When it comes to sequels there’s always one major problem which comes from them: Being compared with the original. It’s a sequel’s task to continue the story while not betraying the original vision, overstepping boundaries, but also escalating what came before without going too far or feeling inferior to the original.
Why is this being brought up? It seems to be these comparisons which are ultimately the cause of the stigmata surrounding this film. It doesn’t contain enough one liners, it shifts the genre away from what came before, it feels like a step down from what we previously saw. However, the question remains, is it actually a bad movie? Or is it simply overshadowed by the smash hit of its predecessor?
It’s the summer of 1997 in Los Angeles. Amid growing gang warfare between drug cartels, the already stretched thin police are seen to be outgunned and outnumbered at every turn. More pressingly, one specific cop is faced with a mystery. Lieutenant Mitchel Harrigan witnesses a semi-invisible figure slaughter a room full of heavily armed Columbians, seemingly with no bullets. Similar killings follow, and with the feds seemingly trying to block out all access to such crime scenes, it’s obvious something very dangerous is lurking within the city…
The really odd thing about this film is that it actually does the right thing for the most part. After the massive success of the original, it’s obvious from looking at this the filmmakers did not want to alienate audiences by changing too much. However, at the same time they did not want to simply rehash the original film, and as a result did try to change up a good number of elements. Some were entirely new, others were built upon what we had seen last time.
The move from a jungle environment to a city is the obvious big change, providing very different environments to the first film. There are far more vehicles, far more people and far more risks the alien has to take. In many ways it both escalates and diminishes what we saw last time. Whereas Harrigan’s lot are nowhere near as heavily armed as Special Forces, the gangs themselves are far better armed than the guerrillas of the first film. No one has a minigun, but most are armed with something better than a beat up Kalashnikov. We do see this coming into play at times. Whereas Predator only had the alien hunting the Special Forces, picking them off one by one, the villain here takes on groups at a time quite happily. Pulling off both a few Arkham Asylum style stealth strikes to panic mobs and displaying at least one weapon designed to bring down plenty of people at once.
What’s more is that in many respects Harrigan himself is shown to be a very different hero, but definitely no worse than Dutch (Arnie if you don’t remember the character). He’s shown to be quick thinking, skilled at arms and quickly adapts to his situations. While he doesn’t have Dutch’s training or equipment, he none the less manages to keep up and piece things together despite the feds constantly hounding him. He doesn’t have quite so much time to prepare or research his foe, but acts much quicker when confronted with new situations. They're distinct in their differing strengths, but don't feel like one is superior to the other.
Unfortunately, besides Lambert (Bill Paxton), few to none of the other characters are memorable with some coming across as quite generic. We don’t have many scenes to flesh out their dynamic or recognisable lines early on to establish their connections to one another. There’s nothing like the helicopter scene (“sexual tyrannosaur” line and all) from the first film or slow moments primarily devoted really flesh them out. The ones that there are, are not as well handled and rely much more heavily upon cop clichés. Sure the original might have had plenty of its own, but it managed to put a new spin of sorts on them.
Here? There’s more “You’re a cop on the edge, I’ll have your badge!” moments than I can really count. A lot of opportunities were squandered, as the feds are proving to be quite intelligent and what little we see outside of their interactions with Harrigan are interesting. They’re after the alien of course, but they’ve obviously had information from the first film and are trying to make use of that. When they fail, it’s not because they’re dumb, it’s largely due to unforeseen developments.
Predator 2’s problem really is that structurally it resembles its predecessor too much. The entire first half repeats the heroes having to try and understand their foe, but it’s not as well handled as the original. While it keeps a strong pace, too much of what it tries to use to stand out is either inferior to the original or consists of some tired clichés. It does manage to hold your attention, but you’re really waiting until the characters catch up with what everyone who watched the original film knows.
The second half where it breaks away from that and is much more action orientated is by far the stronger half. Along with great action which makes good use of the artificial environments, the fights keep a good balance between foes without either looking weak. The chase between Harrigan and the alien is tense, well developed and proves to have great payoff. Speaking personally, it might even edge out the final act to the original Predator in terms of quality.
So overall? A decent film if a flawed one. Much of what made the original work is kept, with even Kevin Peter Hall returning in the Predator suit, and it’s well shot. Many scenes do all they can to take advantage of the much more controlled environment for filming, leading to a number of great moments. If you’re willing to stay through the okay first half, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic second. Definitely give it a look if you have the time.