Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MOVIES THAT MAY NOT HAVE SUCKED: 'Predator 2'

The Internet Is In America reminisces on the nearly three-decade old sequel. Audiences were pretty ambivalent about it back in 1990, but has Father Time treated Predator 2 a little bit kindlier?


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@Jimbo___X

Growing up, we all had our favorite movie. For some, it may have been a random Disney offering, or perhaps some other family-friendly action-adventure romp, a'la The Goonies or E.T. Alas, my favorite movie as a kid wasn't Beauty and the Beast or Rookie of the Year or even Jurassic Park - rather, mine was that all-time classic of children's cinema, Predator

Oh yes, Predator. I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw it, but I couldn't have been older than six or seven. Even now I'm not entirely sure how I heard about the movie, or how I wound up seeing it for the first time. Maybe it was something my mom rented, maybe it was something that came on late-at-night on WATL-36 or maybe it was something I saw at a friend's house. Regardless, I absolutely fell in love with the movie and had to have seen it - no joke - at least 20 or 30 times before I graduated from elementary school. 

Considering how much I loved this movie as a kid, I'm beginning to wonder why I never wanted to become some sort of elite U.S. commando as an adult (with the ulterior motive of fist fighting aliens in the jungles of Mexico, naturally.) There was just something so manly about this fucking movie, from Jesse Ventura chewing on Redman and calling everybody "slack jawed faggots" to that fuckin' epic handshake between Ah-nold and Apollo Creed to that climactic kung-fu battle in the jungle. It was just an expertly paced and scripted movie, and even now, it stands out as one of the very best action movies of the 1980s. There's not a whole lot of movies out there I'd say are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Aliens and Robocop, but Predator certainly deserves such a prestigious distinction.

As great as Predator was, I suppose its 1990 sequel was destined to disappoint. For one thing, Ah-nold didn't reprise his role, and really, having a movie about the fuckin' Predator without Dutch Schaefer running around is like an Alien movie without Sigourney Weaver, or a Death Wish flick without Chuck Bronson in it or a Halloween movie without Donald Pleasance chewing up the scenery and screaming "I shot him nine times!" to anybody and everybody on the set. Secondly, the sequel wasn't going to have the same awesome ensemble cast. To be fair, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton and the dude who played Petey in Mo Better Blues all being in the same movie is pretty awesome, but it's nowhere close to being an all-time awesome line-up like the Terminator, the Body and both Action motherfuckin' Jackson and the police chief from Action motherfuckin' Jackson  (although I would love to see that four on four match, WWF Survivor Series style, somewhere down the line.) And thirdly, there was the general concept of the movie, which proved once and for all just how full of shit we all are as film-goers. You ever notice how people bitch and moan and complain when Hollywood makes a sequel that follows the plot of the original movie and call it stuff like "generic" and "formulaic" and "half-assed?" Well, the people who scripted Predator 2 came up with a wildly unique idea(*) for a follow-up, and sure enough, one of the biggest complaints about the flick from the general movie-going public was that it was - you guessed it - too different from the original. And if that wasn't enough, you even had eggheads like Roger Ebert ripping the movie for being subliminally prejudiced. "All they can give us in the way of an alien is a street mugger with intestines for a face, pincers around his mouth and an Afro-style braided hairdo," the rotund film critic condemned the flick. "The creature in this movie is a work of subtle racism. Subliminal clues are slipped in to encourage us to subconsciously connect the menace with black males."
(*) And yeah, I know the script for Predator 2 was prolly based on the 1989 Dark Horse Comics series Predator: Concrete Jungle, which is something I should prolly review in-depth at some point. And no, that series isn't the same thing as the Ps2/Xbox game Predator: Concrete Jungle, either ... although it was apparently greatly influenced by the second movie, which was greatly influenced by the aforementioned comic series, so then again, maybe it is. 
Yet sadly, not once does he get to say his trademark line about "pablum pukin' liberals."

