What to Watch: Preying on L.A. in Predator 2 (1990)

You know what they say about decades? A new one doesn’t begin until the final number in a year ends with a “1.” November 1990 saw the sequel to the super-popular Predator in Predator 2. With no Arnie, Carl Weathers, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Shane Black, or epic handshake returning, the viewing populace seemed to go in with the mindset that the sequel was of lesser quality and the box office take pretty much indicated that. Unlike the original which had mixed reception initially and would eventually be hailed as an action movie classic, the same sentiment hasn’t occurred with Predator 2, which is on par with the first and arguably better.

THE STORY: The year is 1997, and the metropolis of Los Angeles is the playground for a gang war pitting the Jamaicans versus the Columbians for control of the city’s narcotics trade. To make matters worse, the city is enveloped in a perpetual heat wave with no end in sight. Police Lieutenant Michael Harrigan (Danny Glover) and his squad of Leona (María Conchita Alonso) and Ruben (Ruben Blades) do what they can and take every opportunity possible to reinstall control.

After seeing the gory aftermaths of Columbian and Jamaican crime scenes, Harrigan attempts to put together the pieces. Retaliation? A new drug pusher in town? This all is happening while the lieutenant receives a new transfer in detective Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton), along with being pushed to the side on his own case in favor of the mysterious Special Agent Jerry Keyes (Gary Busey). Little does Harrigan know, the latest blood shed has nothing to do with a turf war but is the result of an extraterrestrial being who hunts other species for sport in a larger sadistic game. L.A., enter the Predator.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Released only 11 months after the end of the 80’s, Predator 2 still carries the heart of an 80’s movie, from its movie poster aesthetic and look (lead star, face maybe or maybe not obscured, always looking super-serious into the camera) to its ultraviolence and quotable lines. Many movies of that decade weren’t regarded for their intricate plots, and neither is the Predator sequel. Basically, it’s a popcorn action movie, though not without a few “heady” aspects.

The setting of Los Angeles lends itself well to a hunting playground, and seeing the Predator claim his trophies in this urban jungle is more satisfying than him doing it in Central America. Director Stephen Hopkins wastes little time in putting his audience in the eyes of the famed hunter in thermal POV style, and it’s a style that much of the film uses in a surprisingly satirical way via the Predator, video surveillance, or by way of a sensationalist reporter (Morton Downey Jr.) known as Tony Pope who’s the host of a show called “Hard Core.” It’s a show that consistently opines about how dangerous the city is all while seemingly relishing how detailed and shocking he can make his news pieces. No, Predator 2 is not particularly detailed or raises questions à la Nightcrawler, but the portrayal of the future does semi-translate to today.

Then there’s the casting of Danny Glover as the protagonist. While Glover was no stranger to the genre and calling his casting a deconstruction of the traditional action hero would be incorrect, his status as a high level, consummate action hero is decidedly lesser than Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Stallone, and even Carl Weathers. However, he does bring a stronger level of acting talent along with an everyman persona that those lacked. Hopkins crafts an amazingly intense shootout opening scene that simply establishes Glover as the rugged alpha who knows his way around the massive and dangerous streets of LA without feeling too over-the-top, though that Desert Eagle he sports is hilariously massive. He’s rounded out by supporting characters who don’t do a ton in Paxton (welcome comic relief here), the consistent oddball Busey, and Alonso, but they’re not really supposed to. This is a movie that has one destination in mind, and that’s pitting Glover against the Predator mano a mano, the latter again played superbly by the physically imposing Kevin Peter Hall.

A GREAT MOMENT: As mentioned, the opening shootout sets the tone of Predator 2 early, but the subway scene midway through is the perfect mix of horror and action and even a little comedy. Apparently, everyone in 1997 Los Angeles carries a piece, and since the Predator typically only attacks people who can defend themselves, guess who’s next? It borders on being too busy as there’s a lot going on with the dimly lit corridors, strobe-lighting, and POV shots, but the scene is designed to be chaotic and horrific. Less is more, and Hopkins showing just a few split seconds of the destruction and maiming the Predator inflicts is more unsettling than seeing each kill in graphic detail. This scene essentially kicks off the 40-minute climax to the end of the film.

THE TALLY: Unfairly lumped quality-wise with the 2000 Alien vs. Predator movies, Predator 2 is a sound entry into the Predator franchise. Want some candy? It’s What to Watch

Photo credits go to avpgalaxy.net, rottentomatoes.com, terrorphoria.com, and imfdb.org.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow me @MovieManJackson/Markjacksonisms

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