (though that would have been a very novel take on the sequel). But Harrigan should have realized the Predator was an alien right away. There is no reason to have cliche scenes of Harrigan arguing with his Captain about Harrigan’s loose cannon attitude when we already know there is a giant monster running around the city collecting fucking skulls. This isn’t a Friday the 13th movie. There isn’t much fun in just rinsing and repeating. Expectations are higher in this franchise. And at least in the Friday films all the characters are usually fully aware of the murders from the previous films and of Jason Voorhees as a presence in their world. It is possible that this structure could have worked just fine if Harrigan’s own story was intriguing or, I don’t know, at the very least not stupid. But it is cheesy and surprisingly hackneyed. The clearest symbol of Predator 2‘s poor choices in this area is certainly Bill Paxton’s character Det. Lambert. Even aside from the fact that Paxton seems to be doing an over-the-top impression of a Bill Paxton character, always entering scenes at the tail-end of a dorky joke (Paxton needed Shane Black on hand more than anyone else), Lambert’s whole character is off base. The first time we see him is part of a semi-elaborate scene in which when he joins Harrigan’s team. Why are we having a new member join the team? This isn’t actually a movie about cops. We don’t need to follow the structure of Predator and ease from one genre into another. Lambert is unnecessary story and his introduction slows things down, one more obstacle keeping Harrigan away from encountering an alien. If Lambert was an important character it would be a different story, but he barely does anything, then he dies an inconsequential death. It feels like the film is actively trying to stall by front-loading the police subplot. And still, possibly all this could have worked if Harrigan worked. But he doesn’t either…
Danny Glover is a great actor, but Harrigan is a lousy character. Once again, the problem is peculiar creative choices. Harrigan is a maverick cop. This is 1992. This is not only post-Dirty Harry, but post Lethal Weapon. The maverick cop subgenre had already run its gamut into parody (1993 saw both Last Action Hero and the first appearance of The Simpsons‘ hard-boiled cop parody, McGarnagle). Yet we’re treated to boilerplate scenes of Harrigan getting chewed out by his superiors. Harrigan’s Captain actually says this line, “Heinemann’s already been up my ass so far I won’t be able to sit down for a week. We’re not winning this war. As much as it’s going to piss you off, you’re going to have to play the game in this one.” Fine, whatever. I’m happy to take in some doofy hard-boiled cop dialogue. But then we also get the reverse scenes — Harrigan telling his own team the exact same sort of shit! Deputy Chief Heinemann (Davi) tells Harrigan to knock off his “John Wayne” tactics. Then, on more than one occasion, Harrigan tells his gang not to be “cowboys.” Come on Predator 2! Not only do you play both sides, you use ‘Old West’ metaphors in both places too?! It’s like you want to get caught! The whole reason Lambert is given the elaborate introduction that he is – in which Harrigan gives the first of his hypocritical “cowboy” pep talks – is obviously to give Harrigan a “hero moment,” shooting down this brash young hotshot and thus establishing how cool-headed Harrigan is. But Harrigan is a hotshot too! Lambert’s scene literally comes directly after Harrigan is dressed down by his superiors! Back-to-back!
