Flashback: ‘Predator 2’

The ultimate hunter returned to cinema screens in 1990’s first ‘Predator’ sequel…

Predator 2 a

On the hunt: a new Predator stalks L.A. in ‘Predator 2’ (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton

Directed by:  Stephen Hopkins / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

As gang warfare rages in the heat-soaked city of Los Angeles, LAPD cop Mike Hannigan, investigating a series of bizarre murders, discovers a new threat in the form of a lethal alien, hunting humans for sport…

Retrospective/review

With the popularity of John McTiernan’s Predator it was only a matter of time before a sequel would surface, and so it did, in 1990 with Predator 2 – directed by Stephen Hopkins.  An enjoyable, albeit inferior, follow-up to Predator, Hopkins and returning writers Jim & John Thomas help to deliver an entertaining science fiction action blockbuster.

Moving the action from the isolated jungles of Central America to the chaotic urban jungle of Los Angeles in the, then, not too distant future of 1997, Predator 2 creates the perfect environment for the creature to hunt, where the L.A. police are locked in an unrelenting conflict as they engage in street wars with Colombian gangs and Jamaican crime lords during an oppressive heatwave that not only adds to tensions but further drives the Predator’s thirst for the hunt.  It’s a decent idea that works rather well, altering the setting to keep things interesting yet retaining those key atmospheric elements at the core of Predator, the sense of comforting familiarity enhanced by the return of Alan Silvestri as composer of the film’s music score.

Predator 2 b

Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Hannigan (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Leading the cast is Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover in an enjoyably energetic performance as no-nonsense police lieutenant Mike Hannigan who, whilst not as muscular as Arnold Schwarzenegger (looming production on Terminator 2 preventing the Austrian Oak’s participation) certainly holds his own in the action scenes of Predator 2.  Supporting Glover is Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso (The Running Man) and a wonderfully enthusiastic Bill Paxton (Aliens’ Private Hudson) as fellow L.A. cops Archuleta, Cantrell and Lambert, respectively as well as Kent McCord as their captain.  Gary Busey brings antagonism into the fray as the shady Peter Keyes, as Hannigan learns that the true perpetrator of a wave of gang murders is not from this world.

Although it doesn’t feel as new and exciting as Predator and is in some ways less suspenseful with its slightly less mysterious and faster paced approach (and the portrayal of the Jamaican criminals at times a little silly), there’s still a lot to enjoy about Predator 2, not in the least in its action – including a deadly subway train encounter with the Predator, the inventive slaughterhouse battle with the creature as Keys and his team attempt to capture it and the apartment building/rooftop chase which leads to a climactic finale aboard the Predator’s ship.  It’s all staged capably by director Hopkins who keeps things intense and engaging.

With some tweaks and refinements to the creature’s appearance, this Predator (once again played by Kevin Peter Hall) is subtly unique from the previous one and its expanded array of gear, including a staff and spinning disc make it more even more formidable.  Predator 2 also contains a neat little Easter egg for fans of both of 20th Century Fox’s SF creature franchises with the skull of a xenomorph displayed amongst the Predator’s trophies – leading to numerous Alien vs Predator comic books, novels, video games and a pair of not-so-great films.  Although it may not be as worthy a successor as Aliens was to Alien, Predator 2 does enough creatively to set it apart from the original film and with some solid and well-executed action sequences it provides a good measure of entertainment.

Geek fact!  Gary Busey’s son, Jake, known mainly for his role in Starship Troopers, appears in 2018 sequel The Predator as the son of Busey’s character in Predator 2.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Advertisements

It’s a Classic: ‘Predator’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“If it bleeds, we can kill it”

Predator a

A deadly foe – the technologically advanced and lethal hunter of ‘Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1987 

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by:  John McTiernan / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

An elite special forces unit find themselves being hunted by a deadly creature in the jungles of Central America…

In review:  why it’s a classic

An adrenaline induced and suspenseful science fiction actioner, Predator is the first – and indisputably best – entry in what would become 20th Century Fox’s other iconic SF creature franchise.  With a cast lead by action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John McTiernan (who would helm another classic the following year – Die Hard), Predator is highly entertaining.

