Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Film Appreciation - Smoke, Fire, Oppressive Heat

Cody Hamman kills time with some Film Appreciation for 1990's Predator 2.

Predator 2 is a surprisingly gutsy sequel. While viewers often complain that sequels just deliver "more of the same", this one goes in a completely different direction than its predecessor. The first film took place in a vast jungle, with no one around but the core characters (at least, they were the only ones around after they wiped out a camp full of Soviet-backed guerillas) as they proceeded to get picked off one-by-one by an alien being who literally came to Earth to hunt humans, collecting their skulls as trophies. The only information provided about this creature was delivered by a character whose village had been terrorized by it multiple times over the years. Showing up in only the hottest years, drawn by the heat and conflict in the region, this alien, this Predator, was known by the locals as "The Demon Who Makes Trophies of Men".

That Predator didn't make it out of the first movie alive, but there are others like it out there, and the movie Predator was successful enough that 20th Century Fox wanted a sequel. Jim and John Thomas, the brothers who wrote the first movie, were hired to write Predator 2, and the obvious choices for the story were to either put a Predator in the jungle again or have another Predator hunting down the surviving hero, who was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But a deal couldn't be closed with Schwarzenegger, and the Thomas brothers came up with a sequel idea that both centered on a new hero and put the action in an entirely different setting.

That setting is Los Angeles, in the slightly dystopian slightly futuristic year of 1997, when the city is being battered by a heat wave and crime is running rampant in the streets. As the film begins, it is immediately established that there is war being waged in this "asphalt jungle" between members of rival drug cartels, Colombians on one side and Jamaicans on the other with the LAPD caught in the middle. Bullets fly, people are killed, vehicles explode... and our new hero is introduced.

How do you replace Arnold Schwarzenegger? Like I said, this movie goes in the opposite direction. Instead of a musclebound action hero we get middle-aged Danny Glover, who never really stood out as being an action hero even though he was co-lead in the Lethal Weapon action franchise. Like in Lethal Weapon, Glover is playing an L.A. cop, Lieutenant Mike R. Harrigan here, but Harrigan isn't anything like Roger Murtaugh. Harrigan is one of those movie cops who doesn't play by the rules and doesn't seem to have any life outside of his job. When his fellow officers don't know what to do to resolve a situation, Harrigan will handle it by doing something crazy but heroic.

Harrigan almost single-handedly stops a battle between the cops and members of the Colombian cartel, with the new Predator showing up on the scene to wipe out the ones Harrigan doesn't take down. How someone could kill all those men and disappear presents quite a mystery for Harrigan and his co-workers Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades), Leona Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso), and Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton) to investigate. That naked corpse hanging from the rafters is especially baffling. For a moment, Harrigan thinks he sees something - the Predator with its invisibility cloaking engaged - but brushes it off.

Later that same day, the Predator kills members of the Jamaican cartel - members who have busted into the apartment of a Colombian, sent by their leader King Willie (Calvin Lockhart), to not only kill the man by cutting his heart out but to steal his soul in the process, by way of a voodoo ritual involving blood and chicken parts. Yeah, this sequel not only changed locations and characters but also felt free to get damn weird at times as well.

It's during this sequence that we get our first real look at this new Predator in action, and it has a wider variety of weapons than the previous Predator had. A fan of the first movie, I was looking forward to Predator 2 with great anticipation, and when the new Predator started busting out new ways to kill people, I was in awe. There was a poster released for Predator 2 that showed the new Predator and gave information on each of its weapons. The lazer cannon, knife gauntlet, and arm computer that the previous Predator also had, plus its two-ended telescoping spear; its projectile net with self-driven bolts that would tighten the netting over its prey, causing it to slice into them as if the netting were razor sharp; and its "smart weapon" throwing disc that can cut a victim in half and then return to the Predator. That poster hung on my wall for several years.

There's also some kind of little forked projectile that the Predator only uses once, because it loses the deadly little thing. That projectile will end up in the possession of Harrigan, who gets it checked out and finds that it's made of materials we don't have here on Earth.

The Predator continues racking up kills in L.A., whittling down the cartels and the police force, killing some of Harrigan's friends, but it stays true to the rules set up the first time around that said the Predator will not kill anyone who isn't armed. Add another exception: it also won't kill someone who's pregnant, which is how Leona manages to survive a massacre on a subway train.

While all of this is going on, Harrigan finds himself butting heads with Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), head of a federal task force that claims to be in town to investigate the cartels. They're obviously not - they're in town because they have been hoping to catch up with one of these aliens ever since the incident in Central America when one wiped out a team of mercenaries before setting off a bomb that decimated 300 city blocks worth of jungle. (The first movie.) Predators have been in Iwo Jima, Cambodia, and Beirut, and now one is in L.A. I've heard there was a chance that Schwarzenegger's character Dutch would have been the head of this task force if he had chosen to return for the sequel. Instead, we have Busey chewing the scenery in the way only he can.

Keyes and his lackeys have the bright idea that they'll be able to incapacitate the Predator with liquid nitrogen when he stops by a slaughterhouse to feed on the beef. They end up just being another group of people for the Predator to massacre, leaving it up to Harrigan to handle this problem all by himself.

1990 was a year for directors of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels to somehow land sequels to major action properties - while A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 director Renny Harlin was bringing us Die Hard 2, Predator 2 was placed in the hands of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 director Stephen Hopkins. Hopkins had brought a very dark and gothic sensibility to Nightmare 5, and didn't let continuity get in the way of his vision. Some of that dark and gothic style lingers in Predator 2, which has a very horror feel to it at times, like the voodoo ritual murder sequence, the confrontation between the Predator and King Willie, and the moment when the Predator takes its latest bloody skull and spine trophy to the top of a building and gets struck by lightning while celebrating its kill. Lightning has zero effect on it.

There's nothing all that noticeably futuristic about Predator 2, the filmmakers weren't predicting too many advances to have occurred by 1997, but it does have a very unique look to the set designs and some of the costumes. By unique I mean weird - I'm really not that fond of most of the sets and clothes in this film.

I don't think the jump to '97 was necessary, and don't really like the stuff with the drug cartels, but overall I like what the Thomas brothers came up with for this one. I like the concept of the Predator being dropped into the city setting and being tracked by a police officer. Glover handles the role of Harrigan quite well; he's not the badass Schwarzenegger was, but he gets the job done. I also like his supporting characters, and I think the federal task force was a great addition to the story. I love the sequence when they use their tech to try to capture the Predator in the slaughterhouse and fail miserably at their objective.

Predator 2 also deepens the mythology a bit toward the end, when Harrigan finds himself on board a Predator ship, faced with several more of the creatures. One of them carries a gun that was engraved in 1715. These things have been coming to Earth for a long time.

The main Predator is played, as the one in the first movie was, by Kevin Peter Hall, who would pass away just a few months after the film's release. Hall did an incredible job bringing this creature to life and making it a cinema icon.

Predator 2 disappointed a lot of people, but I never saw it as a letdown. I was hyped to see it, and when I saw it I loved it, even if there were elements I was less than enthusiastic about. I don't enjoy it as much as the first Predator, but I think it's a great sequel and I admire that it is so different from its predecessor while still connecting to it and continuing the story in some ways. More than anything, I like watching this Predator kick ass, and then get its ass kicked by Danny Glover. Predator 2 is a really good time.

1 comment:

  1. http://predator2fanboy.blogspot.fr/2017/05/abandoned-and-deleted-scenes.html