I don’t have to tell anyone here what a great movie Predator is. Hopefully everyone knows that by now. It’s one of the defining action films of the 1980s. It crosses genres in extremely imaginative ways and it almost gets a genuine performance out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Predator is fantastic. But you know what? Predator 2 is kind of excellent as well. I think it’s weird how maligned it is for the fact that it’s such a different beast than its predecessor. That’s sort of the direction sequels are supposed to take. This feature is directed by the person that gave us my least favorite Nightmare on Elm Street sequel and I still think it’s great. The only reason we don’t have an Alien vs. Aliens situation with Predator and Predator 2 is that as fun as Predator is, it’s not as great in terms of overall filmmaking as Alien.
The reason it’s such a big deal that Aliens was such an excellent sequel is the fact that Alien was already something of a masterpiece. Nobody expected a follow-up to be just as good, with so many people even believing it to be better. That’s not to say that I don’t love Predator—I already told you it’s great, right?—but it’s the kind of high-octane, adrenaline fueled action vehicle that can and should have an equally explosive sequel.
Still, Predator 2 succeeds by being unexpected. It has a totally different setting than the first, which is something I always admire. It’s the easiest way to make a sequel feel separate. The idea of putting the predator in an urban location is genius. Sure, it’s a little weird that it’s set in the future when it could easily have passed as the Los Angeles of 1990, gang war and all. But that time jump allows for the top secret extraterrestrial investigation we find in Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes.
People forget that Gary Busey was not always the Busey we know of today. He did have a successful career once, and Predator 2 was released during that time. Hell, it was right before he did Point Break. He was a pretty solid actor, and that quirkiness actually benefited his shady, government agent character. Then you have Bill Paxton doing the exact same thing he did in Aliens, but with a more satisfying death.
Of course, when it comes to the cast, the standout is Danny Glover. He’s what really makes this movie work. As great as the concept of the original is, there’s never a point where you really feel like Arnold is in danger. He’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. If anyone’s going to be able to handle this situation, it’s him. But Danny Glover as Harrigan is a character similar to John McLane in the original Die Hard. He’s an everyman in over his head. Danny Glover is perpetually too old for this shit and that makes us much more concerned for his safety. We’re not immediately guaranteed that he’s going to make it through this, even though we should know that, given that he’s the protagonist.
As much as Harrigan is in over his head, so is The Predator. That makes for a really interesting showdown. This is a very different Predator than the first, and that’s hard to show in a character with no real dialogue. In fact, I might even have to say that this is a better Predator than we saw in the first film. He’s a whole lot meaner, he’s breaking the “rules” of whatever Predator code was hinted at in the first feature. But we also get to see him struggling in a totally unfamiliar environment, particularly in his scenes with Harrigan towards the end.
As all great sequels should, Predator 2 expands on the mythology in interesting ways. This Predator is slicker and has more gadgets and weapons. We also get to see inside the Predator’s ship and what their environment looks like. We even get to see other members of the species, too. On top of that, the ending inside the ship teases one of the greatest crossovers of all time. Even though Alien vs. Predator didn’t make it to the screen until several years later, it was huge in the ‘90s, ironically years before the film was released. People latched onto the concept and it wound up making a killing in toys, games, novels and comics.
All of that is part of the lasting legacy of Predator 2. Yes, it would have been nice if Arnold had returned. But even if he had, I don’t think I’d want him as the lead for the reasons I’ve already pointed out. This movie works really well with Danny Glover front and center. He’s a guy you can worry about and root for at the same time and that’s a large part of the appeal. It’s a great match-up to pit a much less adept hero against an even meaner, angrier Predator than that of the original.
As an avid fan of the first film and the mythology as a whole, I’m here to tell you that Predator 2 stands up to its predecessor. It’s a fun action movie that takes the concept in a different and unexpected direction, with an added element of suspense, danger, and a pretty surprising amount of gore compared to the first. It had largely negative reviews in its initial release and it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, but I think time has been kind to it. At the end of the day, if a Predator movie manages to entertain from beginning to end, it’s a success, and this one does just that.