So There's More Than One?
There's something very specific about the original Predator. It's a genre pastiche of the over-blown 1980s action flicks, a movie that purposefully comports itself to be just another muscle-bound action movie before swerving and sending up everything it established. It's a very specific answer to a genre at the height of its game. More importantly, too, it was a star vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film where the basic answer to "who is there left for Arnie to kill?" was "an alien."
How do you sequelize that? Can you even make a sequel to a movie so specific in its intentions? One thought would have been to just bring Arnie back and have him go into space to kill even more aliens (and I seem to recall some goofy comic book doing just that). Fox Studios, owner of Predator, though, went in a different direction. Their thought was that the draw of the film was not Arnie but the space alien. They wanted to build a franchise not unlike the Alien movies where various people battled against the Predators. And instead of Arnie they brought in Danny Glover. It's... well, it's an interesting choice, to be sure.
Set in the "future" (1997, to be exact, which in 1990 when this film came out was the future), Los Angeles is in the middle of a gang war. The Latinos battle against the Jamaicans over control of the drug trade in the city, and both sides war with the cops for the streets. Enter into this terrain Lt. Mike Harrigan, head of a small team of officers trying to clean up the streets. Their efforts aren't making a huge dent, though, not until the corpses of gang members start turning up left and right, usually in a grisly fashion. Soon, Mike suspects there's someone (or something) else hunting these drug lords, and he wants to know who, especially once cops start dying as well. It's only a matter of time, then, before Mike has his own face-off with the hunter from beyond the stars.
Credit where it's due, Predator 2 at least doesn't try to make the exact same movie again. Instead of a jungle setting with the biggest, baddest dudes in the land, we move the hunt to the "concrete jungle" of L.A. for a story about put-upon beat cops. The two teams, the two settings, are like night and day, and it allows each film to have its own vibe, it's own energy.
I also respect the decision to jump in, almost immediately, with the Predator killings. The first movie hinted around at the antagonist's motives -- what the alien wanted, what it could do -- but the sequel dispenses with all that, getting right to the grisly, chunky meat of the situation by having the Predator show up and immediately begin offing drug lords in the opening sequence. There's no trying to fake us out with a different plotline, no trying to pretend there's anything other than Dany Glover and an alien as out last act.
That said, there's a lot that doesn't work about this second film in the series. For starters, the movie simply tries to do too much and it drags the energy of the whole production down. Along with the storyline about the drug lords (on which a lot of time is spent learning about each faction and watching them beat against each other, and the cops in the process), there's also a plotline about the FBI and their own secret agenda (which is pretty obviously all about the Predator). The movie wants to go in so many directions at once that it diverts its attention, never really focusing well enough on any one storyline to give it time to breathe. And with some many swords in the fire, the whole film takes forever to get anywhere as lip service has to be paid to each plotline, no matter how much or how little bearing it'll have on the overall whole.
Let's be frank, there's only one plotline that really matters in the end: Mike vs. the Predator. Everything else is obvious window dressing and it's hard to get involved in the story when clearly the last act is going to be man v alien. Why care about anything else when it's all going to pull away like so much skin and blood?
The film does devote a good amount of time to this last act battle and, in a nice change of pace, it's the human hunting the alien, actually putting the Predator on his heels and making him the quarry for the chase. This is a great inversion of expectations, but it's betrayed by one simple fact: Danny Glover was not a scary enough dude to make any Predator turn-tail and run. It's hard to shake the fact that Danny Glover spent years playing Roger Murtaugh, the police officer past his prime who was, famously, "too old for this shit." Even when this movie came out, Glover had played his most famous character twice, so it would have been hard to divorce the actor from that character, to view him as a gun-toting bad-ass that could kill a Predator.
Not that Glover really rises to the occasion. In the scenes where he gets to be a beat cop and do some policing, Glover is great. Despite being in the Lethal Weapon films, though, Glover is not a capable action movie lead. Anything that requires him to run, gun, and hunt is less impressive than it is awkward. The film devotes it's entire last act to Glover and the Predator and it just lacks any energy, any fire, and that's because it all rests on Glover's shoulders. He just doesn't rise to the occasion.
In the end, then, Predator 2 is a missed opportunity. While I liked the change of setting, and change of focus, the film needed a lot of tweaking to be really good. A tighter script with fewer storylines would have helped, as would a different lead actor. I like Danny Glover, but he wasn't the right guy for this job, and the movie falls apart in the end because of it.