‘Aliens/Predator’ Universe flashback: ‘Predator 2’ (1990) is a weirdly engaging sequel (Movie review)

At first glance, “Predator 2” (1990) is the most dated of the 10 films in the “Aliens/Predator” saga. Although set in 1997 — so that it could take place a decade after “Predator,” thus establishing the concept that a Predator hunts on Earth at 10-year intervals — the fashions and hairstyles, plus one strobe-lit horror sequence on the subway, place it firmly in the year in was made.

Stephen Hopkins’ directorial style is an over-the-top, overacted smorgasbord of action and violence that seems to be a reaction to the genre in the 1980s. His cuts to “Hard Core” TV segments — parodies of sensationalistic news coverage — call to mind Paul Verhoeven’s style on “RoboCop” (1987) and “Total Recall” (1990).

That having been said, the themes of “Predator 2” are also quite timely this summer. It’s 109 degrees outside, and indeed, rarely will you find a cast that looks so consistently sweaty throughout a movie. The Predator chooses to hunt in Los Angeles because of the drug war — the violence between the Colombian and Jamaican gangs, and between the gangs and the police.

Everyone owns a gun, as demonstrated by that classic scene in the subway where gang members surround a commuter with knives, he pulls a gun out of his briefcase, the gang members pull out their own guns, and then everyone on the subway pulls out their guns. Maybe it was just a way to have the Predator slaughter more people (the species’ hunting code says that only an armed person is worthy game), but it’s also a wonderful visual statement of how society is better off when more good guys than bad guys carry guns (and, of course, know how to use them responsibly).

There’s no calm center to “Predator 2”; it’s pretty much chaos from start to finish, starting with a crazed, coke-snorting, double-fist-machine-gun-toting drug kingpin taking on the police and ending with harried cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) battling the Predator one-on-one. Despite his character’s aggressive nature, Glover provides a likeable hero (even though there’s a lingering sense of “Where’s Arnold?” Real-world answer: He was making “Terminator 2”).

Bill Paxton is a cocky newcomer to the force, Maria Conchita Alonso is also a bit of a hothead (she twists Paxton’s testicles the first time she meets him), Gary Busey is the arrogant fed who wants the Predator for its technological properties, and Adam Baldwin (later of “Firefly” fame) is Busey’s enforcer. Maybe because no one has Jesse Ventura’s Gatling gun this time, many of the actors try to steal scenes by acting big and loud.

For all of its brashness, “Predator 2” also respects and expands the mythos. The novelization by Simon Hawke — working from the screenplay by Jim and John Thomas, who also penned the first movie — includes segments where we get inside the Predator’s head and get an outsiders’ perspective on the evolution of humans as “warriors” through the millennia.

While the Predator’s thoughts aren’t conveyed on film (the best we get is smash cuts to what the Predator’s eyes see), we do get Harrigan’s memorable final-act visit to the Predator’s ship, which is parked in a tunnel under an L.A. apartment building. Harrigan defeats the Predator, and a dozen other Predators arrive on the scene not to finish off Harrigan, but to reward him with an ancient pistol for proving to be a worthy warrior. Also, as Harrigan tours the ship, he sees a xenomorph-head trophy, thus marking the first celluloid crossover between the “Alien” and “Predator” franchises, which enjoyed an explosion of crossovers in Dark Horse Comics at the same time (but it wouldn’t be until 2004 that the species would meet on the big screen).

If you can overlook “Predator 2’s” visual mis-portrayal of the year 1997, the film works as a commentary on urban violence, drugs, guns, inter-office politics and media fear-mongering. It’s no classic, but it’s entertaining if you’re in the right mood, and it’s an important piece of the wider “Aliens/Predator” mythology.

Click here for John’s reviews of all the “Aliens” and “Predator” films.