Predator 2, which takes place in the urban jungle of Los Angeles, is loud, sweaty, and exuberantly violent—and all of its main characters are macho blowhards. It does not have Schwarzenegger, but it does have one-liners galore, Bill Paxton, and Gary Busey. It is magic.
Spoilers only if you haven’t seen Predator 2. Why haven’t you seen Predator 2? You’ve probably seen Predator, which is a obviously a classic. But consider the many merits of the sequel.
Predator 2 came out in 1990, three years after Predator, but it’s set in 1997—an edging-toward-dystopian future time when ethnically specific gangs battle each other at high noon on the streets of downtown LA. When Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) arrives on the scene, it’s bullet-riddled chaos, with the rest of his squad (Ruben Blades as Danny, Maria Conchita Alonso as Leona) cowering for their lives against exploding police cars.
There’s a media presence, too, primarily in the form of Tony Pope, played by shouty 1980s talk-show host Morton Downey Jr.—yay, typecasting!—who pops up throughout the film, and whose tabloid show Hard Core keeps tabs on the gang war’s body count.
The body count, already rising steadily thanks to the well-armed ranks of the Colombian gangsters who follow “Scorpio” and the “Jamaican voodoo posse” loyal to “King Willy,” is about to skyrocket. Because there’s a new dude in town. Maybe you’ve heard of him, but you probably haven’t seen him, because he’s invisible. However, his awesome party tricks are hard to miss:
In the aftermath of that supremely gory interlude, Harrigan, his two trusted teammates, and new addition Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton)—who comes off like a total sleaze at first, but actually turns out to be a kick-ass cop—puzzle over how one dude could annihilate a heavily armed room full of Colombians without firing a single shot, and sneak away undetected. But the hot-headed Harrigan (see below, the computer tells all) will soon have more than just an unknown enemy to deal with.
Yeah, he’s gonna have to contend with the Feds, led by Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes. Harrigan can’t understand why the DEA has taken such an interest in the LA drug war all of a sudden, and he doesn’t take kindly to Toothy McGee and his khaki pants-wearing minions horning in on all his crime scenes. The law enforcement turf war—which is soon 100% worse than the gang war, because all of the gangsters pretty much get killed in the first 30 minutes—escalates when Danny is slain by the Predator while poking around behind Keyes’ back at the scene of a very insane mass slaughter.
This is the “before” shot; what you see is a Colombian kingpin being tortured by a Jamaican who promises to “take your soul” as part of some “fuckin’ voodoo magic, man!”
Of course, these people have no idea that their theatrical ritual isn’t going to be the worst thing that happens in that tacky penthouse on this particular night.
“He was boned like a fish,” the no-nonsense medical examiner tells Harrigan of poor ol’ Danny Boy. She’s helping him in part because the Feds have curtailed her activities, too. Her analysis of an odd weapon left behind, made of completely unknown metals, suggests the invisible killer isn’t from this world. King Willy, who’s now down to one weed-filled car of lieutenants at this point, agrees to meet with Harrigan. Their adversary is no rival drug lord, he says. He’s from “the spirit world,” and “There’s no killing what can’t be killed.” (Ah, but “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” remember?)
For his wisdom, King Willy is beheaded by guess who, his dreadlocked head lovingly skinned and added to a presumably growing trophy collection.
Soon after, Harrigan’s quest to find Danny’s killer and maybe give Keyes a much-deserved punch in the kisser becomes a solo pursuit. As thanks for braving LA’s subway system, Leona and Jerry first foil a mugging that was about to escalate into something way worse (tee hee, everyone in LA carries a concealed weapon!), before it escalates into something way way worse, when the Predator shows up. At this point, we’re relieved of the pleasure of Jerry’s company, and Leona’s, too—though her life is spared when the Predator sees this bit of action via his heat-o-vision:
Mazel tov, Leona, we’ll never learn anything more about you or your baby, but thank Zeus you were preggers, because you lived to see another day, unlike Jerry. At this point in the movie, the casual viewer might begin to wonder what the hell the Predator is doing in Los Angeles in the first place.
Fortunately, Harrigan is able to chase down Keyes to his high-tech lair. Though their last encounter involved a really hard shove and an assertive collar grab, and Keyes has been secretive as shit the entire movie, he’s suddenly free-flowing with the information. The invisible killer is “a FUCKING alien” who is hunting the “lions” of Earth. Tuff guy Harrigan is a lion, obviously. “It’s taken us over two weeks to learn his patterns,” Keyes yells (everyone in this movie yells all the time), which really doesn’t seem like that long. Just two weeks?
Anyway, there’s of course a scheme to capture the Predator, learn its ways, use it for “scientific technology” which probably means “black-ops military weapons.” There is an extended “are we hunting him or is he hunting us?” sequence inside a slaughterhouse, and everyone dies except Harrigan, who rushes in at the last moment ... but not really to save Keyes, let’s be honest. He wants payback for Danny’s death. (Jerry’s more recent passing is less of a concern; he only knew the guy a short while, after all.)
You might be forgiven, at this moment, for thinking the movie’s about to be over. There’s this dramatic, Darth Vader-style unmasking situation:
But nah. Predator 2 isn’t going to let you, or Harrigan, off that easily. There are at least 20 more minutes of breathless pursuit, in which these lines are exchanged:
Harrigan: “Ok pussy face, it’s your move.”
Predator: “Shit happens.”
Harrigan, moments later after getting the upper hand: “That’s right asshole, shit happens!”
Plus, there’s an outstanding sequence in which the Predator pauses in a bathroom (in an apartment occupied by a sassy old lady wearing a housecoat and curlers) to apply blue healing goo to his wounds, as Harrigan tries to ignore his fear of heights while shimmying down a drainpipe. And that’s not all; he also has to climb down an elevator shaft, all the way to the basement level, which is actually the spaceship level. This particular spaceship comes equipped with a fog machine providing knee-deep cover, a trophy room, and a posse of other Predators who materialize when Harrigan finally slays his lion, using one of his wacky outer-space weapons.
Harrigan thinks he’s toast, but the Predators are just there to collect the body of their fallen comrade—bested by the greatest Earth warrior with anger-management issues the LAPD ever produced. As a token of admiration, they hand him an antique gun marked “1715,” and generously spend enough time firing up the engines to let him escape rather than be taken to the Predator home world.
Predator 2 is ridiculous, and jaw-droppingly bloody at times—a dude gets his heart ripped out of his body as part of a strictly human-on-human affair. But its relentless pacing means there’s never a lull. The Predator even follows Harrigan into a graveyard at one point, which in any other movie would be just the moment to go take a pee. Not so here. Though it came out in 1990, Predator 2 still feels like a very, very 1980s movie. Want subtlety? Look elsewhere. Want a movie that mixes cartoonish urban violence with a healthy dose of goofy secondary characters—but has a hero who’s so deeply committed to his own personal code that he rarely stops to even take a breath? Plus FUCKING aliens—and voodoo, too? Look no further.