Mel Gibson and Danny Glover (and Joe Pesci…) forever!
There are rare times in cinematic history where a movie’s sequel is just as good if not better than the original. The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, and The Road Warrior come to mind but does the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover buddy cop classic Lethal Weapon 2 make the cut? I would argue that this follow-up to the original 1987 film may be the ultimate installment in the franchise.
As the 30th anniversary of its release approaches, these are the top five reasons you need to fire up your blu-ray player, charge a few bucks to your streaming service, or dust off your VCR to view a copy of Lethal Weapon 2.
5) James Bond Re-Imagined as an Action-Comedy
An international conspiracy to commit fraud and launder drug money backed by a shadowy, evil organization: Check. A ruthless villain who occupies a brutalist office with a massive fish tank: Check. An even more vicious #2 acting as his enforcer: Check. A disposable love interest but an otherwise solid supporting cast: Double Check.
Let’s face it, Lethal Weapon 2 is the street-version of a Bond film that mirrors many of the same narrative beats and characterizations. The other Lethal Weapon movies feature some rather blasé criminals: the standard drug pushers, corrupt ex-cops, and human smugglers. Two features a corrupt South African consulate staff engaged in numerous criminal enterprises in order to prop up their repressively racist government back home. That’s some SPECTRE-level fiendishness right there. Joss Ackland’s portrayal of the main villain Arjen Rudd is a perfect stand-in for Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Karl Stromberg. Replace Riggs and Murtaugh with Bond and Leiter then trade-in the jeans and beer for a martini and a tux; voila, Bond 26 “Brought Together, Torn Apart-heid”.
4) The Most Memorable Lethal Weapon Moments
The helicopter assault on Riggs’ trailer, the incredible exploding toilet, Leo Getz getting “f__ked at the drive-through” (the gag is repeated in 3 but with cell phones), Riggs’ Houdini-esque escape routine, and of course “Deeeplomehteeek Immuuuniteeeeh!” Yup, those scenes and more are all in 2 and they were all later parodied in Loaded Weapon I (1993). The series is chock-full of thrilling car chases, explosive shootouts, hilarious one-liners, and even flashes of high drama but 2’s moments resonate just a bit more after 30 years.
Two recurring gags are worth mentioning that make the sequel a more balanced action-comedy than the original but aren’t overdone like some of the material in 3 and 4: Mrs. Murtaugh’s ill-fated station wagon and that cringey condom ad. Murtaugh and Riggs are chasing the Aryan “Adam Henry’s” around in Trish Murtaugh’s brand new, wood-paneled station wagon. Every few scenes, it suffers some kind of irreparable harm. Repeated chases and crashes leads to a detached bumper, a missing windshield, a flying door or two, and naturally that exploded toilet lands on it. The gag may have been ripped off from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) but it’s still funny as hell.
The grand acting debut of Murtaugh’s oldest daughter provides a few more chuckles throughout the movie. She stars in a condom ad, which sets up the introduction to a rather festive “rubber” tree later on. Again, a similar running joke involving an embarrassed Murtaugh is repeated in 3.
3) Riggs is Still the Heart of the Series
The original Lethal Weapons introduced us to a down-and-out cop, who smoke, drank, and regularly contemplated suicide. Although the sequel traded many of these darker moments for light-hearted bickering between the leads, we get a little more background on a recovering Riggs. Old scars are ripped open with a shocking reveal in the second act and the fate of his love interest Rika cut fresh wounds. It all prompts an emotionally satisfying no-holds-barred showdown.
The emotional beats worked well in 2 but didn’t really carry through to 3 with Rika not even worth a line of dialogue as he pursues a relationship with Lorna Cole. Riggs is still hung up about his wife in 3 and 4, which seem to be the only barrier to his ultimate salvation. In more ways than one, Rika gets more of the shaft than the love in this franchise. Regardless, Riggs’ character is fleshed out a bit more in 2 as he mellows into a more stable role that turns goofier in subsequent sequels.
2) The Most Balanced of the Four Films
As briefly discussed earlier, 2 had a better balance of the various action, comedy, drama, and character elements that provided a more compelling narrative overall. The original explored some dark places with Riggs’ teetering mental health and various torture sequences that may have been too real for a portion of the summer blockbuster crowd. Going the other direction, 3 and 4 were almost family-friendly in both tone and material. Two was able to strike a delicate balance, weaving innovative action sequences and amusing back-and-forths without losing sight of character motivation while maintaining a tight story arc.
The setups and payoffs in this movie are commendable. That garish fish tank in Rudd’s office; oh that’s exploding. That nail gun that sounds like a cannon when it fires; you best believe that’s going to nail some rent-a-goons. Along with the running jokes, these writing devices are frequently used to call back to earlier material, which tends to keep the audience engaged. Basically, you’re never bored and there is something for everyone to enjoy in this late entry to 80’s blockbuster cinema.
1) The Action, Duh
The action is indeed ultimate and gets downright impressive at times. The very first scene drops you right in the middle of a high-octane chase involving multiple cars, fully auto weapons, helicopters, and a trunk full of gold. Other threads such as the creative use of pressure-activated bombs are certainly admirable. And there have been plenty of cars driving into houses, but not as many pick-ups destroying houses after they’ve been hitched up to them.
The helicopter attack on the beach has to be the most ultimate action scene in both the movie and the series in general. It’s the little brother to the famous helo-attack scene in Apocalypse Now (1979). Every conceivable camera angle captures the hail of machine gun fire and trailer destruction. If the aerial assault wasn’t enough, it becomes a shootout on the ground as Riggs provides cover fire for his and Rika’s escape to his truck. It all ends with Riggs firing his Baretta out of the driver-side window at the remaining helo and he somehow takes out the pilot.
Celebrate 30 years of wise-cracking and ass-kicking by watching Lethal Weapon 2 this summer. It’s a crowd-pleasing, action movie archetype that maintained the buddy-cop sub-genre’s appeal well into the 90s and 00s. If nothing else, it will forever shape your reaction to seeing cars driving around with diplomatic plates. Just give them a little extra room and drive defensively.
Article by Mike Culton – An action aficionado who grew up on a steady stream of 80s and 90s action movies. He drunkenly tweets movie reviews on Fridays @BuzzedMovies on Twitter and produces a series of movie reviews on films that were shot in Idaho on YouTube.
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