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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Retro Review: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Lethal Weapon
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins
Genre: Buddy Cop Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $120 million 

Plot: A veteran policeman is partnered with a younger, suicidal officer. They both have one thing in common: hating working in pairs. Now, they must learn to work with one another to stop a gang of drug smugglers

'The First Lethal Weapon Is Still The Franchise's Greatest'

Lethal Weapon is one of the unlikeliest festive films set around Christmas, but of which technically isn't a traditional Christmas flick. I'm not a Mel Gibson fan, for various reasons which are well-documented in the press, but Lethal Weapon is the only film of his I've thoroughly love to bits, more so than any of his other offerings. Insofar as buddy cop action movies go, this is one of the trifectas and the original is still, without a shadow of a doubt, a million times the best Lethal Weapon movie of the franchise. Released during the mid- 1980s, it's like a variation of 48 Hrs with the Black cop/White cop working together, despite not seeing eye-to-eye, and 48 Hrs was the instigator of the Buddy cop sub-genre. 

A sleek, well-produced offering courtesy of Richard Donner with a slice of humour, thrills, action and some emotional scenes, it stars a pre- Mel Gibson, way before his freefall from grace, and Danny Glover, whose career never really went places, despite this famous role of his as Roger, in-between and right after the Lethal Weapon movies series wrapped up after the fourth instalment. Penned by Shane Black, two cops at different ends of the spectrum and ends of their careers are being paired together to foil a drug ring. It is a plotline that has been rehashed, reused so many times before and after.

What makes this different is not much that it is how it is conceived, but the chemistry of the leads in Glover and Gibson really sell it and sell the Lethal Weapon image and of Gibson as Martin Riggs dubbed as the 'lethal weapon'. Which he is: he is psychologically not well, but he can snap and he can kick ass if he gets pushed to the edge. The film is brought to life and given that extra adrenaline rush by the characters individual subplots that punctuate the film's enjoyment and in the viewer or audience resonating with Riggs and Murtaugh. Murtaugh is older, supposedly wiser, the mild-mannered family man who isn't hesitant in getting down and dirty, even if his family is endangered, he will go to lengths to protect them. He carries that responsibility and he holds it dear to him. Riggs, in contrast, is a loose cannon, a bit wacko in places, whose trauma, grief and pain at the loss of his girlfriend/wife, who committed suicide, runs deep. 

Gibson is at his most charming back in the day and his character and performance as Martin oozed personality and charisma. Glover holds his own alongside his co-star and though they may not have been buddy cop movies first and foremost pairing, when one or people think of action films in general, Lethal Weapon would most likely spring to mind. One could argue this is more about Murtaugh's story with Riggs being the secondary character, although for me anyway, they are pretty much even and whilst they do not correlate with each other in certain aspects, I don't necessarily see one character overriding the other. Their so-called mismatched partnership felt far more genuine and less gimmicky than the sequels which became less violent, intense and turned Riggs and Murtaugh into a former shadow of themselves. 

The performances are great, the action is great, protagonist characters come to life so well I so wanted them to succeed in the end. The story is tight, due to Shane Black and as the film wears on, it improves so much. Lethal Weapon is also perfectly balanced that nothing and not one thing feels out of place. Every scene is great, the camaraderie between Gibson and Glover has never been better, the tonality feels just right and it is never patchy, the characterisation and depth given to Riggs and Murtaugh is well devised. All of these factors are exactly why this movie has not stepped a foot wrong during any stage. 

And that is why Lethal Weapon is a magnificent action crime movie that is far greater than just merely offering the action thrills and sequences in a film of this type. 

Final Verdict:

Lethal Weapon may not have been the first buddy cop movie, but rather it perfected that formula so incredibly well that it remains not just one of the best ever movies of this sub-genre - it is also one of the best ever action movies of all-time that still stands the test of time and hasn't lost its magic and touch. A pity about the sequels, but oh well. 

As the ultimate Christmas themed action movie, Lethal Weapon is two steps ahead of Die Hard, as much as that movie is great also. But two heads are better than one, and in Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, this statement rings true with these two. 

In their first landmark outing and attempt, they and this film got it spot-on.


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