“She says the city… it just came alive and took him”

What plenty of us in moviedom love about action sequels is that their main characters are established entities. We enter the next chapter knowing the hero’s origin, what he or she stands for or what their particular modus operandi is from the get-go. It doesn’t have to expand the arc forward necessarily speaking, only rework the spectacle like a well-oiled machine. That and starting with a bang!

1990 gave us great examples with the return of Alex Murphy and John McClane when Robocop 2 and Die Hard 2 hit the big screen come summertime, but there was another hot property that defied the odds when production didn’t have other alternative than going with plan B: Predator 2. You read that right. Predator 2. Not having John McTiernan at the helm was kind of OK in the pantheon of blockbusters back in the day. He didn’t return for Die Harder either, while The Empire Strikes Back‘s Irvin Kershner (another anticipated sequel without its original director) replaced Paul Verhoeven in the part man, part machine follow-up.

As guarantee those highly entertaining flicks relied on their main hero and, therefore, the actor portraying them. Not Predator 2. Missing out on über-star Arnold Schwarzenegger was sort of its box office sin. Who didn’t want to see Major Dutch on a rematch with the new and improved titular alien creature, this time in the concrete jungle of L.A.? It so happened that producer Joel Silver and the screenwriters/creators Jim Thomas and John Thomas didn’t have time to bleed and turned the immediate injury into an asset for posterity.

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Danny Glover’s Time to Shine

They went with Danny Glover. Yes, “the” Danny Glover from the Lethal Weapon movies (also produced by Silver). From co-lead he got promoted as main action star. But Sergeant Roger Murtaugh this ain’t. Here he plays Lieutenant Mike Harrigan, the epitome of a hard-boiled cop, fearless and with a “eff you” attitude towards the rules and city property when it comes to getting the job done. Think of him as an R-rated version of Jack Slater in Last Action Hero (1993). You never know what his drama in life looks like, but he owns a bad-ass gun collection in the trunk of his car for every occasion and gets chewed out by his superior (Robert Davi, post-License to Kill, is kept in the sidelines) for disobeying orders. He only exists to make the fiction more volatile than it already is.

That opening! The camera travels from a trail of green that gives the impression of an all-too-familiar jungle… only to reveal a wide angle of downtown Los Angeles nearby. It’s set in 1997, so that means it’s been a full decade from the events of the original and seven years into the future. Hats for men have become a trend again, a gimmick to look forward to when seeing it upon release (for me it was at the rusty Metro Theater with my kid brother and my best friend).

Abruptly, the viewer gets swooped in the Predator’s infravision and scouts bits of the city until a war zone escalates in the middle of the streets, pitting Colombian and Jamaican drug lords (cocaine vs. marijuana, get it?). Moviegoers, of course, need more explanation in the form of live TV; specifically Hard Core (the design in Hard matches the Die Hard title card), a most sensationalist news program whose reporter and sometimes cameraman Tony Pope (the late Morton Downey Jr.) has a prose for violence and finds the more victims, more mutilations serial fascinating. All in the sweltering 109 degree temperature.

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Meet Lieutenant Michael “Mike” R. Harrigan

Enter Harrigan in the rip-roaring crossfire to save some wounded officers and single-handedly gun down the armed-to-its-teeth Caribbean men like it’s part of his daily breakfast. The community didn’t have a good year as they also met a gruesome demise in the form of Steven Seagal in Marked for Death. The arriving Predator has found his match, sure, but first he has other plans for the remaining gang. I really like how editor Mark Goldblatt (The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Last Boy Scout, just to name a few) quick-cuts the exterior scenes into the interior of a building while the camera is briskly pushed on a lateral side. It’s a transition that’s perfectly repeated in later scenes.

But let’s get back to the Colombians, shall we? They only retreat to get ahold of their army-like arsenal and big stacks of white powder. One guy applies the drug in a gunshot wound while the leader -El Scorpio- outdoes Tony Montana by dipping his nose into a cup that turns his moustache pale white and his face pumped to the next level of madness. Of course, we don’t need to see Predator carnage. That’s for later. When you have stuntman and sometimes actor Thomas Rosales Jr. among the crew you know it’s not going to end pretty. The man was one of the many guerrilla casualties in Commando (1985), had his head explode in The Running Man (1987), killed by Robocop 2 earlier that summer and later on as the armored truck driver in Heat (1995). Sir, you deserve a shout-out.

