Welcome to my column, "Misunderstood Monsters", in which I'm taking up the torch for sequels that are trashed, beaten, stabbed, and set on fire by angry mobs, and attempt to defend their bloody honor...
..."Want some candy?"
Of course you do. Who doesn't love candy? Especially when it comes in the shape of a badass sequel that is just oh so sweet as it is bloody. Predator (1987) is one of if not the greatest action-horror films ever, and, on its 30th anniversary today, it's about time we recognize Predator 2 (1990) as a worthy, and maybe even better, sequel.
Just take a look at the film's Rotten Tomatoes score, and it's enough to make you want to rip out some spines yourself. A 44% audience score? Are you kidding me? That's insane. The cast by themselves automatically makes this at least a 70%. But, as they say, shit happens. Well, it's time to wipe the stain off this film and shed some light on why this is a trophy Predator fans should be proud to call their own.
Bigger. Badder. Bloodier.
To say that Predator 2 is somehow bigger, badder, and bloodier than Predator is a big statement, considering how action packed the original is, but you know what? Predator 2 is a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurs compared to the first flick in this category. Predator 2 simply has no chill. Coming in 1990, right on the heels of arguably the greatest and certainly the bloodiest decade of action flicks, Predator 2 contains all of the hard R action and cocaine we expected from action films at the time.
Unlike Predator, which opens with a mysterious capsule drifting towards Earth, Predator 2 throws us right into the chaos, caught in the midst of a battle between gangs and LA cops. Los Angeles is quite literally turned into a war zone where, in just the first few minutes, we’re treated to Danny Glover car stunts, explosions, and an entire room full of coked-up, gun-toting nutjobs getting slaughtered by the Predator. Now that’s how you open a Predator film!
Predator 2 follows all of the rules of sequels, going bigger where it counts, which also includes the body count. Special Effects creator Stan Winston supposedly told the director that he had never made so many dead bodies for a film, and it shows. I haven’t gone and counted myself, but considering this film contains not one, not two, but three huge massacre scenes, it’s safe to say that Predator 2 has the largest body count in the franchise. And don’t even get me started on how great the kills are.
The Most Gothic Predator Film
Okay, so not everyone wants their Predator film to play out like a bloody Batman movie, but I do! And director Stephen Hopkins delivers that in spades.
Hopkins and cinematographer Peter Levy instill a gothic atmosphere that permeates all throughout Predator 2. We see the Predator perched on top of tall buildings like a gargoyle, including one image that I believe is one of the best in the franchise, as the Predator stands in front of a tower, spear raised high and lighting up the night as it’s struck by lightning. Say whatever you want about this film, but there is no denying that the imagery is glorious.
We also see a lot of this in the set design. At the time it was released, Predator 2 was supposed to be set in a very near future. Instead of packing the film with goofy, futuristic technology though, Hopkins instead creates sets that feel like we’re in some Transylvanian version of LA. Penthouses have grand, alien doors that look like they belong in an intergalactic castle. Meetings are had in spooky alleyways instead of bustling nightclubs. And we even get to watch Glover descend into the dark heart of the city underground, itself looking otherworldly and spooky. Predator 2 is the closest the Predator ever came to a Dracula-like figure, and it’s all the better for it.
More Weapons to Hunt the Lions, the Tigers and the Bears. Oh My
In Predator, it was men walking around with big guns. In Predator 2, it’s the Predator that gets to show off this time, with a mind-blowing arsenal that firmly established the Predator as the greatest hunter in the galaxy. In just one scene, when the Predator takes on Jamaican gang members in a high rise penthouse (and my god, what a set!), we get a look at the Predator’s spear and his net gun, both of which became iconic weapons for the creature. And to top it off, the shoulder cannon is also new and improved!
Our glimpse at the Predator’s arsenal goes beyond his new weaponry though. We also get a look at a well-crafted alien med-kit and learn that, of course, the Predator has multiple vision options for his helmet. Good for him. Bad for Gary Busey and team.
What’s great about all of this other than us fans getting the chance to nerd out over new toys, is it allows for a deeper look into what the Predator truly is. Whereas the Predator in the original comes off like a more experienced hunter, carrying only a few tools, Predator 2’s creature seems more like a creature in training, packing as much heat as possible just to be safe…I say as he still manages to wipe out dozens of people. It established the Predators as a complete race of hunters, where their entire life, from birth to death, is all about the hunt.
Sets Up for Prequels We Should’ve Gotten
When the lead Predator in the group, which later came to be known as Greyback, tosses Danny Glover a pistol from freaking 1715 in the end, it was a moment that blew the minds of Predator fans. We already knew that the Predator had come to Earth before, but this was proof. Pure, gold-plated, proof. What’s more, it set in motion the dreams of many a Predator fan, envisioning all sorts of prequel ideas. If the Predator had been around in 1715, why not the Middle Ages? Or during conflicts between Indigenous tribes and invading European dopes (aka, “Americans”)? Hell, why not throw a Predator into Roman times? The possibilities became endless in that moment.
Of course, Hollywood never did anything with it.
The comic world did spawn Predator: 1718, which explores the history of the pistol and how it belonged to a pirate named Raphael Adolini, and the creature has appeared in many histories, but never as an official Predator film. Someday, we’ll finally get that Predator vs Medieval knights movie. Until then, you should check out this Predator: Dark Ages fan film.
Put the Predator in the Same Universe as the Alien
We all remember that moment. Sitting there, our eyes glued to the screen, as Danny Glover entered the Predator spaceship at the end of Predator 2 and gazed upon the stunning trophy room, decorated by skulls of dinosaurs, strange creatures, and one very familiar banana shaped head…the head of an Alien. That was the day my mother discovered I had learned the phrase “holy shit” as I shouted it from my bedroom.
