The monstrous Predator has so far featured in four films (there’s another one on the way) and two spin-offs, with only the 1987 original is really talked about with any kind of love.
But that’s because people haven’t really sat down and thought about 1990’s Predator 2, which, while not as perfect as the first, is still worth discussing in the same breath, though for different reasons.
This is why…
“He’s in town with a few days to kill.” That was the tagline for the Arnie-less sequel to 1987’s classic alien-in-the-jungle thriller, which found itself relocated from the wilds of Central America to Los Angeles, 1997.
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That was seven years in the future, by the way – the follow-up was released in 1990 – but tying in with Hollywood’s then-fondness for near-futuristic dystopian actioners (like Robocop), the LA of Predator 2 is experiencing an unbearable heatwave and is in the midst of a bloody conflict between cartels from Colombia and Jamaica.
Pitched into the middle of that are our heroes – cops Harrigan (Danny Glover), Lambert (Bill Paxton), Archuleta (Ruben Blades) and Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso).
They’re fighting a losing battle against the drug gangs, but face an even more formidable foe in the Predator, which descends into the city on, well, safari. Only humans are the big game.
Directed by Stephen Hopkins, the sequel was a flop when it came out, making back $31m at the domestic box office against a $35m budget. Critics weren’t kind either. Entertainment Weekly called it “grimly incoherent”, while Roger Ebert wrote it was a film whose "dreams are angry and ugly”.
But they’re missing the point. For one, there is no-one here whose biceps are even half as large as Schwarzenegger’s (Arnold was off making Terminator 2 instead). Even the shady government types, led by a manic Gary Busey, in magnetic mode rather than Big Brother lunacy, look pretty much like normal people. As such, their battles with the monster have more in common with the original Alien in which the crew of the Nostromo were simple space truckers, rather than the swarthy Marines of Aliens.
The gangs here – while ridiculously jingoistic – are deliciously OTT. They do voodoo! They slaughter people ritualistically! We’re the real savages, man! It’s not exactly subtle, but inserting a seemingly honourable if undeniably brutal hunter into the centre of this disintegrating, constantly sweaty society makes for an intriguing juxtaposition.
Meanwhile, the cast are uniformly great. Paxton is young and gobby, Alonso oozes sass, while Busey is completely bonkers. Glover lends credibility and can pull off the action, but he also exhibits vulnerability.
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As Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, you always thought he suffered from slightly dodgy knees and he brings that normalcy to this character. With Arnie, there’s never a sense he can get genuinely hurt.
The action scenes are bombastic – a shootout between the Jamaicans and the Predator must have generated more lead than ten years at a pencil factory – whilst the world of a battle-scarred metropolis is realised superbly and looks disturbingly prescient.
And there’s so much other good stuff: the Predator decapitating King Willie and then using his workshop to polish up his cranium; the subway sequence; the alien medical kit; the spiky net weapon thing; er, every scene with Busey.
As for the ending, it remains one of the more divisive moments. No matter how brilliant the rest of the film, the finale of the first Predator has always grated, what with Arnie surviving a nuclear blast by hiding behind a small rock.
At the climax of Predator 2, Glover finds himself in the visitor’s spaceship (complete with xenomorph skull trophy), fighting his extra-terrestrial foe to the death.
He succeeds by plunging a throwing disc into the Predator’s stomach and yelling a witty epithet, but before he can relish his victory he finds himself surrounded by a whole crew of dreadlocked creatures.
But do they pull his spine from his body? No, instead they collect the body of their dead comrade while the leader gives Harrigan an antique pistol, the reward for being a valiant and of course victorious opponent. Glover, unsurprisingly, looks kind of baffled. But it’s a perfect sign-off.
We came, we fought, you won, thanks for your time, now hurry along and get back to dealing with those nightmarish feudal street battles that are ravaging your hometown.
It’s an appropriately bleak ending for a film that doesn’t have a whole lot of faith in humanity. Which is what makes it kind of great.
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