But apart from clunky screenwriting, the real issue here is that Harrigan isn’t a very likable character. Think about this: the Predator is killing gang members. Harrigan gets involved and disobeys many direct orders to stay out of the case. He doesn’t. And he gets two of his men killed, plus he causes a lot of collateral damage and death once the Predator begins stalking him. If he had obeyed orders the Predator would have cleaned up LA’s gang problems, then killed Keyes’ team of assholes and been on his merry way. Everybody wins! Harrigan fucks everything up, and is all self-righteous about it too. Like he has the right to investigate the Predator even though he’s a city employee who has been taken off the case. And he’s aghast that Keyes wants to capture the Predator instead of killing it. Why wouldn’t you? It is an alien species! The film portrays Keyes and his team as clueless idiots, who suffer dearly because they won’t listen to Harrigan. But Harrigan has absolutely no idea what’s going on and frankly has caused more problems than the sinister Feds (who are only causing problems for Harrigan and his illegal investigation that goes no where). It is also a bit hypocritical of Harrigan to treat investigative reporter Tony Pope (Morton Downey, Jr.) with such derision, when they’re both on the same side. Pope’s own investigation actually moves a lot faster than Harrigan’s, yet Pope is only comic relief and just one of the many subplots that never goes anywhere. Compounding everything, as much as I like and respect Glover as a performer, he at times seems ill-equipped to play Harrigan. All his heavy breathing and lumbering around that served him so well as “I’m too old for this shit” Roger Murtaugh, make Harrigan come off as old and clumsy. I just don’t buy Glover as this kind of supercop.
And for all the ways in which Predator 2 gets things completely right with the Predator, there are some missteps here too. The film really did need to be in the city. But the way the Predator behaves doesn’t make a ton of sense. Having him hunt in the jungle was logical. He can get in and get out without humanity discovering his existence or risking humans teaming up on him. But flagrantly killing people in broad daylight, while throngs of humans are everywhere? Attacking a crowded subway? Did the Predators decide it was time for Earth to know they exist? Seems pretty inevitable that someone is going to notice them this time around and try to intervene. Doesn’t take a Dutch-esque super badass to do so. The film also plays even more fast and loose with the Predator’s attitude towards bullets than the first film. As this pic nicely demonstrates…
…the Predator doesn’t wear much armor. That’s part of why he’s such a badass. He is quite strong, but he can be injured just as easily as a human if you shoot or stab him. Yet at times in Predator 2 he seems completely indifferent to people shooting directly at him. In the subway scene, he allows Lambert to empty several clips directly at him from point blank range. His cloaking device bends light. Does it also bend bullets now? The film seems to think so, considering how easily Harrigan wounds the Predator later in the film when the cloaking device isn’t on. But this feels a lot more like an oversight than an expansion on how the cloaking device works — as it seems like Stephen Hopkins would have shown bullets ricocheting off the invisibly shield. And as long as we’re complaining about the Predator, how is he able to so expertly stalk our characters? Mere moments after following Harrigan to the cemetery, he attacks the exact subway car that Lambert and Cantrell are in. How the hell did he find them? Did he put tracking devices on them? That’s rhetorical, cause he didn’t. That is a small nitpick, but the first film took the time to think this sort of detail through. Predator 2 commits the crime of asking us to expect less from the franchise. I’m also not a big fan of the stupid noises the Predator makes in a few places. Or that he gets struck by lighting and is in no way effected by it. What are we supposed to take away from that detail?
This isn’t so much a critique, but I’m not sure I get why the film was set in the near-future, in an LA that had descended into a third-world level of criminal unrest. I get that the Predators supposedly only come to the most dangerous areas of conflict, but isn’t it more interesting to see a Predator attacking our own reality? Not a fantasy version of America?
Predator Kills: 26.
Best Kill: Keyes and several hanging slabs of beef getting sliced in half by the Predator’s razor-Frisbee-boomerang.
Best Scene: Once we move past the Alien-esque tracking screen “Get out of there!” stuff, the showdown between the Feds and the Predator in the slaughterhouse is a lot of fun.
After being hassled by a superior…
Harrigan: You’re rippin’ my dick off and shovin’ it up my asshole!
Best Predator Weapon: The razor-Frisbee-boomerang.
Evidence That the Predator is a Lousy Hunter: My already-given complaint about the Predator’s lack of concern when attacking his prey in crowded areas. A Safari hunter wouldn’t run solo into a herd of elephants, no matter what kind of weapons he had.
Should There Be a Sequel: Uh, yes. I want to see the Predators in colonial America!
Up Next: Predators
previous franchises battled
Planet of the Apes