There are few mysteries more compelling to me than the hatred for Predator 2. Sure, this first sequel to the 1987 classic isn’t without its faults. Its more colorful and extravagant style could be off-putting to fans of the more quiet dread the original builds up. However, I’ve always enjoyed this film, and given some of the recent developments in the series, perhaps now is as good a time as any to re-evaluate this time the Predator left the jungle and came into our back yard.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF JUNGLE
After Predator proved to be a sleeper hit, original writers Jim and John Thomas were charged with helming the sequel. As it turned out, the pair already had some ideas on just where to take their otherworldly big game hunter. Jim Thomas discusses the inspiration he and his brother had on the original.
When we were in the jungle we always talked about what possible sequels there might be and one of the fantasies we had is what would this camouflage look like in an urban environment? What would he look like against concrete and steel and the city?
With this idea, filmmakers decided to take the Predator into a different kind of jungle. Following that, the next question was just who would the Predator hunt? Combat soldiers rarely inhabit urban America, so what was the equivalent? The answer was as simple as it was inspired. It was time to pit Predator against police.
Predator 2 takes place in Los Angeles in 1997. It follows Detective Mike Harrigan as he attempts to quash a violent drug war tearing apart the City of Angels. But soon he and his partners have a new problem. With local drug lords turning up skinned, it soon becomes clear that an outside party has entered the battlefield, and Harrigan is in his crosshairs.
Predator 2 certainly isn’t short on cheese. Gary Busey, in particular, gives such an inflated performance that his upper torso seems to float away after a gruesome bisection. Perhaps the movie’s biggest flaw is a weak subplot involving government agents, the sole purpose of which seemed to be delivering exposition audiences familiar with the original would already know. There are certainly issues to discuss, but what about what the film does well?
Predator 2 trades the jungles for the familiar cityscape of Los Angeles. Like the jungles of the original, Los Angeles is one of the film’s most crucial elements in how the film builds mood. The City of Angels is perfectly capable of hiding demons. According to producer Michael Levy, this was done to make the viewer even more uneasy.
The first Predator was a terrific experience for all the moviegoers because it was a terrific creature, but it went to the jungle, and the jungle is something we may see on the news, but it’s not really part of our daily lives because we all live in the cities and suburbs.
Instead of blending into trees and waterfalls, the Predator now stalks dark alleys and abandoned warehouses, making this into a very different kind of thriller. Predator 2 is a noir detective story. It has its fair share of action, but at its best, the film does a lot to evoke the feel of classic pulp detective stories. The city slingshots between a sweltering oven by day and a shadow filled concrete maze by night, both of which seem more hospitable to our alien visitor than us. Like the original, the setting is the enemy.
Noir elements play strongly in several sequences, including the investigation of a penthouse massacre, a back alley duel with a Jamaican drug lord, and Harrigan’s rooftop clash with the alien hunter. What makes these sequences so disquieting is they take place in familiar settings. Much like how Jurassic Park turned a kitchen into something terrifying, Predator 2 puts us in familiar places, only to remind us that even there, we’re not safe. Creature creator Stan Winston says it best.
We’re home, and unfortunately the Predator is here with us.
INTERGALACTIC SERIAL KILLER
The original Predator treats the villain much like a guerrilla soldier, and he behaves in a very similar way. Since Predator 2 deals with police officers, they’re forced to tackle their otherworldly foe in a whole new manner. This Predator is a serial killer. Much like how the original tweaked the tropes of slasher films, Predator 2 similarly tweaks the conventions found in cop thrillers such as Manhunter. Though not quite as successful as The Terminator, Predator 2 still uses several tropes very well.
Like most serial killers, the Predator already has a modus operandi. He strings up the skinned bodies of his victims for the authorities to find. Quickly, Harrigan and his cohorts come to view the hunter as a modern day Jack the Ripper. Only after finding another calling card, namely one of the Predator’s weapons, do they get a hint of their perp’s true nature.
Also similar to serial killers, the Predator likes to play with the human authorities. Most of the skinned bodies are not claimed as trophies, instead, they are left behind as displays of his prowess. Similarly, the Predator kills a police officer, yet leaves a piece of his weaponry in the dead cop’s hand for Harrigan to find. Perhaps the most overt example of this comes when Harrigan visits the fallen officer’s grave. While there, Harrigan finds that he’s been trailed by his friend’s killer, who has left the deceased officer’s necklace hanging from a nearby tree.
Finally, like most movies dealing with serial killers, there’s a place where the Predator keeps his souvenirs. The Predator ship is this film’s equivalent of the old dark house, into which our brass badged hero must venture. In order to beat the Predator, Harrigan must leave our world, and enter his.
KEVIN PETER HALL’S SWAN SONG
The strength of the villain is due not only to the writing, but also the performance by Kevin Peter Hall. Kevin Peter Hall portrayed no less than three Predators during his distinguished career, one in the original and two in the sequel. Ironically, Kevin Peter Hall only got the part after original actor Jean Claude Van Damme walked off the set. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Hall would go on to set the standard by which all other Predators are judged.
