The People Vs. Predator 2

Case #1: Predator 2

Director: Stephen Hopkins (24[TV], The Life and Death of Peter Sellers)
Cast: Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton

In this, the latter of the two Predator films, the titular alien is wreaking havoc in L.A., where the Jamaicans and Latinos are currently engaged in a bloody drug war. It’s up to a rogue cop (Glover) and his rough and tumble compatriots (Blades, Alonso, and Paxton) to thwart the intergalactic menace while at the same time keeping the peace and stopping a crafty government scientist (Busey) from capturing the monster and hauling it off for ‚research purposes.

The Charges:
– Lack of Schwarzenegger
– Stupid to set the film in a big city
– Egregiously fast pacing/Lack of suspense
– Gratuitous violence
– Not nearly as good as Predator

The Defense:
Perhaps it’s because of the near deification of McTiernan’s original Predator, or maybe it really is just due to the lack of Arnold, but for whatever reason, people really enjoy panning Predator 2. I understand. There’s a film you love; it seems really original; it introduces some great characters, a few compelling action sequences, and competent cinematography. Why muck it up with a lot of crass, gory effects and Gary Busey?

Well, because sometimes that’s what it takes to make a good sequel. Because, and I know this hurts to hear, sometimes that’s what it takes to make a sequel that matches the original in both quality and predation.

And sometimes that means no Schwarzenegger.

Honestly, I don’t understand why folks get so uppity about Arnold’s absence in this film, but peruse the user reviews over at Amazon and you’re sure to find a whole slew that not only bemoan the lack of Schwarzenegger but that also rabidly decry the inclusion of Danny Glover. Again, I don’t get it. Glover delivers just as good a performance as a hard-nosed cop as Arnold does as a hard-nosed soldier. If anything, at this point, Glover’s middling celebrity makes his character that much more convincing and real than any role Arnold can play precisely because Arnold IS Arnold. His status as a pop-cultural (and now political) icon make it nearly impossible for him to play, with any believability, anyone but himself. There’s a big difference between watching Predator as an Arnold Schwarzenegger film and watching Predator as a sci-fi action film and while the sequel might not deliver on the abs or the accent, it does the action just fine.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was, interestingly enough, one of the people who adamantly opposed setting Predator 2 in the city. After all, the jungle was the ideal setting for the first film. The isolation, the lack of resources, and the visual sameness all made for a perfect hunting ground. But, it seems reasonable to suggest that, for the sequel, presenting the exact opposite scenario is not only an intelligent choice, but also, the best one, considering that another mud-smeared romp through the foliage would yield something three times more unoriginal than people claim Predator 2 already is. Plus, it ‘s needless to mention that the jungle is an extremely limiting setting. There’s only so many ways to make a log swing down and hit someone.

I hate the pacing/suspense argument because:

1)Predator 2 really is a different kind of film from Predator. The urban setting, which provides more people, would logically provide more action not only for the skull-hungry alien but also for the folks surrounding him. It gives the opportunity for more characters, more technology, and, ergo, more action. Not to mention that the viewing audience already knows what the predator looks like, how it hunts, and how it kills. Prolonging action that the audience is not only expecting but also already familiar with is, especially in the case of an action film, ineffective and ignorant. That having been said, introducing said familiar action right away doesn’t, on its own, make for a successful sequel. That action needs to be further developed, which is something Hopkins does wonderfully by introducing a whole arsenal of new weapons and insight into the mythos of the predator species. These new details take the character far beyond the redundant infrared vision and near-invisibility showcased in the first film.

The introduction of the predator race as not only trophy collectors but also as honorable hunters who refuse to kill pregnant women, children, etc. is a wonderful stepping off point towards really making sense of something that, in Predator, is almost as statically voracious and undiscerning as the xenomorphs in the Alien films. Following these revelations with the final scene in the spaceship, which delivered not only some compelling shots of the skull collection but also gave viewers a glimpse of the species’ architecture and socio-cultural interaction, showed an incredible amount of character progression that was perfect for the sequel.

In no way do these elements seem like a re-hash or a gratuitous stake-raising of the first film’s action. If anything, they are an improvement of it.

2)There seems to be a popular trend in cinematic thought that values slow pacing and suspense as synonymous terms. Because Predator doesn’t start showcasing scads of alien violence until halfway through the film, it’s automatically viewed as masterpiece of suspense and pacing on par with Alien. I’m sorry, but John McTiernan is no Ridley Scott. And neither is Stephen Hopkins. At least Hopkins knows it. McTiernan’s film, as original as it is, is often overly slow and, for all the lauding it gets, is often far better in concept than in execution. In short, he doesn’t pull off a gradual build any better than Hopkins succeeds at a quick one.

Certainly Predator 2 has its problems. The pregnancy plotline is completely ignored, the slaughterhouse sequence is predicated upon what amounts to a tech-savvy variation of Arnold’s mud bath and the gang member characterizations walk the fine line between cliche and racist. Also, the 18th century gun bit at the end, which was meant to setup Predator 3, is ridiculous. But it’s well directed, well edited, and enjoyable. It has some incredible action scenes, some wonderfully placed nods to the continuity of the first film (the first aid kit, the self-destruct code) and it succeeds in developing the predator much further. So c’mon, folks. Let’s give it another chance.

Even if you still hate it, it did yield two fewer conservative governors than its predecessor. That’s something.

Written by Finley