The year is 1997, it’s Thanksgiving, there’s a Predator in town with a few days to kill, and all of Los Angeles is on the menu.
Actually, while it is Thanksgiving, the year is really 1990, and Ryan and I are 11 years old, and the only movie we care about seeing on our fall break is Predator 2! And while I know that we eventually did, I can’t remember if it was in a theatre or on home video, so that my Dad could fast forward through any of the parts he deemed too risqué (it was always the nudity/sex parts). What I do remember is that Ryan had a poster hanging up in his room that featured the Predator, showcasing all of his weaponry with nifty little tidbits of information. He loved that thing. So much so that it was still hanging on his wall years later.
When the ads for the latest entry into the Predator franchise began showing up (Prey, which premiered on Hulu) they set me thinking about that fascination we had with Predator 2, and the franchise as a whole really. The first film was one we watched frequently on cable as pre-teens, and like everyone else we couldn’t get enough of the big, dumb action, the machismo, the choppa, all of i;, so we were all in on a sequel. And we kept being all in for the sequels. Reviews be damned, we went to see both Alien vs Predator films in theatres and we saw Predators, all three of which we liked, and Ryan (not me, though I’m not sure why) was beyond excited for writer/director Shane Black’s The Predator back in 2018. My brother was a huge fan of his (I was as well, to a smaller degree), going all the way back to The Monster Squad.
I thought I’d rectify that, as well as rewatch Predator 2, but as it turns out Ryan had neither. So, I’m breaking the rule of this column being devoted to my brother’s movie collection for the second time and watching a movie he didn’t own. But can you blame me? It stars Danny Glover, who was “too old for this shit” before I was even born, a post-head trauma Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, who just never gets enough credit, Ruben Blades, possibly the coolest named actor of his time, Adam Baldwin, the best of all Baldwins (because he’s not one) and the late, great Bill freaking Paxton, the only actor to be taken out by a Terminator, a Predator and an Alien (unless you believe the lies that Lance Henriksen is on that list as well, but he was only killed by two of those!). It’s also directed by Stephen Hopkins, who gave us Dream Child, Blown Away, and Judgment Night (another film and soundtrack Ryan loved). I probably hadn’t seen Predator 2 in twenty years, and I was stoked to revisit it.
Obviously, I took a glance at the credits before my rewatch, and, upon seeing the actor billed for the titular character, immediately remembered that Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator in the first film. It’s Kevin Peter Hall who replaced him then; there’s quite the lore behind all of it, including a horrible first costume if you’re inclined to go looking for it. Hall of course went on to reprise the role here.
Going a little deeper into his filmography I was stunned to see that he’d also played Harry, the sasquatch from Harry and the Hendersons. If you’ve been reading since the beginning of this column you might recall that Harry and the Hendersons was the first film my family ever owned on VHS. This man both terrified and delighted us as kids, and while I knew he had passed away I was heartbroken to read his story, discovering he’d died of AIDS after a blood transfusion in 1991. He delivered two immeasurable performances, both literally and metaphorically, as the Predator and Harry.
Going into it I would have bet a good deal of money that there was going to be some massive element to the film that I just didn’t remember. Some plot twist, or some character maybe, that blindsided me and had me rethinking everything I thought I felt about this movie. And boy would I have lost. I think maybe the only part that comes close is Bill Paxton’s showdown with the Predator on the train, and only because I didn’t remember it being so lengthy or so seizure-inducing with its flashing lights. Don’t get me wrong; it works and is maybe the most heart-pounding scene in the film. It’s disorienting as all get out, and subtly established a rule of the franchise that would more or less carry through, including into the current Marvel comics series (which is quite good); Predators don’t kill children or babies. But, that gets hammered home elsewhere in the film as well.
With my recent Alien Nation rewatch and now Predator 2, it made me a little eager to go back and rewatch even more of the sci-fi Ryan and I consumed heavily in our youth. I know things like Tremors, The Last Starfighter, and They Live have these cult following, but there were just so many that it seems like no one ever talks about. Things like Deep Star Six, Enemy Mine, Ice Pirates, D.A.R.Y.L., Leviathan, Runaway, I Come in Peace, Steel Dawn…even movies like The Wraith and Masters of the Universe, which are usually a little more commonplace. Those early ‘80s to early ‘90s sci-fi films were our bread and butter as kids, and I’m so curious how many held up or even got better.
It’s funny that the most amazing thing about rewatching Predator 2 was the fact that I remembered the entire film almost beat for beat. From Danny Glover’s opening row with the gang lords, Paxton’s all-around douchery, Blades biting it during his snooping, the weirdness that is King Willie, the chase through the apartments, the meat locker massacre, and the final showdown in the belly of the ship, I knew every bit of it. I’ve mentioned once or twice our love of sequels, specifically second films, they always seemed to have a soft spot in our hearts. So, I haven’t been able to decide if that means we watched this film entirely too much, or if it just means that it’s pretty unoriginal.
The Rotten Tomato score and the reviews from the time would have you thinking it’s the latter, but really, my heart tells me we just watched it too much. I don’t think this movie deserves the low reputation it’s gotten at all, though it isn’t nearly as maligned as the AvP spin-offs. There isn’t much to add to the premise of “alien shows up somewhere, hunts people for sport, person tries to stop them.” That’s what a Predator film is supposed to be, and while it may be a tad unbelievable that Danny Glover is the dude that survives and all the military hot heads that bite it, it’s such a perfect contrast to the first film that I cannot help but nod my head and smile.
I’ll never come close to being one of those military guys, but almost daily I feel like Danny Glover. Just scrapping and fighting my way through all of the crap that life continues to throw at me. Wondering if it’s all just a coincidence or if there actually is some malevolent force at work. Haunted and hunted by this invisible thing that I can never quite defeat. Sure, it’s not some alien from outer space, just good old anxiety and depression, but if I had to put a face on them the Predator’s is as good as any.