Lethal Weapon is more than a franchise. It’s more than a movie, too. Created at Warner Brothers at a time when scripts with original ideas found themselves getting made (instead of reboot after reboot after remake after remake), Lethal Weapon is a force of nature. It’s a testament to an era of the late 1980’s which often gets overlooked by film critics. Complete with real stunts (no CGI) and a gung-ho mi familia attitude that guided all four films into worldwide domination, Lethal Weapon is an undeniable statement about the immortality of film.
As written by Shane Black, the original Lethal Weapon - hailing from 1987 after a short trip in the Way Back machine - defined the buddy cop genre with hard-hitting action and great comedy. The script sparkled with interesting characters and gritty Los Angeles locations. Once in the hands of director Richard Donner (who helmed all four), the movie became less of the violent lone-wolf western it was patterned after and transformed into an action-adventure tale with fine camaraderie and great stunts. Starring the PR-challenged Mel Gibson as narcotics sergeant Martin Riggs and the usually soft-spoken Danny Glover as LAPD homicide sergeant Roger Murtaugh, the Lethal Weapon movies became a phenomenon as its franchise spread out, grew roots, and became balanced with a focus on family, friends, and character.
When it comes down to it, Lethal Weapon is one of the final movies that actually earned a sequel. These days it seems sequels are made based on title alone and not on their enjoyability factor. See Wrath of the Titans if you doubt my words or any number of worthless, aimless sequels that Hollywood continues to churn out.
Lethal Weapon 2, blazing out fully loaded from a story idea by Black (again), opens mid-chase and never bothers with reasons why. It was Donner’s idea and it was, truly, a great one as it is both entertaining and thrilling; another proclamation of sorts. The ceiling-hitting, white-fisted Gibson screaming with excitement as the chase begins is a classic fan-channeled reaction of this long-awaited (two years) sequel. We know these characters and their journey continues. Catch up, brother. The original had Gary Busey as the toothy baddie Mr. Joshua, but its sequel – a leaner and meaner entry (and most definitely the fan favorite) – has the hilarious Joe Pesci as firecracker Leroy Getz (in a role he would reprise two more times) and deals with Gibson’s darker side as he slides with the death of his lady friend at the hands of Derrick O'Connor's Pieter Vorstedt.
With Black sitting the third one out, screenwriters Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen somewhat neuter the visceral toughness inherent in the first two films with a story that – as filmed – is highly enjoyable, but lacks a certain toughness. Yes, I do honestly love the third film for the chemistry involved but even I admit there is a badass quotient missing. The sequel would mark the last time the villains were worthy of Murtaugh and Riggs. With Lethal Weapon 3, the well-oiled machine operates a bit lighter than it should – but with the inclusion of Rene Russo in the cast – finds its family first foothold.
Watching them all in a couple of days, I was able to find a bit more appreciation than expected for Lethal Weapon 3 as the jokes stretch back over the course of the first two films and, with that in mind, there are often some clever moments; one of which explains why there’s a fight scene inside a hockey game as well as others than feel more like an inside joke than anything else. There are also some great emotional moments – the father & son shaving scene between Murtaugh and his son is a classic bit – and the hilariously my-scar-is-bigger-than-yours game of one-up between Russo and Gibson. Maybe a tad breezier than it ought to be, Lethal Weapon 3 certainly isn’t the show-stopper that some claim it to be.
Which brings me to the final film in the series, yes, what I consider to be the show-stopper: Lethal Weapon 4. You can’t blame Jet Li or the addition of Chris Rock to the series for mainly peripheral roles that, as admitted by Rock, are only in it because their names targeted well with audiences. Yes, this might have been the silliest thing to have done and certainly hints at the direction the late 1990’s production ethics would take us. The family quotient is alive and well with the pregnancy of Russo’s character and the film mostly aims to please everyone and, as a result, can’t really satisfy. It’s all over the place and, apparently, there was only a rag-tag script in place. In hindsight, you certainly can tell/see the weaknesses.
