I’d forgotten how weird Predator 2 is. From the opening tracking shot of ‘jungle jungle PSYCHE IT’S LOS ANGELES!’ To the reprise of the ending of Predator, the film speeds along with the same wide eyed feral glee as it’s vastly stereotypical coked up drug lords.
Perhaps the weirdest, and most successful, choice is the central casting. Arnold Schwarzenegger is swapped out for Danny Glover which, for people who first saw him in the Lethal Weapon movies, is just deeply weird even now. Glover’s a big guy and has great physical presence with an interesting, rough edge to it. There’s no sense of a large Austrian tank changing gears during the fight scenes. Instead, Glover’s Lt. Mike Harrigan alternates between panicky scream-and-shoot and running away a lot. He’s not even the slightest bit trained for any of this but absolutely refuses to back down and that gives the film a very different energy. There’s no Milius-esque one-on-one here, rather an extended duel between the epitome of chaos and one, REALLY bloody annoyed cop. At no point is Mike even remotely likable but he’s never less than relatable. From his weirdly fascinating baggy slacks to his bleak little chuckle when handed his ‘trophy’, he feels like a man adjusting to the fact he’s suddenly not in the genre he thought he was. It’s not Glover’s subtlest performance by any margin at all, but it’s the linchpin for the entire movie.
Locked onto it is some of the franchise’s most interesting, ambitious pieces of world building. And Gary Busey. The artist formerly known as Mr Joshua does the thing Busey did every time he turned up in a movie during this time period; whispers, looks coked off his noggin, wears a good suit and dies. Here he’s Peter Keyes, supposedly a DEA agent but in reality the head of a secret government snatch team tasked with finding and capturing a Predator and it’s weapons. His shtick actually works here too, with Keyes coming across as a mildly deranged obsessive who really loves his work.
It’s a fantastic idea that puts the previous movie in context and, crucially, puts the Predator on the back foot. The hunter is also the hunted and that does three things that no other sequel in this field besides Aliens really tries; honours the first movie, builds the second around it and expands the universe in so doing. It also sets up a killer sucker punch in the third act where it’s revealed just how little of an advantage Keyes’ team actually have as the Predator only takes slightly longer to carve them up than its usual victims.
The other two factions in the movie fare somewhat less well. Murtaugh’s Irregulars include Bill Paxton, Mara Conchita Alonso and Ruben Blades. They’re all fun, all throw themselves headlong at the movie and only Paxton really gets a chance to register. As Jerry, the unit’s new boy, he’s a dapper, fast-talking pillar of joy whose maniacal grin is scaled back a notch even as his volume is turned up one. Jerry’s FUN, in a way no one else is and his death is the only one that really hits home. Plus the shot of him kneeling at one of the car, apparently firing at nothing due to the Predator’s cloaking device is a great moment the movie doesn’t give enough time to breathe.
The rest of the film fares less well. Robert Davi plays…basically Robert Davi as the police chief and whoever thought hiring Morton Downey Jr to play basically himself was snorting something other than the fake coke the top half of the movie is covered in. Worst of all, the warring drug lords are almost hilariously stereotypical. The opening battle includes not one but two cocaine breaks. Later, Harrigan gets some vital intelligence from the Jamaican drug lord King Willie. Yes he is a Voodoo practitioner. And yes, Harrigan is picked up for the appointment in a car filled with weed fog. No trope left behind here. Oh and in case you were worried that the female character might have something to do this time, relax. Leona gets to show up in a few scenes and then be spared because the Predator realizes she’s pregnant. On the one hand, this is all weirdly fitting for a 1990s cop movie. On the other, it’s not been the 1990s for a long time and elements of the movie have, to my surprise, aged worse than the original.
That being said, much like Requiem would lay the groundwork for future movies, Predator 2 is both a lot of (nasty, unblinking, shouty, punchy) fun and permanently changes the franchise. We got rock solid confirmation here that the Predators are a culture, we get a sense of what they do while they’re here and we get that moment with the trophy case and the Xenomorph skull. One that would spawn two movies of it’s own…