Murtaugh’s builder: “Yeah, I liked it. She made me want to go out and buy rubbers right now.”
Ah, that infamous scene involving the condom advert… So how do you attempt to surpass the first Lethal Weapon? Massively increase the comedy factor in Lethal Weapon 2. How? More comedic situations and Joe Pesci.
Released in 1989, two years after the previous film, Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 2 reunited juxtaposing buddy cops, Sgt Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Sgt Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) to tackle their toughest challenge yet: evil South Africans led by Joss Ackland, who would subsequently reign in villany again in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Linking the good to the bad, you could say is the ugly: Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz – “Whatever you want, Leo gets!” as he claims. A federal witness placed under the protection of Riggs and Murtaugh, other than being an annoying little pr*ck, Leo Getz is a money launderer, essentially. Getz’ presence not only added great comic relief, but also connected the dots and cemented the connection between the opening police chase and the wide smuggling of Krugerrand in shipping containers.
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As mentioned, Lethal Weapon 2 is significantly more comedic than its predecessor. In saying that however, there is an ambience of this sequel being more personal than the original. From the revelations surrounding the death of his late wife Victoria (before the events of the first film) to the toilet-bomb scene – though subtly humorous, it is very intimate in their friendship. The notions of revenge and payback reprise their presence in Lethal Weapon 2, though this time it is Riggs who is at the centre of the struggle whereas Murtaugh occupied this position after his daughter’s kidnapping in the original.
Released during the golden age of action cinema, it is somewhat ironic that in its year of release, 1989, there were no serious contenders to challenge for the Top Spot of Action. Surrounded by the likes of Stallone’s Lock Up and Van Damme’s Kickboxer, Schwarzenegger and new badass on the block Bruce Willis were not to be found this year. Ultimately, Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were more representative of popular American cinema in 1989, though Lethal Weapon 2 was just behind in the North American box office for 1989.
As part of a four-film franchise (with a TV series reboot), the debate over Lethal Weapon 2’s ranking will always be inevitable. So where does it rank? Obviously, this first sequel is a mammoth in superiority to the further sequels, Lethal Weapon 3 and Lethal Weapon 4, but is it better than the original? Ah, the old “original vs. sequel” chestnut. The truth is that Lethal Weapon is superior in this department and that department, whilst Lethal Weapon 2 is superior here and there. They are hard to separate and are of equal greatness. Lethal Weapon may, however, just edge it by default in that it is the original. The real tragedy here is knowing that in this four-film franchise, the quality significantly deteriorates after only the second film, leaving fans with two more films and a TV series ranging in average-to-poor quality.
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Ultimately, alongside Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2 exists as probably the greatest action-comedy of all-time. Though obviously formulaic, there is enough change and transition to warrant its plaudits and legitimacy as a great action sequel, though not the greatest: Terminator 2 sits on that throne. But as always, films of this period have to go under the contemporary microscope of whether something should be “cancelled” or not. With Mel Gibson in the lead, Lethal Weapon 2 is probably cancelled by default anyway, though in analysing the representation of white South Africans in this film, they are either evil or dumb – is this fair? Was this fair during the latter years of apartheid? Is this representation on the same terms as the villainous Russian in 80s’ action films? This debate really boils down to one’s stance on whether it is valid or immoral for a villain of a film to be foreign to the nation, culture or ideology of said film’s production. In transcending from seriousness to comedy, like Lethal Weapon 2 itself, there is little funnier than Danny Glover’s Murtaugh shouting, “Free South Africa, you dumb son of a b*tch!” only for Joe Pesci’s Leo to repeat every line in this iconic outburst.