Predator 2 (1990)

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*. Not bad. Not up to the level of the original, but not bad at all.
*. They had a lot of good ideas. I love the opening shot, transitioning from the palm trees and bird cries that make you think we’re still back in Central America, and then revealing the urban jungle of L.A.
*. As an aside, Schwarzenegger turned this film down in part because he thought changing the location to L.A. was a bad idea. He was wrong. It was an obvious progression. If they’d stayed in the jungle the whole movie would have just been more of the same.
*. The time stamp tells us it’s 1997, which ushers in Morton Downey Jr. (remember him?) as the obnoxious TV journalist hosting the tabloid-news program Hardcore. The over-the-top, jingoistic media satire, complete with a scorecard of body counts, has a flavour of Verhoeven to it.
*. Picking on the media was popular at the time. It’s a recurring theme in the Die Hard franchise as well. Another favourite target is the government, or the Feds, who are either seen as incompetent or somehow part of the problem. That was the case in the original Predator, with Carl Weathers’s character being up to some dirty spook business (I mean “spook” as in CIA), and it’s back again here with Gary Busey’s secret team of Predator investigators. Is it any wonder government and the media remain among the most distrusted and despised institutions in America today? Look at how they’re represented.
*. When I say Predator 2 isn’t up to the level of the original I’m thinking of several things. In the first place, Danny Glover is a big guy but he doesn’t quite fill the screen like Arnie did. He’s a better actor, but doesn’t have the same presence or intensity. He’s more the buddy in a buddy picture (Lethal Weapon) than a leading man.
*. He’s also more an Everyman figure than a bad-ass, which makes him seem like a square peg trying to fit into the round hole of the part. It’s as though they thought they were getting Murtaugh and Riggs all in  one, but ended up with neither.
*. And I really don’t understand why he has to vocalize everything. When he sits at the bar he has to talk us through every step of what he’s thinking. When he sees Danny’s necklace hanging from the tree he has to say “Danny’s necklace!” When he’s startled by some birds on the roof he has to say “Birds!” Did the writers or director think we were this dumb?
*. Things could have been worse. Much worse. The studio wanted Steven Seagal in the Harrigan part. Thank the movie gods that didn’t happen.
*. Another reason I think it’s a let down from Predator is the cliché factor. There are too many familiar scenes: the chaotic downtown police headquarters, the honest cop having his balls busted by the bureaucracy, the new transfer with an annoying catchphrase who’s trying to fit in, the trip to the graveyard to mourn a fallen comrade/vow vengeance, the disco lighting in the subway battle so we can’t really see anything, the bit of comic relief when the Predator crashes into an elderly couple’s apartment for some self-repair work. These are all routine moments, as much a part of the basic grammar of action films of the time as the bodies doing somersaults in the air after every explosion.
*. Speaking of that shootout in the subway, since it’s established that the Predator isn’t wearing body armour, why do none of the shots Paxton fires at him even slow him down? Indeed he seems to not even get wounded. And yet Paxton empties two clips into him at close range.
*. I was pulled up short by the scientist telling Harrigan that the material the Predator’s harpoon tip is made out of “doesn’t correspond to anything in the periodic table.” Isn’t that impossible? I mean, if we’re going to discover any new elements in the universe we sort of know what they would correspond to, don’t we? And any totally new element would have to be something incredibly unstable and short-lived. Not something you’d make a weapon out of.
*. Finally we hear the obvious expressed when Harrigan calls the Predator “pussy face.” This had been noticeable at least since the Alien creature opened up like an aroused vulva, and is a strain of imagery that would continue to have a long afterlife (appearing at the end of Starship Troopers, for example). As an icon of anxiety it goes back to the vagina dentata, or vagina with teeth, a cross-cultural folk tale with ancient roots. “Pussy face” is nothing new, but then neither is the castration complex.
*. It’s interesting that the same structural difficulty I noticed in the first film is back here. What I mean is that things get started on a high note and maintain such a violent pace that the film actually slows down in the final act after a strong median climax. It’s not a big problem in either movie, as the climactic duels are reasonably well done, but it is an issue.
*. So, in short, it’s a pretty good movie, in a functional and generic way. It’s not often that a formula will be so firmly set only two movies into a franchise, but the first rule of commercial filmmaking is not to surprise the audience. That way, at least they’ll never be disappointed.

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