In any action franchise, it’s to be expected that a sequel will be made. With the unexpected success of Lethal Weapon winning over audiences and critics, it was no surprise that Lethal Weapon 2 was released two years later. Featuring more action, more laughs and more surprises, how did this sequel fare to the original? What are some of the best moments of the film and how was it received? Normally, I worry when a sequel is announced because most of the time I walk away disappointed but, with Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh returning to the screen, I knew I was in for a good time. With all the fun in this movie, why did Shane Black (writer of the first film) leave?
Released on July 7, 1989, Lethal Weapon 2 was a box office success (grossing more than its predecessor) and sat well with critics and audiences. The story isn’t as deep as the first entry featuring the suicidal Riggs (Mel Gibson) and wanting-to-relax Murtaugh (Danny Glover) but there are some surprises along the way with these two. This time the story involves a group of South African diplomats who engage in criminal activity but are protected by immunity. Riggs and Murtaugh know that they can’t legally touch these guys, but do we really care about that?
One addition to the film is a squeaky little informant named Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) that the partners are assigned to babysit. He talks really fast and can be quite an annoyance most of the time, but Gatz presence makes the duo’s comedic moments more of a trifecta in the same vein as The Three Stooges. Together these three get into all sorts of trouble. From two car chases that ruin poor Mrs. Murtaugh’s new station wagon to pulling a house down built on stilts, there are plenty of moments to enjoy in Lethal Weapon 2.
Despite all the action, gunplay and wise-cracks, there are some tender moment that come from the character of Rika Van den Vaas (Patsy Kensit). She works for the South African Consulate and isn’t involved in the criminal activities like her boss. She takes a liking to Riggs and their attraction to each other is mutual. Now, I’m not a fan of watching sex onscreen simply because I find these scenes boring and unnecessary. Much like violence, drug use or excessive language, I don’t have a problem with it being in the story so long as the scene doesn’t get excessive. The Rika and Riggs’ interactions, however, were actually really sweet and I would’ve wanted to see more of her character.
If you remember the first film, Riggs was distraught with the death of his wife, so seeing him with Rika feels like he’s getting a second chance at life, since Riggs has already bothered his partner enough. Over the years, whenever sex is put into a film, it feels like the filmmakers throw them in there to keep the audience interested- just look any slasher film over the past forty years. Not so in Lethal Weapon 2. Although I normally get bored watching such scenes, they felt needed in this film. Originally, her character was written to have survived this film, but this was changed by director Richard Donner to further Riggs’ rage during the film’s latter half when we learn the truth in a searing pivotal moment.
It may surprise you to learn that Shane Black left the project after working on a script that Warner Bros and Donner ultimately rejected. While most people enjoyed the script, they felt it was too dark and violent for what they wanted to do, specifically in how it featured the death of Martin Riggs as payoff for his erratic behavior from the previous film. In fact, if you pay attention to the sequels that followed Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs became more of a comedic character rather than the broken one we originally met.
While I don’t object to this character change, it would’ve been nice to see Shane Black’s vision come to life. I think he’s a good writer and his writing allowed Lethal Weapon to be more than just action. It was a different buddy cop film that featured brains, heart and engaging dialogue to make you think and care for its characters. There has been a petition for Black’s script to be made into a film but it never has. Jeffrey Boam took over for the writing and his script is the final product, with the exception of the stilt house scene which was in the Black’s script. In fact, that scene alone was done for real and cost an estimated $500,000 to pull off.
One thing that makes Lethal Weapon 2 stand out is the way its action is presented. Remember, this is the ’80s where CGI was still an infant and the filmmakers has to rely on practical stunts instead of computers. It’s a rarity to see an action film today that looks as good as this one. Yes, I know that time has changed but come on- who can resist the opening chase scene, or the stilt house, or even the shipyard shootout? Those are just some of the moments that I enjoyed very much. The only modern exceptions that I can think of include the John Wick, Fast and the Furious and Mission Impossible franchises, as well as Mad Max: Fury Road, in which each entry is stunning and refreshing to watch. In fact, I’d rather watch any Lethal Weapon, Rambo or a Schwarzenegger film from back in the day than any superhero film. I think the action is better made and more convincing, but that’s just one fellow’s opinion.
It may be thirty years old, but Lethal Weapon 2 deserves its place in the action genre. It’s fast-paced, fun, exciting and the reason we go to the movies…to have a good time! It’s my favorite of the franchise and one that, despite aging in its look, retains top notch presentation. Richard Donner may be remembered for directing the best Superman film, but I’ll always cherish him for giving me Riggs and Murtaugh in one of the best action sequels!