Nine paragraphs in and I’m still on Act I. That’s how bat-shit crazy amazing Predator 2 is. El Scorpio frantically runs for his life and shoots aimlessly at nothing. We know the reasons for that, Harrigan doesn’t. Past the climax the cop aims at the silhouette of “something” but it must be the exhausting heat, or so he thinks. Why doesn’t the invisible hunter kill him right away? More on that later. We move to a penthouse late at night where some gym-style fornicating is interrupted by more Jamaicans about to perform a ritual of black voodoo magic. What they invoke is Kevin Peter Hall in full make-up and costume to interrupt the interruption. He’s the unsung protagonist, without him this and the previous massive creature never had the same mystique, presence, movement or even built.

The aftermath of destruction bewilders Harrigan and fellow officers Archuleta and Leona, played by Ruben Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso, both of Latin American descent (tip: this movie happened way before cultural inclusion was considered a thing). Blades, of course, is the popular Panamanian singer and songwriter of such classics like Pedro Navaja and Sorpresas, among many others. It’s a shame producers didn’t push for an original salsa song (a ballad for the Predator, anyone?). As for Alonso she started in Spanish soap operas and had some hit singles, plus her action cred was solid after 1987’s Extreme Prejudice and The Running Man.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Replaced by… Gary Busey?

“My fondest memories from making that movie was being the only woman firing some big guns surrounded by an all-male cast. I found that kinda sexy”, confessed the actress as I moderated an In Conversation about her artistic trajectory at the Aruba International Film Festival, in 2013.

Now, it’s obvious that without Schwarzenegger the angle of the sequel had to be recalibrated. You’d still have the elite special forces team led by Dutch and having to deal with the hard-ass and profanity-laced policeman who roughly interferes with the long-awaited capture of the new player in town. So the part, rewritten as Peter Keyes, is portrayed by Gary Busey, another Lethal Weapon alumni who was a year away from the classic Point Break (“Utah, give me two!”) and Under Siege (“Do I look like I need a psychological evaluation?”) the year after. I don’t think Arnold would have gotten away delivering the line “He’s on safari. Lions. Tigers. The Bears. Oh my…” the same way.

If the screenplay didn’t focus on Harrigan, he would have been the Bill Duke from the original. Best example is when he goes to the grave of his partner and friend who had just been ripped apart (out of frame, mind you) and the lone military trumpet from Alan Silvestri plays in the background as an honorable farewell. What this means is that Predator 2 got sorta stuck with Mac “I’m Gonna Have Me Some Fun” as the top-billing character. They could’ve gone with the Hawkins-like, newly transferred and white Jerry Lambert, bad jokes and all (the sorely missed Bill Paxton completing his golden cinematic death trilogy after The Terminator and Aliens), but no… they went full Mac!

Going for the alternative was the best thing that ever happened to the Predator continuance. This isn’t about Dutch, it’s about a multi-generational sport from a a species out of this world. Elpidia Carrillo’s Anna summed it best in the first one: “Only in the hottest years this happens. And this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skin… and sometimes much, much worst. “El que hace trofeos de los hombres” means “the demon who makes trophies of men”.

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Is the Predator Really a Villain?

But not just any men. Predators don’t kill the innocent, the unarmed or the weak. Their hunt involves people who are in possession of deadly weaponry determined to destroy one another. In some strange ways, Predators are the ultimate pacifists and this sequel explores their mythology somehow further. Sparing a child’s life who wanders around with a toy gun and learning, perhaps, that man’s fascination with violence and the instruments of violence begins at an early stage is one thing. How about not killing Leona, although armed, when scanning a pulsating fetus inside her womb.

