Series Note: Although this is a sequel, it's not strictly necessary to watch this film after the first. I almost always to prefer to watch film series in order, but as the Predator films are not constructed as chapters in a novel, there may be some advantage to watching Predator 2 first--namely that the Predator itself is explained much better in this film, so it might help viewers fill out unstated backstory for the first film.
Set in a "future" 1997 (the film was released in 1990), we're shown a Los Angeles suffering from both a mounting heat wave and mounting anarchy. Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) is a rule-breaking, short-tempered downtown cop. He works closely with Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades), Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso) and recent transfer Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton), all eccentrics in their own way, and all but Danny equally rule-breaking. The film begins with a Colombian drug gang engaging in a shoot-out with the cops. The police finally manage to defensively drive them into a building, but when they at last converge on the gang, it seems that somebody, or something, else has finished the job for the police. More drug gangs are attacked, and it seems as if there may be some kind of vigilante on the loose. But when a secretive government task squad, headed by Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), enters the picture and takes increasingly odd actions, it seems that something even more bizarre may be responsible (a fact also given away by the film's title, it's relationship to the Predator series, and obvious shots involving the titular character early in the film).
For my tastes, Predator 2 is an example that breaks the supposed trend that "sequels are never as good as their predecessors". I think Predator 2 is a brilliant film, better than the first film by two points. This one is a 10 out of 10 for me.
Let's get the more obvious comments out of the way first. As a horror and sci-fi leaning crime actioner, director Stephen Hopkins and writers Jim and John Thomas have created a fast-paced, exciting, visceral film. This is a story set against burgeoning anarchy and chaos is a gang-filled urban environment, and Hopkins appropriately never decreases the intensity of the film--we barely pause to take a breath. While that may be exhausting to some viewers, and the rapid pacing might lead some to confusion, anyone with a taste for action films should love it, plus the genre-melding is accomplished without a hitch.
The cast is quirky and excellent. Keep in mind that I have a taste for surrealism, camp, absurdism, and so on, so that makes me appreciate the acting in the film even more. I'm a big Bill Paxton fan. His performance in Predator 2 is a good example why. I also like Danny Glover a lot, and he turns in a great performance. Additionally, we have Gary Busey, one of the odder actors in Hollywood (just watch his comments on the DVD extras)--a fact that to me always pleasantly comes through in his characters, and the incomparable Morton Downey, Jr., basically playing his "real life" television talk show personality, is even present as a "guerilla" journalist.
The music, special effects and every other technical aspect are also excellent.
But what makes this film even better is the brilliance beneath the obvious aspects. The Predator, because of his goals, is usually unseen, hidden or camouflaged in his unique way, and most of the time he's watching others. Thus, Hopkins permeates the film with images of voyeurism, hidden views, reflections, veiled appearances, and so on. There are tens of brilliant shots through windows and/or showing our primary visuals through reflections. The heat, which not only amps up the chaotic atmosphere of the film, also enables Hopkins to make everyone sweaty throughout most of the film. The sweat creates reflections. There is the regular presence of the media covering the story, being voyeurs on the film's action. Sometimes we see things through their cameras. There are a lot of televisions and computer screens throughout the film. There is a subtle theme of voyeurism via public display of personal snapshots. We become literal voyeurs, in the sexual sense, by watching the film for one brief scene. The L.A. police become voyeurs of the task force's actions. During the subway scene, much of the action becomes hidden because of a marvelous strobe light effect. I wouldn't doubt that if we watched the film with only this aspect in mind, we would probably find it present in some way in every scene, in nearly every shot.
I know this film is sometimes panned, but it would be undeserved. It may be a case of the film being too hip for the room. In any event, you shouldn't miss Predator 2.