The set-up is simple: a crack military team are sent into the guerrilla-infested jungles of Central America on a mission to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter.  Discovering the skinned bodies of their comrades, the team soon find themselves in a fight for survival as an alien creature, which collects the skulls of its victims as trophies, begins hunting them down.  The execution is superb, writers Jim & John Thomas, together with the cast, provide a troupe of tough but likeable characters:  team leader ‘Dutch’ is played assuredly by Schwarzenegger (quickly reaching the height of his superstardom at this point), ably supported by Carl Weathers as Dillon, a former colleague turned-CIA man with the roster filled out by Bill Duke as ‘Mac’, Jesse Ventura as Blaine, the late Sonny Landham as Billy, Richard Chaves as Poncho and Shane Black – future writer and director of 2018’s The Predator (and who also provided uncredited contributions to the script for Predator) stars as Hawkins.  Caught up in the terror is Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, a captured guerrilla who joins Dutch and his unit as they attempt to reach extraction.

Predator b

Action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the cast of ‘Predator’ as ‘Dutch’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

John McTiernan directs with confidence and skill, delivering scintillating and satisfying action.  Yet it’s the slowly unwinding element of suspense that makes Predator so engrossing, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, time is taken for events to unfold creating an increasing sense of unease.  The unrelenting heat of the jungle coupled with the conflict fermented by the interference of Weathers’ Dillon adds further to the tension.

Of course, Predator is nothing without its central threat and the Predator itself – created by the legendary Stan Winston and his studio (saving the production after a failed, laughably bad and unconvincing prototype was abandoned) – is as unique and memorable as the Xenomorphs of Alien and Aliens, remaining incredibly formidable and one of the greatest and most iconic creature designs in the history of film.  Just as Predator unfolds at a steady pace, the appearance of the lethal 7 foot-plus and muscular extra-terrestrial (played by Kevin Peter Hall), masked and equipped with an invisibility cloak, shoulder laser, razor sharp gauntlet blades and heat vision sensor is slowly revealed – the final unmasking saved until its climactic one on one showdown with Dutch in an exciting and rewarding finale.

Alan Silvestri’s thrumming, atmospheric and intense music score proves the perfect accompaniment to a true genre classic that would spawn numerous sequels, comic books, novels, video games and slews of merchandise that add up to a pop culture phenomenon.

Standout moment

After storming the guerrilla camp, Dutch and his team prepare to depart and head for extraction.  As Hawkins shares a joke with Billy, unbeknown to them someone, or something is observing…

Geek fact!

Martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally brought in to play the Predator and participated in test-shoots before the initial creature design was abandoned.

If you like this then check out…

Alien : 20th Century Fox’s original lethal extra-terrestrial makes its debut in Ridley Scott’s equally suspenseful masterpiece.

The Terminator : Arnold Schwarzenegger plays another kind of hunter as the deadly time travelling cyborg in James Cameron’s landmark science fiction thriller.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Terminator Genisys’ (spoiler free)

He always said he’d be back…

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney

Directed by:  Alan Taylor / Written by:  Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

In a war torn future where machines are intent on humanity’s extinction, resistance leader John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah.  On his arrival, Reese discovers that the past is not exactly as he was told it would be…

In review

Like Arnie himself, the Terminator franchise refuses to stay inactive.  Whilst James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are considered to be solid cinematic masterpieces, subsequent Cameron-less installments Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation were found to be, well, lacking.  Now arrives Terminator Genisys and with it the hopes of reinvigorating a beloved and valuable Hollywood property.

Despite the torrent of negative opinion that has preceded the film’s release, Terminator Genisys is actually a fun, exciting and visually impressive science fiction blockbuster that is appreciably superior to Rise of the Machines and Salvation.  Employing the Terminator franchise’s time travel concepts to good effect, Genisys serves as part sequel/part reboot as it takes its lead from Cameron’s films and creates a divergent timeline (a la J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) where new stories can be told – “the future’s not set” as we were told in T2.  It’s a device that also allows for some nifty twists and turns, some of which have sadly been spoiled in the film’s marketing (and diminishing the impact of one particular plot element).

Whilst Terminator Genisys doesn’t hit the heights of T1 or T2 (nor would it ever have hoped or expected to be), for those prepared to go in with an open mind and realistic expectations, there’s still much to enjoy.  Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his most iconic role as the T-800 model Terminator, much as you remember him from those previous outings – stoic, resourceful and armed to the tooth.  Affectionately nicknamed “Pops”, there’s subtle hints of warmth seeping from inside that cold metal exoskeleton as Arnie’s reprogrammed T-800 plays surrogate father and protector to Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor.  It’s not quite as resonant as the relationship we saw played out in T2 but helps establish the emotional core of Genisys.