Revealing details like that in an sci-fi action movie are rare. In the case of Predator 2 it invites the question: who is the real villain here? King Willie and the Scorpios are whipped out halfway through, Keyes and his special unit only want to freeze our visitor to study it and patent its “hidden” assets. So evil in this dark urban adventure is the obsession for advanced technology to gain definitive dominion. Not the aliens. The big bonus for them is testing that ultimate warrior, the last man standing in the playground, the one who’s up to their challenge. That’s why Hartigan isn’t killed at the beginning.

Of course, this doesn’t clear the Predators entirely as they know how to cheat in their own game. When cornered and defenseless they rely on a implanted self-destruct device with the power of a nuclear megaton to leave no evidence. We almost witness this again but Hartigan achieves what Dutch couldn’t: chopping the arm of the unwelcome visitor off with its own weapon from several stories high (imagine the surprise of whomever cleans the floor the next morning). Besides that flying metallic disc other cool designs include a net capable of cutting a man into little cubes and a spear; however, the best gadget bar none will always be the First Aid Kit, the one that mixes a melting blue flame to seal the creature’s wound that drips incandescent green goo.

Props to director Stephen Hopkins and cinematographer Peter Levy. This pair captured eerie  atmosphere in the skids of the city, allowing the Predator to camouflage itself with the look and feel of dark back alleys, vertiginous edges around the buildings. Even the trash underneath the elevator shafts add layers of decadence. Rewatching Judgment Night (1993), their subsequent collaboration starring Emilio Estevez, the same urban hellhole passage can be sensed.

The other suspenseful ingredient for this sequel is Silvestri’s score. The composer kept the over-dramatic beats from the original intact, adding some tropical drums arrangements only. From the moment Harrigan runs in the tunnel following the severely edited subway massacre (seriously, when do we get to see the original NC-17 cut?) there’s no stopping until the end credits. He witnesses Lambert’s spine and skull get ripped away. A quick car chase leads to a slaughterhouse where Keyes pretends to trap and freeze the hunter. Everything goes terribly wrong, as anyone could predict, but our hero shoots down and subsequently unmasks the Predator to utter the famous “You are one ugly…” line, only to be completed by the creature who’s still alive. Rooftop ventilation, ledges and gas pipes all become useful elements of grip and survival. This is where the city becomes a jungle of sorts. Engaging stuff!

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An Ultimate Ending for the Ages

We get to know the inside of the spaceship. Yeah, yeah, I know, everybody likes to point out the Alien skull hanging in the den of trophies. While that’s a neat placement for a crossover universe what follows is more fundamental: the honor of the Predators. A group of them appear once Harrigan has prevailed. Exhausted, he drops the handy disc used against its opponent and sarcastically surrenders by saying: “OK. Who’s next?”. But they don’t want revenge. This is the second time in a row they lose. Maybe these earthlings are getting better at it each time. The eldest of the bunch throws him a pistol that dates back to 1715 like it’s supposed to be a prize acknowledging a fair fight or something between the lines.

“Don’t worry. You’ll get another chance”, the cop tells the remaining special unit member (Adam Baldwin, post-Full Metal Jacket, is kept in the sidelines) after the aliens are long gone. But like in most proven cases we humans excel at starting, never at finding a fitting end that brings closure to our forms of execution. Case in point, Predator 3 never materialized. It could’ve taken us to colonial times, fast-forwarding to a future where the great-great-great grandson of the man who owned that mysterious pistol has designed the most advanced weapon of defense every leap-year, making the creatures go find sport elsewhere. Trilogy complete.

Final shot is a helicopter (when wasn’t a rotorcraft featured in a Joel Silver picture?) pointing its light to the scattered area. One could speculate Silver was meeting with director Tony Scott to prep The Last Boy Scout (1991) while watching background dailies of the chopper. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino even tagged along and looked intrigued at the screen. “A sequel to Predator“, says the producer to the yet-unknown screenwriter with an air of confidence, quickly turning to his assistant: “What are we calling this one?”. The Bronson Pinchot-type responds “Predator… 2“, to which Silver concedes: “Oh, that’s imaginative. Got more taste than my penis”. Cut to the detective played by Tom Sizemore laughing over the recording mic in a nearby room, ready to bust and arrest, and you’ve got the scene of what later became True Romance (1993). You can add that possibility to the Predator 2 trophy display.