OK, so Predator 2 ain't anywhere near as good as the first movie. That, we can all agree on. That said, while it's a movie with a LOT of problems, I still think it's a pretty enjoyable little creature feature that deserves slightly more respect and appreciation than it gets today. The good definitely outweighs the bad here, and had a few tweaks been made here and there, it really could have been a superior, standout sequel a'la Halloween II or Batman Returns. Of course it never could have been on the same page as Terminator 2 or anything like that, but as far as early 1990s sci-fi gore-fests go, this thing certainly used up more of its potential than squandered it. Let's dissect the ins and outs of the movie a little bit further, why don't we? 

The movie starts off with a pretty brilliant transition/callback from the first movie. The camera zooms over a swath of what looks like the rain forest, but what do you know, it's actually the shrubs on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Its the year 1997, and the local S.W.A.T. team is engaged in a bloody shootout with Colombian drug dealers and MORTON FUCKIN' DOWNEY JR. is on the street giving us live play-by-play (as far as loud mouth conservative trash TV talk show cameos go, this one definitely outdoes the brief audio appearance from Wally George in the fifth Elm Street flick - which, incidentally, was directed by the same guy who directed THIS movie, the Jamaican-born honky Stephen Hopkins.) So cops Danny Glover and Maria Conchita Alonso show up and then the Colombians (who I'm pretty sure Downey calls "Caribbeans" in the opening sequence) go to their top secret armory to snort mounds of cocaine and pull out military-grade weaponry. Naturally, that's our cue for the Predator to show up in invisible space jelly camouflage mode, and a whole hell of a bunch of drug runners soon find themselves getting their skin peeled off like the flaky golden crust on a KFC drumstick. Then Bill "Game over man, game over!" Paxton shows up as the other cop and here comes Gary Busey from the feds, saying the local P.D. needs to keep their noses out of this one because it's a matter of national security

Up next, this Colombian drug kingpin is fucking the shit out of his gal pal, but OOPS! Here comes the Jamaican Voodoo Posse (yep, that IS their canonical name in the movie) to interrupt his intercourse, string him upside down from the ceiling and carve his torso open like a blow-trafficking birthday cake. Of course, Predator is lurking in the shadows and he (it is a he, ain't it?) then gets a chance to show off all of his cool new toys, including a trident, a spear and even this razor sharp spider-net thingy that peels people's skin down to their skeleton. The cops show up, the lone survivor says the devil himself killed everybody and the feds take one gander at the 19 de-skinned Rastafarians hanging from the roof and go "yeah, we think we're going to seal this little parameter off for a while, so vamoose, ya'll."

At this point, we're nearly 45 minutes into the movie. The pace here is really, really tight and the build-up - thus far, at least - has been quite effective. Now Glover's other, other partner (he's the guy who played Carlos in Safe House, but he's probably even more famous for being this Panamanian salsa singer that's recorded a good 50 albums) decides to snoop around the crime scene and gets killed by Predator, than Glover yells some curse words at Gary Busey and there is this HILARIOUS scene that had to have been ad-libbed where Glover holds out his fist in front of Busey's face and slaps it to let him know he's really pissed about all this federal investigative meddling. Glover and the gang take a Predator artifact to a lab and the scientist woman says this shit isn't made out of anything on the periodic table and then Glover hops in the Jamaican gang's ZEBRA-colored dope smoke party car and he talks to their leader in the slums and he tells him he knows what the Predator is and after Danny leaves, sure enough, Predator shows up and it and the Jamaican drug lord have a sword fight and there's this half-great/half-lazy transition scene where you hear the drug kingpin scream and then there's a quick cut to Predator holding his severed head. Yeah, it' a bit ghetto, but it DOES lead to a scene where the Predator breaks out his alien skull polishing kit, and for some reason I just LOVE watching intergalactic killing machines buffing things. 

Don't you just hate it when you're smoking a joint in a rolled-up tampon and then some buzz-killing space alien warrior has to show up and blast your sternum out your asshole with a laser cannon?

