Predator 2 is the rare instance in which a sequel does everything a good sequel has to do. And no, this isn't one of my random rants defending a sequel you might find questionable (such as the occasional proclamations of love for RoboCop 2 you'll find on my Twitter account). I think Predator 2 is a genuinely great sequel. That's not to say it surpasses John McTiernan's 1987 film with Arnold Schwarzenegger – a creature feature/action film I hold in high regard. But Predator 2 gets the job done and is an interesting paradigm of the action genre's shift from '80s tropes into the '90s. It is also the last best representation of the intergalactic hunter with the funky mouth until Predators came along 20 years later (seriously, screw those Alien vs. Predator films).
Released in 1990 and set 10 years after Predator in the "near future" of 1997, for no other reason that I can see than to put some distance between the events of the films, Predator 2 finds a young, brash show-off of a Predator infiltrating the violent drug wars of Los Angeles during an incredibly hot time of year. This urban backdrop is ideal for the sequel and a natural evolution for the series. To bring the story back to the jungle would be tremendously derivative and a bore. The Predator needed new grounds to traverse and the big city was a perfect fit. (It's reportedly one of the reasons Schwarzenegger passed on the opportunity to return – the actor thought relocating the action to the city was a bad idea.)
"Future" L.A. is hardly extreme on an aesthetic level. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I think director Stephen Hopkins did well not to make the film look too futuristic. 1997 Los Angeles isn't depicted with cool gadgets or outlandish sci-fi tropes. It simply takes a digestable "same as it ever was" approach. The cars haven't changed. The guns are familiar. The buildings are no different. The clothes are a bit outdated, however (if anything, Predator 2 shares the "high-waisted pants are the style of the future" approach that Her took…weird). Here, shades of "the future," more or less, are seen outside of the Los Angeles Police Department which features a curbside cement blockade with barbed wire strewn across the sidewalk – a reaction to the heightened violence in the city. Also, the writers – Jim and John Thomas (of the first Predator) – have said they used the future scenario to justify a Predator attack scene featured in a subway (the Metro Rail in L.A. was just getting its start in '90).
What Predator 2 also wisely does is subvert the audience's perception of the action hero (something we'd get a lot more of in the '90s). In Predator, Schwarzenegger's Dutch is a larger than life human being who meets his match in something not of this earth. Predator 2 consciously attempts to eschew the machismo of the first film by giving us Danny Glover's Lieutenant Mike Harrigan. With his sharp widow's peak and consistently sweaty appearance, what Harrigan lacks in brawn he more than makes up for in attitude and wits. His sometimes abrasive confidence and determination proves to be a perfect match against the Predator. When we first meet Harrigan, it's in an epic gun battle between the L.A. police and a gang. The police are held at bay and can't establish a new line of defense until Harrigan creates one by driving his car into the thick of the confrontation, allowing the police to advance and drive the gang members inside a nearby building (where they're later slaughtered by the Predator).
The Thomas brothers established Harrigan in a successful, heroic way and also made time to present his vulnerability (he hates heights). Furthermore, Glover enjoyably rises to the occasion as the foul-mouthed, risk-taking Harrigan, who you could say countered his turn as Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon films.
It should be mentioned that even Harrigan's team in Predator 2 contradicted the brute physicality of Dutch's posse in Predator. Instead of Jesse Ventura, we get Reuben Blades. Instead of Carl Weathers…Maria Conchita Alonso and Bill Paxton (whose wise-cracking character is perhaps more in line with Shane Black's Hawkins in Predator). They may not look imposing, yet they're an effective team. Not against the Predator, of course. Only one man is deserving of a showdown with the creature and that's Harrigan…and he proves to come out on top through that sheer determination I spoke of earlier.
There's a lot more to like about Predator 2. The filmmakers are aware the audience knows what the Predator is, so the story layers in this nice X-Files-esque mystery involving Gary Busey's Peter Keyes, a government agent trying to capture the monster. The Predator attacks are vicious and showcase his fun, new arsenal. We also learn a bit more about the Predator's hunting tactics (kids, pregnant women…OFF LIMITS, DUDE!). There's also a touch of sarcastic humor (brought to life by Morton Downey, Jr. as a trash TV reporter) that strives for RoboCop-level satire and while it doesn't quite work on the same way, it's still amusing. Plus…multiple Predators! Alien easter egg! Calvin Lockhart as King Willie! Producer Joel Silver's usual stable of character actors like Robert Davi and Steve Kahan! C'mon, folks… This all far outweighs the film's atrocious ADR ("Take that you scum-sucking dog!") and overreliance on the aforementioned Morton Downey, Jr. stuff.
Predator 2 doesn't transcend the first film, but it sure remains consistent within the world it established while giving us a lot of new stuff to chew on. I've seen a lot of hate flung at the film and, frankly, I don't get it. If it has been some time since you've seen it, I say check it out with some new eyes.