The Predator is an undeniable icon of both science fiction and horror, and anyone trying to make the creature scary again – see: Shane Black’s upcoming The Predator in 2018 – will have a tough time making him as ruthlessly effective as he was back in 1987. The mystery is long gone, and thanks to sequels, crossovers, video games, comic books, and more, everyone knows the answer to every question that left us on edge about the creature during the original film.
As we saw with 2010’s lukewarm Predators and the one-two disappointing punch of the two Alien vs. Predator films, there doesn’t seem to be much left to really say with the character, and while many would understandably say that all that needed to be said was said back in 1987, I would argue that 1990’s Predator 2, against the odds, stands as a truly worthy follow-up to a film that didn’t need one.
Despite releasing just three years after the first one, Predator 2 shifts the action ahead by a decade to 1997, moving from the lush jungles of South America to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, where a massive drug war is being raged by different gangs. Caught in the middle of it is Danny Glover’s police lieutenant, Michael Harrigan, who unwittingly becomes the target of the city’s newest resident: A Predator. Between the Predator killing off gang members and Harrigan’s own friends and the arrival of Special Agent Peter Keyes, who’s attempting to capture the alien, Harrigan finds himself caught up in a cat-and-mouse game that will force him to go toe-to-toe with the deadly creature.
In nearly every single way, Predator 2 does its best to break away from its predecessor. From the setting to the swapping of soldiers with everyday cops, the sequel starts over from square one, using what we know of the first film – chiefly how effective the Predator is – to color in the events that unfold. After all, if a team of expert soldiers were almost completely wiped out, how will “average” people like Bill Paxton, Maria Conchita Alonso, Ruben Blades, and Danny Glover be able to survive, let alone beat the creature at its own game? Since we already know what the Predator is doing and what it’s capable of, that question drives the film instead, raising the stakes in an effective way because the circumstances of the alien’s hunt and the people sucked into it are completely different this time around.
Like Predator, Predator 2 is another rollercoaster trip, but where it succeeds is feeling like an experience we haven’t taken before. It takes the fundamentals of what we know about the Predator, like the fact that it won’t kill unarmed non-combatants or that it uses infrared to see, and builds upon them without feeling like “the rules” have changed.
We learn, for instance, that it won’t kill someone who is pregnant, and we also get to see this Predator employ a whole host of gadgets that the first one never had, like the Combi-Stick or the flying disc. After it’s been shot up and had an arm cut off, we get the chance to see how the creature patches itself up. It even toys with Harrigan, leaving the necklace of one of his fallen friends for him to find in a seeming bid to goad him into fighting. As a result, this Predator is made distinct enough to come off as a completely different hunter than the one we met the first time around.