Now here is where the movie kinda' starts to go off course. The whole thing is about an hour and forty minutes, and we've damn near hit the sixty-minute mark and our main man Danny hasn't even encountered the Predator up-close yet. That means we've got to blow through the final thirty minutes and skip out on a lot of character development and plot exposition just outta' time constraints. Or, to put it another way, Predator 2 is like a goalie that plays really, really well in the first two periods of a hockey game, but just starts letting everything pass through the net beginning in the third.

So Danny first encounters the Predator in translucent jellyfish mode when he's visiting his old partner's grave. Then the Predator decides to hi-jack a subway train (yeah, people always forget about L.A. having a subway system, don't they?) where EVERYBODY is packing heat but since all the killing is done in strobe light mode, you really can't see anything at all happening (I guess that was done to thwart the scissors-happy M.P.A.A., but it just don't work either in concept or execution.) Anyhoo, Bill Paxton gets killed (but not before throwing a golf ball at the Predator, in what has to be the movie's stupidest scene) and then Alonso gets killed but not before Predator's heat-vision lets us know she's pregnant (which has to be prolly the movie's gutsiest and most disturbing moment - and one I am SHOCKED the suits at Fox allowed to remain in the flick.) The problem, however, is that we have NO time to mourn the characters' deaths; in fact, I'm not even entirely sure Glover is AWARE his partners are dead, because he's too busy racing against the clock to finish this movie.

So we have this weird scene were the Predator stands atop a building during a thunderstorm and gets electrocuted by lightning (of course, instead of frying his gizzards, all it appears to do is re-energize his space monster batteries), and Danny starts chasing after him but his car is side-swiped by a pick-up truck and he's carried into Gary Busey's Predator-monitoring van and we FINALLY get some exposition to link this movie to part one. So apparently, the feds are well aware of what happened in the original movie, in particular the ending scene where the Predator blows himself up and created a giant smoking hole in the rain forest the size of 300 city blocks. Apparently, Gary and pals have figured out that the alien warrior is attracted to heat and armed conflict (he name drops places like Iwo Jima and Cambodia, which automatically makes me want to see a movie about the Predator fighting kamikaze pilots and the Khmer Rogue) and also, we learn that the Predator is a pretty big fan of eating raw beef (a weird thing, I know, but I always wondered what the Predator normally eats) so they decided to stake out a local meat locker and send in the Predator capturing death squad. They THINK they know how to take advantage of his heat vision weakness (how Busey knows this, however, is never really explained) but LOLOOPS! The Predator can apparently use all kinds of different light spectrums to see shit, and it's not too long before he's picking off gubberment storm troopers left and right. Oddly enough, Danny manages to wound the Predator pretty good in an ensuing gunfight, only for Busey to come in before he can head shot that crag-faced motherfucker and attempt to freeze it for "science." Predator responds as you'd assume he'd respond - by pulling out a giant saw blade and bifurcating Gary right at the pelvis. Bonus points for the callback to the original, when the Danny finally sees the Predator unmasked and the Predator calls himself "one ugly motherfucker." Actually, that's kind of an annoying plot device throughout the movie, with the Predator just randomly saying things he's heard other people throughout the film utter. I mean, does anyone think it is eerie or intimidating to hear a giant crab monster with dreadlocks sputter "shit happens?" or "want some candy?" before ripping a dude's spinal cord out?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure they just borrowed a few corpses off the set of Hellraiser II and expected none of us to be the wiser.

And now we've hit our 20-minute footrace to the finale, and yeah, the movie REALLY falls apart here. So Glover calls Predator "pussy face" and they fight on top of a roof and the Predator tries to turn on his arm detonator so Danny grabs a Predator razor-disc and hacks his hand off. Then he chases him through an apartment complex, where the Predator makes Jell-O healing paste out of stucco and he makes a woman holding a broom and watching Jeopardy! piss her undergarments and she tells Glover "I don't think he gives a shit" when he reveals himself to be a cop. Yeah ... the "humor" in this one needed some work. 

