Back when I first saw Predator 2 at the cinema (it would have been late Spring/early summer 1991 here in the UK, as films took awhile getting over the pond back in the days of film prints etc), I really enjoyed it, but that was a rare point of view at the time, as the film was considered a critical disappointment and box-office dud. It was clearly not as good as the original, but back then that was largely a given with sequels anyway. I remember being pleasantly surprised by the twist on the original, moving from the remote jungle setting of Predator to a (slightly) near-future Los Angeles ravaged by gun crime and street gangs. Arnold’s absence is keenly felt (he refused to sign onto the film over a money dispute) as Danny Glover is a poor substitute in the action hero stakes, but then again, after Arnold, who wouldn’t be? Glover plays LAPD lieutenant Mike Harrigan, who leads a team of detectives caught between two drug gangs in a bitter street war and begins to suspect there’s a new guy in town leaving corpses from both gangs in his wake. This new ‘third party’, of course, is another Predator enjoying vacation time on Earth. To be fair to Glover, while physically he is obviously no replacement for Arnold, his strengths as an actor are largely let down by the films troublesome script.
The thing with these franchises, they can go either one of two ways – if they’d sorted out the financial issues with Arnold and brought him back for film two, Predator would have become an Arnold franchise, in just the same way as bringing Ripley back in Aliens meant that franchise turning into Ripley’s franchise rather than the Alien xenomorphs – in the minds of the execs, you couldn’t make an Alien film without Sigourney Weaver’s name on the poster, which led that franchise down an increasingly twisted rabbit hole. Now, its quite likely that a Predator 2 with Arnold in it would have been more successful – and possibly a better movie too, but I do commend the ‘bravery’ (albeit enforced) in not going that way, and instead trying something a little more different than might be expected for a Predator sequel.
Indeed, I rather wish Fox had taken a similar path with the Alien franchise. You could still quite legitimately have Aliens as it was without Ripley, easily establishing that Ripley’s shuttle had not yet been discovered (and perhaps never would be). You could still have the terraforming colony come to a bad xenomorph end and the marines called in, but it could have been a different planet, and the alien eggs discovered on some indigenous pyramid like in some of the early treatments of Alien‘s script. Conveniently, this would solve Cameron’s unnecessary and messy interference with the Alien biology (the Alien Queen, which I always hated, its Earth-insect analogy losing the Lovecraftian alien mystery of the original)- different planet explaining a variant xenomorph biology, opening up further possibilities for later films.
But, I’m going off on another geek rant here and I’m too old for that nonsense. Back to Predator 2.
Released in 1990 in the States, its still undeniably a 1980s movie at heart, saturated with testosterone and violence (and action films were getting very violent during the 1980s, pushing the limits of what censors would allow). There’s a gleeful perversity in all the explosions and gunplay of Predator 2′s excess (it ran foul of censors in several countries) that marks it of the 1980s, or perhaps the bastard child of that decade.
At the time, Predator 2 had limited box office success- likely hurt by Arnold’s absence and perhaps also a reaction against the film’s violence, as if that 1980s action-movie trend had started to run its course (Total Recall would beg to differ). I just think the script needs much more work. The characters are all woefully underwritten, something that largely worked for the first film because of the larger-than-life actors in the key roles, but in Predator 2 the cast is largely made of ordinary-looking actors, physically, and they needed beefier character arcs to make up for it.
Its because of these underwritten characters and what that does to the drama, and also the rather messy and ill-thought out plot with FBI agents, that the film hasn’t aged as well as it might, certainly when compared to films of that era like Robocop etc. Genre favourite the late, very great Bill Paxton is a joy as always, and with all due respect to Glover, I wish that Paxton had been given chance to shine in the lead role in this- Paxton never seemed to get his due in casting. Paxton’s lead could have been a darker character (why not a Dirty Harry kind of cop, his no-nonsense abrasive attitude a spark against the Predator?). Then again, that’s changing the film entirely and second-guessing all the studio politics, budget and marketing and time constraints etc. But geeks can dream!
The 4K disc is really very good- there is a persistent, authentic grain that lends it a filmic quality and the HDR really helps the explosions etc to really shine. The cinematography is a little soft in places, definitely of its time, but its certainly the best this film has ever looked on a home format. After all, who’d really have expected this film to get a 4K release when so many other films (like Robocop) haven’t? I enjoyed watching this film after so many years (the last time was probably on VHS) and returning to this whole 1980s action flick thing is fast becoming a revelation.