Given the overly dour tone of Terminator Salvation, Genisys opts to incorporate a fair amount of humour that for the most part succeeds – not as well balanced as Judgment Day but, bar the odd moment, is less jarring than some of the silliness of Rise of the Machines.

Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke presents a version of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor that is somewhere between that of T1 and T2, melding elements of youthful naivety with that of battle hardened resistance fighter – allowing for some good interplay with Arnie’s “old, not obsolete” cyborg.  Jai Courtney (unfortunate to have made his Hollywood break in the abysmal A Good Day to Die Hard) is surprisingly decent in the role of Kyle Reese, although lacking the grit and intensity of Michael Biehn’s turn in The Terminator (and the “special edition” cut of T2) it’s a take that feels appropriate in Genisys.

Jason Clarke is afforded the opportunity to add new layers to resistance leader John Connor, whilst also conveying the familiar weariness and determination we’ve seen previously.  There’s also another enjoyably creepy and haunting interpretation of the liquid metal T-1000, brought to life this time by South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee.  Sadly, J.K. Simmons is given little to chew on in a semi-comedic role as a washed out L.A. cop and Dayo Okeniyi’s Danny Dyson isn’t given much presence either.  The same could have also been said for Doctor Who’s Matt Smith (credited as Matthew Smith), yet his role carries more significance.

Aided by a lavish production budget, director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) delivers some excellent CGI-infused blockbuster set-pieces in Terminator Genisys, from the opening future war battles of Los Angeles 2029 to the climactic showdown in San Francisco – it’s all as explosive and frenetic as today’s audiences would expect but never verges on nauseating.  It’s also laudable that Taylor stages recreations of key moments of Cameron’s The Terminator with skill and reverence and coupled with references to Terminator lore peppered throughout there’s plenty for fans to be geeky about.

The bottom line:  Terminator Genisys is a decent stab at reinvigorating a beloved, albeit creatively mixed, franchise.  It’s as fun and exciting as a modern Terminator film could hope to be and is well worth a look.

Terminator Genisys is in cinemas now.

Back for more: Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in the enjoyable 'Terminator Genisys'.

Back for more: Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in the enjoyable ‘Terminator Genisys’.

Film Review: ‘The Expendables 3’

Out with the old and in with the new?

Year:  2014

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz

Directed by: Patrick Hughes / Written by: Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

After disbanding his original crew, Barney Ross recruits new blood for a new Expendables team with a mission to take down notorious arms trader and former Expendable, Conrad Stonebanks…

In review

Following comeback hits Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), legendary action star Sylvester Stallone returned yet again in 2010 with The Expendables, the first instalment in an ambitious, ludicrous, yet highly entertaining and successful action film franchise.  With the series, Stallone has sought to unite the biggest cast of iconic action stars of yesteryear (with newer faces such as Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) in a no-nonsense mashup of the plethora of mindless popcorn action flicks of the 1980s and 1990s.

Stallone succeeded and healthy box office returns secured the production of 2012’s even bigger, more ridiculous The Expendables 2 another enjoyable and financially successful hit that guaranteed audiences a second sequel.  Unfortunately the release of last summer’s The Expendables 3 proved less successful reflected by more modest box office takings and lukewarm opinion.  Yet, the film still offers plenty of entertainment value if you’re willing to forego its underlying flaws (more on that shortly).

The Expendables 3 opens with the ‘rescue’ of Wesley Snipes’ ‘Doc’ from a heavily guarded train in an exciting and adrenalin fuelled opening sequence.  From there, Doc joins Ross, Lee Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the Expendables on a mission to prevent the completion of an arms deal in Somalia.  Events go awry as Ross is shocked to find that the arms dealer is the corrupt former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson) and an ensuing battle results in the severe injury of Caesar (Crews).  This leads to Ross disbanding his regular crew in favour of recruiting new, younger, teammates with a mission to stop Stonebanks at all costs.

With the casting of The Expendables 3, Stallone has outdone himself once again with Harrison Ford (as CIA man Max Drummer, replacing Bruce Willis’s ‘Mr. Church’), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammar joining the established troupe.  The true coup though is Mel Gibson as Stonebanks, who succeeds previous Expendables villains portrayed by Eric Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme.  Gibson manages to deftly straddle the fine line between ridiculous and captivating in a manic performance that is one of the film’s biggest draws.

