For years, I heard that Lethal Weapon 2 was an excellent sequel that stacks up nicely to the original film. I put off watching it for a long time so as to savor the anticipation of seeing it. When I finally got around to seeing it, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the experience. The weird thing is that I didn’t find the film to be terribly boring or bad. I just felt like I had seen it many times before.
Lethal Weapon 2 did such a good job being sleek, paying off everything it sets up, and being an all-around solid sequel that it wound up being parodied, copied, and recycled in numerous ways. It’s so ubiquitous that I have trouble thinking of clear examples of other films that follow its formula, but it just seems like so many other action films have borrowed heavily from this film. The following things didn’t necessarily originate with this film, but their presence in this film makes it feel like other films got some of their ideas from it:
- The love interest works for the villain and gets killed (Tomorrow Never Dies)
- Someone uses a nail gun (or something like it) in an action sequence (Casino Royale (2006), Arachnophobia, Darkman)
- An overbearing, annoying, yet endearing sidekick shows up to provide comic relief (The Fifth Element, Another Stakeout, Judge Dredd, Shrek)
- A villain claims diplomatic immunity after killing police officers (U.S. Marshals)
- The villain puts a bomb on an everyday object that the heroes manage to circumvent (Speed)
- During a chase, a car speeds onto a sidewalk, endangering pedestrians (The Bourne Identity)
There are a lot of other things, but you hopefully get the idea. I had already seen Lethal Weapon 2 many times over by the time I finally sat down and watched it. I’m sure that me saying this sounds like I might as well be criticizing William Shakespeare’s works for being clichéd. I realize that this is the source of the clichés, much like other trendsetters like Star Wars, Rocky, and Psycho (1960). But while those movies still hold up well today and are just as effective at evoking emotions, Lethal Weapon 2 has lost a lot of its luster since it debuted in 1989.
In addition to its overall sense of “been there, done that,” here are a few other things that keep Lethal Weapon 2 from being a great film in my eyes.
The coincidence of Martin Riggs’ wife being killed by a South African bad guy is acceptable in the context of this film’s plot because it gives Riggs a reason to really hate the guy and want to seek revenge on him in particular. But I find it detrimental to Riggs’ growth as a character in the first film. It was much more interesting for Riggs to find solace through his friendship with Roger Murtaugh than resorting to the tired trope of killing his wife’s murderer to achieve catharsis. I thought he had already moved on from his wife’s murder. This sequel didn’t need to dig up the past to try to make its climax more emotional. They had already done that masterfully in the first one.
Also, I’d just like to say that Riggs acting crazy in this film never comes across as genuine the way it did in the first film. I know, he’s moved past his suicidal tendencies and it’s great to see him being more confident in the direction he’s chosen for his life. Plus, the “Eeny, meeny, miny. Hey, Moe!” line is a stroke of genius. But overall, the halfhearted attempts to remind us that Riggs is still potentially crazy fall flat. Again, I thought he had moved past that phase.
The big chase scenes at the start and in the middle of the film seem like they should be more exciting than they actually are. They come across as run-of-the-mill rather than edge-of-your-seat. Each time I watch them I keep waiting for something really thrilling to happen, but they just kind of unfold in a pretty mundane fashion. And they end so abruptly that they don’t have time to build to a natural climax.
RoboCop Did It Better
Lethal Weapon 2 has a famous ending where Murtaugh shoots the South African ambassador, claiming that his diplomatic immunity has “just been revoked.” But that doesn’t really make for a satisfying conclusion to this problem. Sure, the bad guy is dead, but at what cost? It’s still going to be an international incident. I thought the whole point of his “diplomatic immunity” trump card was that it was far too politically damaging to risk killing him. To solve it by simply shooting him and offering a funny quip feels cheap.
To see this kind of thing done masterfully, look no further than 1987’s RoboCop. Dick Jones has been lording the whole Directive 4 thing over RoboCop’s head since the two first met. RoboCop can’t kill Jones because he’s a leader of OCP. His programming forbids it, and he can’t just override it or ignore it. Thankfully, the film doesn’t cheat its way out of this dilemma, but finds a creative and satisfying solution to it that not only lets RoboCop kill the bad guy, but also strips Jones of his pride and authority just before sending him out the window of a high-rise building.
A Decent Sequel, But Nothing Moe
The problem is that Lethal Weapon 2 has all the trappings of a great ‘80s action film without actually being one. Its heroes are relatable, its villains are totally hate-able, but its appeal is unfortunately debatable. Maybe it’s the fact that it feels like a watered-down version of other better action films that is its biggest detriment. Each time I watch this film I find it has less to offer while, as Riggs might say, I just want “Moe!”
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Hey, Robert, great post and insights as always. I completely agree with your take on the character of Riggs moving past the need to take revenge and growing from the first film about his wife’s death. I hadn’t thought about that, but outstanding insight!
You do realize every movie you compare it to was released AFTER it came out? 🤔🤣
Of course I know that. I’m saying that Lethal Weapon 2 is a victim of its own success. It did everything so well that everyone else copied it and often improved upon the template it set. It’s like Shakespeare. Someone might read his work and think it’s full of cliches. But that’s because he created the cliches. He was so revolutionary that everyone else copied him.
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