Lethal Weapon 4 isn’t terrible (and all films certainly hold up to modern day viewings due to the use of practical stunts), but it certainly doesn’t do its dark origins justice. The redemption of Gibson’s character is held in the balance of the “will they or won’t they” question of marriage between his character and Russo’s and that’s it. There’s no real method to his madness and even fewer Three Stooges nods. What does work is the family vibe as we do get a solid conclusion that makes the series end on a sugary taste of sweetness.
Regardless of your feelings on the finale, the series as a whole is one to be emulated. We probably never will get the fifth (and final) Shane Black-written retirement treatise that has been kicked about by Donner and Gibson, but what we do have is pretty impressive. The series might not have broken ground but, in an age where action films weren’t the norm, Lethal Weapon certainly defined the genre for quite some time and has provided legions of moviegoers with entertainment that, for some, is immeasurable.
MPAA Rating: R.
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Various; Shane Black
Cast: Mel Gibson; Danny Glover; Gary Busey; Joe Pesci
Tagline: If these two can learn to stand each other... the bad guys don't stand a chance.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I don't make things difficult. That's the way they get, all by themselves."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Video
Theatrical Release Date: March 6, 1987
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: May 22, 2012
Synopsis: A veteran cop, Murtough, is partnered with a young homicidal cop, Riggs. Both having one thing in common, hating working in pairs. Now they must learn to work with one and other to stop a gang of drug smugglers.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - May 22, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1, 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby; Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 2.0; Portuguese: Dolby Digital Mono; German: Dolby Digital 5.1; Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Czech: Dolby Digital 2.0; Czech: Dolby Digital Mono; Polish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Russian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Thai: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Five-disc set (5 BDs)
Celebrating the first 25 years of its lethal weaponry, Warner Brothers presents all four Lethal Weapon films on blu-ray with special features, extended and deleted footage, and tons of all-new interviews that will set any fan’s heart all a-flutter. Housed in a slipcase, the release is sure to set the summer on fire. For the price, this bang is certainly worth the buck. Each film has been meticulously remastered for its 1080p/VC-1 transfer and it shows. The eyesores that were originally released by Warner Brothers have been overhauled with this release. You should deep six yours immediately. Gone are the compression artifacts and the filtering issues. Here, finally, we have Warner Brothers treating their art as it should be treated. Colors are bright and cheery. Black levels are thick and shadows are defined. The bright orange of flames and spotlights are without the artificiality that marked previous releases. Fine detail is good, maybe never reaching modern day expectations, but solid throughout. Also of note is the use of sound. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks that present each of the four films are as pure as silk with Lethal Weapon 4 looking and sounding the best. Gun shots aren’t flat, but dynamic and the thundering stunts are lovingly housed inside some quality sounds that shake and rattle the walls.
- Director Richard Donner adds commentary to each film. While his stern and forceful nature is appreciated, he doesn’t fully come alive (vocally) until Lethal Weapon 4 commentary. Perhaps this is because he had the most to do with orchestrating the scenes from sketches of a screenplay rather than using an actual script. Listen to him direct Chris Rock if in doubt. He doesn’t explain a lot with each commentary and lets quips do the answering for a lot of shots. It’s good that he did this, but maybe it should have been recorded when the auteur was in better spirits.
Each film allows the viewer to see bonus footage when available and other facets (music videos), but the real treat is the special Bonus Disc which features newly recorded (March) with Donner, Gibson, and Glover all sitting down to discuss the legacy of the series. The new interviews also feature Russo and series creator Shane Black. Yes, the topic of another entry is brought up and answered with a shrug but one can tell the series is probably finished with Donner’s retirement and Glover’s health and Gibson’s, well, you know.
- Fourteen Deleted Scenes (30 mins):
- "Breakfast," "Morning Ritual," "At the Range," "In the Line of Fire," "Questioning Dixie," "Home," "Wanna Jump?," "Swimming Pool Shootout," "Home for Dinner," "Kiss Goodnight," "Watch Television with Me," "Caught," "Kidnapping" and "Busted."
- Honeymoon Suite Music Video (3 min)
- Theatrical Trailer
Lethal Weapon 2:
- Three Deleted Scenes (4 min)
- "Trish's Car," "By the Numbers" and "What's the Water Like?”