In 1989, Dark Horse Comics published the first Alien vs Predator story, the first time the two had “met”. So while I can’t say that the entire Alien vs Predator franchise wouldn’t exist without Predator 2, many fans of Predator hadn’t read the comics, so for some of us, this was the first time seeing that connection. And once we saw it, there was no going back. These two creatures had to be on screen together.
It would take more than a decade before that would happen with what was ultimately a disappointing film (a PG-13 rated pairing of two hard R franchises? In this climate!?), but during that time, we still saw multiple novels, books and games pitting the two species against each other for the title of deadliest creature alive, and I think Predator 2 is owed some credit for that brief but special moment.
Predator 2 Cast Out-Muscles the Predator Cast
Okay, before you start tossing tomatoes at me and hoping I get dropped off in the jungle with the Predator, hear me out. We all know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of if not the greatest action stars of all time, and no sequel was ever going to top his casting. But I’ll take the cast of Predator 2 over the cast of Predator any day.
Think about it. We have Danny Glover, a giant of a man who was also a giant in the industry at the time (more on him soon); Gary Busey, one of cinema’s ultimate madmen, who gets the opportunity to go out in this film in typical extreme Busey fashion; Bill freaking Paxton, who is much better at filling the “joke teller” role than Shane Black in Predator, and also became the first person to achieve the on-screen trifecta of being killed by a Terminator, Alien and Predator (the only other being Lance Henriksen); and last but not least, Maria Conchita Alonso as a take-no-shit, ball-destroying cop is a hell of a lot more satisfying than Elpidia Carrillo’s do nothing character Anna in the original.
And I get it. The original has Arnold. It has Carl Weathers. It has Bill Duke. All greats. Whether or not you agree with which cast is “better”, we can at least agree on one thing: both had casts that could be described as legendary.
The Black Guy Doesn't Just Live, He's the Star
Whenever I have the argument of whether or not Predator 2 is “worthy,” one complaint I always hear is others declaring there’s no way Danny Glover could take on a Predator. First off, it’s a movie about a skull-stealing alien people, it’s not real. Second, Glover may not have Arnold’s mountainous biceps, but at around 6”3, he is a big dude, and I have no problem buying into it, especially because Danny is a more relatable protagonist, gasping and swearing the whole way through with real fear, like we all would. No knock on Arnold, but Glover is a more accomplished actor. Period.
Most importantly though, Predator 2 gave us something that so few horror films had at that point, and still lack, sadly: a black star. Like every other genre, American horror hasn’t traditionally been all that diverse—I mean hell, this is the genre where, for a long time, “the black guy dies first” was a well known and often true stereotype—so to see such an already popular franchise cast Glover in the main role is something worth celebrating. And he’s goddamn great as Harrigan too. No matter how many times I see it, I will never not laugh at Glover muttering “you’re cutting off my dick and shoving it up my ass.”
These days, I think we can all relate, Danny.
An Endless Parade of Jaw-dropping Stunts
Each of the first two Predator films have some pretty jaw-dropping stunts, so this is less a comparison of the two and more to say, Predator 2 continues the tradition of blowing our damn minds. I already mentioned how this film consistently operates on a grandiose scale, opening with Glover driving through a war zone in a vehicle with no doors, but Predator 2 just keeps finding ways to top itself.
The most impressive stunt perhaps being Glover and the Predator ten stories up on the side of a building, hanging on a ledge for dear life. This scene was really shot at around that height, with Glover attached to wires and a stuntman in the suit. This isn’t back in the days of CG—in fact, this film contains over 800 in camera visual effects—so when you see the Predator flailing down the side of the building and clawing at it to get some traction, that’s all real, and it’s impressive. It’s the kind of moment that made me fall in love with filmmaking and the incredible on-set experiences that you can’t get anywhere else. Predator 2 is loaded with them.
More of that Ugly Motherfucker
It goes without saying that in horror, fans generally want more of everything when it comes to the sequels. More kills. More blood. All of it. Predator 2 does that and then some. But what it also does is give us more of the true star of the films, which isn’t Arnold, which isn’t Glover, but is the, as Glover calls him, “pussy-faced”, ugly motherfucker known as the Predator.
Whereas the original Predator maintains the mystery of the creature and plays out sort of like a slasher film where every character is the dumb jock, Predator 2 leans into the gory action. We already know what the Predator is, so there’s no use hiding it. This leads to a lot more screen time with the Predator, something which the filmmakers were aware of, so a lot more time and money was put into the design of the creature as well. It can be easy to miss during a first watch through, but if you look closely, Winston and his team added a lot more detail to the creature. He also feels much more unstoppable this time around as he leaps across buildings, takes shotgun bullets to the chest, and smashes through walls like a deranged super-villain.
You can never have too much of a good thing, and Predator 2 gives fans all they can handle of the Predator and then some.
The "Dancing Predators" Video
Last but not least, without Predator 2, there would be no “Dancing Predators” music video! While on set, actor Lionel Douglas, who played one of the Predators, taught the other predators a choreographed dance, one which has made its way onto Youtube with various dubs, one of my favorite being the Predators dancing to Michael Jackson’s "Thriller".
2020 has been a shit year. Predators dancing doesn’t change that, but whenever you’re feeling down, you can watch Predators dance their hearts out, and sometimes, a few dancing Predators is the cure we need. Thank you, Predator 2 and Mr. Douglass for this goofy, iconic piece of cinema history.
By Matt Konopka