I was 8 years old when I first saw Predator. My dad was good like that. He had no problem with me and my sister watching various classic actioners as long as we didn’t tell mum. He was fine with me dealing with the violence – he’d just insist that blood and gore was nothing more ‘strawberry jam’, thus negating the horror.
But, unlike Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Robocop or Commando, Predator was scary. Really, really scary. Alan Silvestri’s score and the sense of foreboding John McTiernan expertly crafted scared the living hell out of me and my sister. But we loved it. We’d never experienced anything like it.
When you’re a kid, you tend to think all movies are equal. It’s only when you get older that you find out the Ewoks were a cynical toy-selling ploy, or that Rocky IV was just a collection of MTV-style music videos.
But if there’s one film that I continue to stand up for with some passion, it’s Predator 2.
Predator took the horror tropes of Alien and mixed in 80s action movie machismo, following a fairly standard horror format, so it would have been the easy option to effectively remake the movie with a new cast. Fortunately, Predator 2 did what many 80s and 90s cash-in sequels couldn’t – it built on the mythos while still being an eminently quotable, familiar sequel – and hugely entertaining.
The plot beats of Aliens are undeniably similar, and the casting of Bill Paxton no coincidence. It’s an extremely strong cast, from 80s stalwart Robert Davi to the maniacal Gary Busey. Even the unlikely lead, Danny Glover, who was largely known for being too old for this shit in Lethal Weapon, made a surprisingly decent action star.
The presence of Busey’s government spook Peter Keyes sets up a bigger picture, one that the studio perhaps failed to deliver on afterwards. Initially a role designed for Arnie, when the Austrian Oak refused to return, it was rewritten. It’s a role that helps give the Predator backstory, but without showing too much – a deft move by writer John Thomas, who had worked on the first movie’s script. If only he’d been given a chance to write the third…
2010’s Predators shunned Predator 2, and to this day I do not understand why, although I like Predators, more than I think I should. Its lack of respect for the events of the other sequel made no sense to me, and it was more a remake than a sequel.
Being set on another planet was interesting, and the faux-Silvestri score and jungle setting were both fun to experience again. But the story left the premise so well set up by Predator 2 with no place else to go.
Like Glover, Adrien Brody seemed like an odd choice for the lead, but it soon made a lot of sense – his intensity (and surprisingly muscular physique) was essential in selling Predators. A quipping action star wouldn’t have elevated the material. Brody absolutely did. His “No… but I am fast” is even more rewarding than ‘Ain’t got time to bleed’.
But then, sadly, there’s the Larry Fishburne cameo.
A role intended for Arnie (much like the Keyes role was in Predator 2), what we ended up with was more expanded waistline than universe, as the portly Fishburne cut an unconvincing figure, apparently eking out a life on scraps and steak tartare while chewing high calorie scenery.
For a film that takes itself admirably seriously, Fishburne hams it up. Admittedly that’s become his schtick recently (see: John Wick 2), but here it was an unwelcome diversion from a story that was developing nicely until he stepped into the picture.
Shane Black has revealed that Predator 2 will be acknowledged, and that Predators does remain in continuity, although it takes place after his movie (an ironic kick in the teeth for a movie that treated the previous sequel with disdain). My sister and I will get a huge kick out of Royce and co. being referenced somehow, but we don’t expect it. More than that, we hope that Black expands on the universe in a satisfying way, while remaining true to the atmosphere of the Predator franchise.
Only then will we have us some fun once more.