Predator 2 (Stephen Hopkins, 1990)
“There’s no stopping what can’t be stopped. No killing what can’t be killed.”
An itchy-fingered LA narcotics cop team (led by our action hero Danny Glover) think they have it tough negotiating the brutal urban terrain of a violent turf war between Colombian and Jamaican drug lords that’s spilled into the streets right in the middle of a heat wave, but they haven’t seen anything yet, as a Predator shows up from space to start hunting both criminal and cop.
Silly as it was that I’d never realized it, I was happy to finally place that familiar quote above I’d been hearing for years cribbed by Ice Cube at the beginning of his The Predator song on his album of the same name (I mean, duh!) in this film. Said by the shadowy urban Jamaican drug lord and voodoo practicing King Willie, who seems to have an odd kinda supernatural ‘understanding’ of the Predator, it’s especially odd considering that the Predator only just arrived from space at the beginning of the movie (I can almost imagine the studio executive meeting when the lightbulb of clueless lowbrow creativity sprang on – ‘Hey! The Predator has dreadlocks and is scary! The Jamaicans have dreadlocks, are scary AND they have magical voodoo powers! I mean they’re practically relatives!”).
Yes, it was that time of the 80’s into the early 90’s, where action films were pretty much across the board straight up right wing xenophobic fantasies and Predator 2 isn’t far off from that ilk, with the Columbians and Jamaicans played as faceless, ruthless mad dog killers (with the Jamaicans especially tricked out in voodoo bone-carrying, gold tooth style) and even a guest spot as a television reporter (who seems to show up at every crime, be it drug or Predator-related) for that pioneer of American ‘trash tv’, Morton Downey Jr (who used to do things like find a sleazy lawyer who unrepentantly got pedophiles freed on technicalities to publicly excoriate on his show as a self-aggrandizing act of supposed heroism in destroying liberal corruption to the wild-eyed approval of his slathering, loyal audience). There is even a scene that acts as a direct nod to the infamous (and celebrated by some) “Subway Vigilante’ Bernie Goetz, who, in 1984, frustrated with the high city crime rates, deliberately went out Charlie Bronson “Death Wish” style, armed and acting as a target, leading ultimately to him shooting four black muggers. In Predator 2 however, when the leering muggers accost the meek blonde Goetz stand-in quietly reading his newspaper and he pulls out his gun, the muggers respond by pulling out their guns on him… and then the entire car of passengers, men and women, pull out their guns on the muggers. Little does the car-full of gun-toting vigilantes know, and as we learned from the first film, the apparently fair-minded sporting Predator (whose hiding on top of the moving train) only goes after those with weapons, so a bloodbath is assured. The film isn’t without a few broadly awkward moments, and this scene is perhaps the guiltiest of the bunch (as well as being politically very confused), but the ensuing intense Predator attack manages to right some of the initial missteps of the scene.
Though I wasn’t surprised by the reactionary leanings of the film, I must say I was overall really pleasantly astonished, considering how middling the initial reception to the film was when it came out, how overall engaging, well executed and designed the whole thing is. It’s a superior film to the first, that’s for sure.
Following the success of that first film three years earlier, it’s pretty obvious they bumped up the budget for this next go around and it really shows on-screen. The urban LA landscape is admirably expansive, imaginatively lit and boldly designed – for instance, the vast evocative police station set, with its old file cabinet desks, slatted shades in the windows and high contrast lighting scheme, seems out of a 40’s noir film, while the colorful garb of the street gangs often has a fantastic otherworldly feel of something out of The Warriors. It certainly goes for broke with the hyper-violence, and with its shifting anachronistically charged design, it feels very close to a (successful) realization of a comic book (fortunately, without any of that slick, sanitized feel that defines comic book films today). Danny Glover is engaging as our righteous rule breaking cop always in deep-shit with his superiors (with the careful camera work doing its best to conceal the fact that Glover isn’t particularly limber as an action star) and it’s nice to see familiar 80’s sidekick performers (and good actors) like Maria Conchita Alonso and Ruben Blades backing him up (with a very young Bill Paxton along as well). The moving camera work (though thankfully never followed by quick cutting) and effectively staged action scenes are excitingly done and the film certainly doesn’t shirk away from the skin-flaying, spine-removing and head-ripping damage the Predator likes to ritualistically perform on his blood sport victims (apparently the first cut of the film received an NC-17… yet, even with whatever cuts, it’s still a plenty juicy hard-R).
Considering I’m watching these Predator films because of their later cross-over with the Alien franchise, it was amusing to see what I guess (unless I missed something before) is the first indication of the studio actively leaning towards making that Predator/Alien cross-over happen – in this case, being an Alien head skull amongst the Predator kill trophies when the Glover character ends up stuck on the Predator spaceship face to face with a bunch of the lobster-faced uglies. The studio heads obviously figured there would be gold in them their hills with a franchise cross-over… too bad they weren’t as concerned, as time and the two AvP films would reveal, with quality.