Predator 2 Review
What with the recent deployment of the disappointingly tame Aliens versus Predator movie cash-in and the current market for two-disc 'upgrade' DVDs, it is somewhat unsurprising that this film, the 1990 sequel to John 'Die Hard' McTiernan's landmark Schwarzenegger-starring 1987 action film is now up for the deluxe treatment. Both films have already had releases and both films have had special editions, Predator 2 receiving its Region 2 special edition treatment only a couple of months ago. Japan, however, tend to release their Ultimate Editions a little later than the equivalent special editions in the U.S. and U.K. and basically pull all of the stops out to provide the most complete edition available. So the question is twofold: does the film warrant buying in the first place and is this edition superior enough to justify upgrading?
Just to recap what has happened so far, for those of you who don't remember all of the details of the original (and if you haven't seen it, then it is an absolute must-see top notch action vehicle with Arnie in his prime), a group of black op soldiers are dispatched on a rescue mission after a chopper goes down in Central America. After finding out that they have actually been fooled into participating in a search and destroy mission, they plan their evacuation but are prevented from escaping by an invisible alien hunter who stalks them through the deep jungle and picks them off one by one using an imaginative array of futuristic weapons.
Set in 1997, several years after the original incident (and also several years into the future from when the film was actually made), Predator 2 transposes the action to an urban environment - Los Angeles - where a heat wave is in progress and an ongoing war is erupting between both rival drug cartels and the desperately undermanned police department. In the midst of all of this chaos and maelstrom we find Harrigan, an old-school Lieutenant whose four-strong team know the streets better than any other police unit. Armed to the teeth and unperturbed by the lack of backup, they can hold their own against anybody they come up with - whether dozens of cocaine-fuelled felons or a train-full of armed perps. However this time they find themselves facing something that they have never encountered before. There is a hunter on the loose, stalking his victims using spears and nets, gutting them in a ritualistic fashion and then taking their skulls for trophies. Worse still, he seems to kill almost indiscriminately - felling both police and criminals alike - making Harrigan's job of stopping him even more imperative.
I suspect that many viewers were originally surprised by this movie, not only because of its vastly different setting, but because of its choice of central actor. Gone is Arnie's hulk of a hero - his character originally penned to have died a few weeks after the climax of the first movie - and instead we have, oddly enough, Danny Glover. Sure Glover has done action before - most notably the Lethal Weapon movies - but in those he was always portrayed as being on the brink of retirement. Here he is, all of a sudden, an all-out action hero, running, jumping, diving, rolling and breaking out an arsenal of weapons that would make Arnie proud. He's taller, stronger and tougher than any other cop depicted and though you would never expect it from Mr. Glover, he is remarkably convincing as an urban alternative to Arnie's soldier. Now, what is guaranteed with Danny Glover is acting talent. His passion and drive make him a very strong screen presence and when you combine that with his more physical behaviour, it makes for a great central performance.
Partnering up with him we get an assorted bunch of B-movie names. Two Latino actors comprise the brunt of Harrigan's team, Maria Conchita Alonso (who was briefly in the first Predator movie playing a different character) and Ruben Blades, playing the bolshie Leona and the streetwise Danny, respectively. The usually comedic Bill Paxton (who played the disparaging Hudson - “we're all gonna die down here” - in Aliens), is the new member of the team, Jerry and the eccentric character actor Gary Busey (from Point Break and The Firm) plays the mysterious Government Agent, Keyes, who appears to have his own agenda when it comes to the hunt. There is also a brief appearance by Robert Davi (the villain in the Bond film License to Kill) as one of Harrigan's superiors.
Unlike the first movie, where they were all a bunch of hard-as-nails soldiers, the assorted crew here make for very unusual viewing - enabling us to experience the action and the horror through the eyes of mostly normal everyday people who respond in vastly different ways - from stupefied and horrified to antagonised. Under the keen and ambitious direction of a young Stephen Hopkins (who went on to direct most of the episodes over the last four seasons of the excellent Kiefer Sutherland series 24) what we get is a movie that is part horror, part sci-fi, part detective mystery and mostly action. Personally, I think there is a strong argument for this being at least as good as the original - but for completely different reasons. The first film was such a great action movie that turned into a pure Rambo-style hunt in the third act. Here we have the same basic concept transposed into a wildly different environment, which plays out just as well, just not in the same way. So much of the original is retained - although you would seldom notice it - for example, the latter scenes with Keyes where they try to reverse the roles of hunter and hunted is the same as what Arnie's squad do, unsuccessfully, in the first movie. For those unconvinced by Danny Glover as an action hero, I would seriously give this your attention - after a third act almost entirely devoted to him chasing and fighting the Predator through streets and across rooftops, he seems pretty convincing to me. This one comes highly recommended, especially for fans of the original.