The climactic battle inside the Predator's subterranean spaceship is a pretty big disappointment. It's cool getting to look at all of the trophy skulls all over the place (shit, watching Glover look legitimately confused by the xenomorph and dinosaur bones all over the place might just be the best scene in the entire movie), but the final battle between Danny and the Predator is just woefully uneventful. Watching all of the other Predators teleport in to retrieve their fallen comrade is a nice touch, but that whole subplot about the gun from 1715 is just WAY too enigmatic to allot for a satisfying conclusion. Oh, and in case you're wondering what all that shit is about, apparently, it's a gun that belonged to a pirate a Predator once fought in a comic book. Yeah, what a bang-up job they did explaining that one, eh?

And so, the spaceship flies off and Danny emerges covered in soot from the underground chambers. His police chief yells at him, and he doesn't really say anything because fuck, who would believe him, right? And that's precisely how the movie ends - no sequel hook, no callback to the original, nothing. It's just one cop getting chewed out by another cop in the dirt - basically, the shittiest way to end a movie like this imaginable.

Get it? Because Jamaicans have dreadlocks and the Predator has dreadlocks, too? Golly gee, these Hollywood writer types sure are insightful.

In that, there's no mystery why people tend to look back on Predator 2 as a disappointment. After all, the movie's third act is so rushed and underwhelming that you kinda' forget about how good the first two acts were. So basically, you have a movie that does a REALLY good job of building up the story and characters for the first hour, and then the thing hops the train tracks in the last thirty minutes when it comes time to turn all that mounting tension into kinetic energy

I think the suits at 20th Century Fox really misjudged the audience for this one. I reckon they THOUGHT people wanted a grim and gritty, Robocop-esque blood and guts-filled action comedy, but what people who loved the first Predator really wanted was some exposition on the monster mythos. Just where do the Predators come from and what's their motivation for yanking dudes' heads off? How old do they live and how LONG have they been in contact with humanity? Are they planning some sort of alien invasion of Earth at some point, or are they just the intergalactic equivalent of big game hunters? What's general Predator society like? Clearly, they are an advanced life-form, considering their technology, so why do they just cruise around the galaxy trying to pick fights with military musclemen and cops that say the "f-word" a lot? Does Predator World have hospitals and schools and grocery stores? We all know what kind of tech they created for killing shit, but what does their day-to-day technology resemble? 

Y'see, Fox created a really, really intriguing monster with the Predator, which unlike something like the bugs from Aliens or Jason Voorhees, actually has some sort of high-grade intellectual quality. Since they've mastered intergalactic transportation, clearly, they're much, much smarter than us as a species. Well, audiences want to know how they got so smart, and really, exploring the Predator civilization would've have lent itself to a more enjoyable cinematic romp than what was tantamount to "Predator Meets The Black Dude from Lethal Weapon." Now, I haven't seen Predators yet, so maybe that kinda leans more in that direction; as is, though, Predator 2's greatest flaw is giving us all the questions we don't care about with absolutely none of the answers long plaguing us since the first flick came out. 

Now, all of that said, I still think Predator 2 is a pretty fun and moderately underrated movie. Like Robocop 2, it's one of those movies that resides in that weird pop cultural vacuum that's not quite the 1980s but not really the 1990s, either. The cinematography is really good, the ensemble cast is decent (or, as decent as they had to be) and the special effects were rather memorable, especially all of that high-tech Predator weaponry designed to kill people by getting as much blood out of 'em in two seconds as humanly possible. It's a far, far cry from the intrinsic greatness of the first movie, but for what it's worth, it isn't a bad little side story spun off from the main series arc. And lest you haters forget: it WAS responsible for inspiring a pretty awesome isometric Sega Genesis game, which in my eyes, MORE than justifies the totality of the film's existence.

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