Monday, 2 September 2013

Predator 2 (1990)


Predator 2 (1990)
Directed by Stephen Hopkins; Starring Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Kevin Peter Hall

Rating: 4/5

The original Predator (1987) is a highly regarded classic ‘80s action flick with a sci-fi twist, and Predator 2 is a worthy sequel, expanding the Predator myth, throwing the titular antagonist into a new setting and delivering another slick sci-fi action thriller. The backdrop is the urban jungle, dystopian future Los Angeles circa 1997, where the high crime rates of the early ‘90s have given way to open gang warfare, with the overstretched police department struggling (and failing) to keep control. The city is suffering from the worst heat wave on record, another facet to the dystopia possibly projected from fears of climate change. Apparently, the Predator is drawn to “heat and conflict” and has come on safari.

The lack of leading man Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as many other elements from the first film is, on the face of it, something of a risk, but this allows Predator 2 to avoid becoming a tacked-on sequel; it is instead very much a standalone film in terms of story. The only returning cast member is the 7’2” Kevin Peter Hall portraying the titular Predator. The new star is Danny Glover, fresh from Lethal Weapon fame, as maverick cop Lieutenant Mike Harrigan.

Worn down by the attrition of a demanding environment, Glover’s character is a tough, but aging man, in contrast to the one-liner spouting, superhuman Schwarzenegger. Of course, this is why we loved Schwarzenegger, and why he is the perfect choice to go head to head with such a savage alien beast. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Harrigan provides a different kind of grizzled humanity. Unlike Schwarzenegger’s former Green Beret “Dutch” Schaefer, Harrigan is a cop, not a soldier (although the distinction is becoming more blurred in future Los Angeles – at least once, Harrigan refers to his beat as “the war”). He is a man who knows what he needs to do, and the conviction to persevere against all the odds, even if he is starting to become slightly less confident in his own abilities.

For a film that takes the saga in so many different directions, Predator 2 remains faithful to the series with plenty of parallels and call-backs, including the first blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference that would begin the inescapable intertwining with the Alien franchise. In both the first two Predator films, Our human hero goes on the hunt with a team of close friends and allies; before long, they become the hunted and are picked off as the film continues, leaving the last man alone to survive a few rounds with the Predator in a battle of wits and strength. The technology is consistent: the Predator comes packing his three-dot scope laser, infrared vision and explosive countdown timer. But he also showcases his medical kit and trophy cleaning equipment (a lot more grotesque than it sounds when said trophy is a victim’s skull and spine), as well as a new ace up his sleeve – a boomerang-like projectile blade.

The Predator is once more instilled with the alien sense of honour seen in the last film. The hunting tactics are expanded, we watch in horror as the Predator collects trophies: the cleansed skulls of his prey, and notice as he seeks out and values the challenge of a leader (from drug kingpin “King” Willie, to Harrigan himself). While brutal, he refrains from harming the unarmed or the vulnerable, including the pregnant detective Leona.

The first part of the film plays out like a classic cop movie, albeit one with a dystopian flair, and higher stakes from the start. After an intense opening shootout, Harrigan enters the building where a gang are holed up, only to find their targets have been ritualistically slaughtered. Before long, Harrigan and his team are investigating a series of similarly brutal gangland killings, but are thwarted at every turn. Much to Harrigan’s chagrin, an FBI team led by Special Agent Keyes (Gary Busey) begins to muscle in on his jurisdiction and stop him working the case. Clearly, not everything is what it seems. Busey’s performance is typically eccentric, frequently garnished with generous helpings of ham as he quotes from the Wizard of Oz, once Harrigan’s persistence wins through and Keyes starts spilling the beans.

A new director takes the reins for this sequel. John McTiernan, who went on to direct Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990) was replaced by Stephen Hopkins, a relatively unknown director who at this stage had made only two major films, urban horror-thriller Dangerous Game (1987) in his native Australia, and dark slasher sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). He was rewarded with another sequel, with a budget over five times that of Nightmare on Elm Street 5. Hopkins’s later work includes sci-fi TV adaption Lost in Space (1998), the first series of 24 and critically acclaimed biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).

He relies perhaps on a tried and tested action-movie style, but a lot of thought is given to the pacing, which is intense, and barely lets up throughout. In fact, once the Predator’s decimation of the FBI task force ups the ante, the remaining screen time is devoted to Harrigan’s pursuit and combat with the Predator. Yet despite this, it is not exhausting in its intensity, and remains entertaining.

Effective use is made of point of view shots, as the Predator watches his prey from various vantage points above the action. We can be sure it is him, and not just misdirection by the use of the infrared scope he uses to see. The Predator is then unseen as shots swoop around the urban rooftops. Often, all we see is the shimmering haze of the Predator’s camouflage device, which is frequently misidentified as just another hazy shimmer in the sweltering Los Angeles heat wave – until, of course, it is too late. A suitably disorienting strobe effect is used in a memorable scene on the subway, when a whole host of armed thugs and civilians become easy pickings for the beast.

Much of the film is not so subtle, the cops are rebels, the gang members are stereotypical, and the language through back and forth in anger and desperation is frequently crude. There is relentless wall to wall violence that could be deemed excessive by the faint hearted, but I think this is par for the course in any film that tries to do justice to an alien warrior who hunts humans for his sport. We are again left with the sense that any victory against such a Predator is little more than Pyrrhic.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to enjoy Predator 2. A creditable sequel, it brings together some of my favourite genres, from the procedural police story, through the mystery of an unseen killer, to the science fiction of the hunter from another world, into a solidly entertaining action film.

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