The flaws of The Expendables 3 arise from a misjudged attempt to draw in a wider audience with the reduced certification allowing younger viewers to participate.  The injection of ‘new blood’ (including MMA star Ronda Rousey) is not necessarily an unwelcome addition, however it’s when the focus of The Expendables 3 shifts to those new characters that you may find yourself yearning for the return of Statham, Couture et al (luckily it’s not long before they do).  At the end of the day The Expendables should not pander to commercial sensibility and recognise that it’s those who grew up on a healthy diet of the films of the likes of Messrs. Stallone and Schwarzenegger that will get the most enjoyment out of it.

With the reduced certificate in mind, the violence of The Expendables 3 is a little softer and slightly reduces the film’s edge, yet despite this the body count remains high and the action sequences are as explosive and exciting as the previous entries.  Director Patrick Hughes skilfully stages the numerous, huge, action sequences from the afore-mentioned opening scene and the subsequent mission in Somalia through to the bullet-ridden, knife-thrusting and tank-laden final battle.  It’s a shame however that the inevitable face-off between Ross and Stonebanks feels a little tame, lacking the punch of Stallone’s bout with Jean-Calude Van Damme in The Expendables 2 – maybe a victim of the reduced certificate?

The film’s script is perfectly adequate and has the expected mix of drama, cheesy dialogue and laughs that made the first two Expendables the enjoyable guilty pleasures that they are and quite rightly, The Expendables 3 finds the time to poke fun at itself and its cast with zany turns from Banderas and Gibson woven between reference to Snipes’ Tax evasion troubles and another of Schwarzenegger’s iconic quotes.

The bottom line:  The Expendables 3 is simple, effective entertainment that despite its weaker elements still manages to be as fun and as action packed as previous outings.

The Expendables 3 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in 'The Expendables 3'.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in ‘The Expendables 3’.

Terminator 5…really?

He always said he’d be back…

The long mooted Terminator 5 is moving ahead with Arnold Schwarzenegger poised to return as our favourite killer cyborg.  But, I have to ask, should there be a fifth Terminator film?

Firstly, I am a huge fan of the Terminator franchise in general (and enjoy a good Arnie film as much as anyone), James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day rate highly amongst some of my all-time favourite films and I really enjoyed the overlooked short-lived small screen spin-off Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had its moments and is generally entertaining but just wasn’t the same (imagine if Cameron had done a third film) but director McG’s Terminator Salvation totally missed the mark, promising a lot but delivering very little resulting in an uncertain and convoluted mess.  That was it for me, I was content to let the franchise retire, be nostalgic and relive happy memories by periodically revisiting T1 and T2.

Cue Arnie’s return to Hollywood following the conclusion of his political career and I doubt few were surprised that Terminator 5 was one of the first (if not THE first) projects being discussed.  The production rights to the franchise were secured by Annapurna Pictures with Fast & Furious director Justin Lin attached, only for him to subsequently drop out due to his commitments to Fast & Furious 6.

It seemed that T5 would languish in development hell but now news has emerged that Paramount Pictures are in talks to acquire distribution rights and it looks like the project is (more or less) set to go again with sights set on a January start date for production.

I’m glad that Arnie is back in town, his role in The Expendables 2 was fun (if a little cringe inducing at times) and The Last Stand showed potential.  Having grown up spending many late Saturday nights watching and loving his films (and I still do), it’s like welcoming back an old friend.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing him team up with pal (and once box office rival) Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 3 and the forthcoming Escape Plan and not even his age is really an issue so far as T5 is concerned (the wonders of modern digital effects – just look at what was accomplished in Tron Legacy with the post de-ageing of Jeff Bridges), it’s the fact that if T3 triggered a decline in the quality of the Terminator films then Terminator Salvation damn well secured it.  What if T5 is another ill-conceived embarrassment?  Is it really worth the risk of building up the hopes of audiences?  I appreciate it’s too early to tell but I’m not confident that it is, I’d love to be proven wrong and nothing would please me more than to report that Terminator is back on form but I’d sooner see Arnie move on to other (hopefully great) things and let be what once was (unless James Cameron fancies another crack).

What are your thoughts on Terminator 5?  Leave a comment below!

Terminator-2-judgement-day