Far from a mere man in a rubber suit, Hall brought a distinct presence not only to the character in the original, but also the one he played in this sequel. While the Predator in the original is more cautious and methodical, the character in this film is more brazen and bloodthirsty. Hall incorporates this into his performance and discussed it in the supplements for the film.
He’s off on a wild trip. This one is not doing what normal Predators do, which is hunt and go by the rules. He’s breaking all the rules. So he’s a wild boy.
Kevin Peter Hall sadly contracted AIDS after a blood transfusion shortly after Predator 2‘s release and passed away in 1991 at age 35. Predator 2 was his final outing as the character, and his performance is one of this film’s many virtues. Since the inception of the series, nobody has come close to matching Kevin’s performance. Perhaps no one ever will.
None of this would matter if the film didn’t have good characters, and like the original, Predator 2 delivers. The film boasts an incredibly diverse cast, including Panamanian music icon Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso who previously appeared with Schwarzenegger in The Running Man, and Robert Davi who just two years prior had appeared in Die Hard.
One of the biggest highlights is the late Bill Paxton. Paxton was an up and coming talent at the time, having landed roles in films like The Terminator, Commando, Aliens, and Near Dark. His role as the cocky Jerry Lambert is one of his most endearing and memorable, and his scenes are always a joy to watch.
Spearheading an already impressive cast is Danny Glover as Mike Harrigan. Although he previously played a cop in Lethal Weapon, Murtaugh was far more level headed and by the book. Harrigan is much more in the spirit of Dirty Harry, proving to be as lethal a cop as Dutch is a soldier. Harrigan shows a lot of traits similar to Harry Callahan, such as his use of a car as a weapon, a move straight out of The Enforcer. Danny Glover discussed the character in the film’s supplements.
I think Harrigan rhymes with ‘arrogant.’ In a way, I think this cop is somewhat petty. He’s full of his own. He lives in a rough time, a rough period and he says ‘these are my streets and I want to know what’s going on.’
As far as his story goes, Harrigan’s won’t get many points for originality. He practically wades through cop movie cliches, such as the angry police chief, rampant crime that can’t be solved by the book, a few dead partners, and a killer that seems to have a personal vendetta against him. At it’s core, this is pretty by the numbers. Telling this story in the context of a Predator movie however yields some interesting results, and spins a uniquely bitter rivalry between Harrigan and the beast.
In Predator, the creature kills whoever is convenient, and it’s by pure luck that Dutch just happens to be the last one. In Predator 2, the monster sets his sights on Harrigan from the beginning. After observing Harrigan’s heroics during a police shootout, the Predator takes an immediate interest in him. Writer Jim Thomas discusses this in the audio commentary for the film.
Again like in the first movie the idea was to have the Predator observing the most dangerous game and then choosing who was most worthy of a trophy. In this one he wasn’t seeking any kind of revenge. He was just here because it was hot and there was a lot of action and he was just trying to see who was fair game and it turns out it was Danny.
From this start, every action the Predator takes is designed to either get Harrigan’s attention, or worse, draw his ire. The Predator begins his game by killing the criminals Harrigan is hunting as a show of power. This soon escalates as the Predator maliciously targets Harrigan’s friends and colleagues, reminding the cop that he’s always close. The creature never gives Harrigan a moment’s peace, even when he’s mourning at a cemetery. Kevin Peter Hall discussed the strong emotions between these characters while filming.
When he’s chasing me, you know, he’s really after me. When I’m after him, he’s really running.
These deeply personal attacks are unique in the Predator series, and they go a long way to making the hate between these two that much more genuine. When they finally come to blows, the fight is far more physical than in the original. Though Harrigan is outmatched, he’s still able to deal some pretty serious damage, such as when he severs one of the Predator’s hands during their climactic chase. Whereas the first movie ended like a slasher film, Predator 2 culminates with a clash of titans. Harrigan ventures into the dragon’s den and turns the Predator’s own weapons against him. The fight is brutal, but it leads to an unexpected, and satisfying conclusion.
Though not without fault, Predator 2 is also not without virtue. This 1990 science fiction thriller has plenty of fascinating and creative elements for audiences to enjoy. Director Stephen Hopkins discussed the film’s use of multiple genres.
It’s not just an alien movie. It’s not just a horror movie. It’s a detective story, it’s a mystery, it’s a science fiction story, it’s an action movie. It crosses over into a lot of different genres.
I can think of no better quote to leave on, as this captures precisely why I love Predator 2. It combines elements of noir, police thrillers and action films to craft a wholly unique experience. Given the underwhelming performance of the 3rd and 4th installments, perhaps now is the time to give Predator 2 another look, Gary Busey’s floating torso notwithstanding.
[Sources: The Hunters and the Hunted: The Making of Predator 2, Predator 2 Audio Commentary]
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