The late 1980s was a hotbed of action films with fast-talking dialogue, big explosions and over-the-top action scenes. One of the finest examples, and one that was so successful that it spawned a host of hit-and-miss sequels is the Mel Gibson star-making vehicle, Lethal Weapon. Directed by 1980s supremo Richard Donner, Lethal Weapon would turn Mel Gibson into a megastar while reinforcing the dominance of the action film during this era.
Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is nearing retirement and dreams of an expensive yacht and slow lifestyle. His plans however change when he’s forced to partner with suicidal narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs (Gibson). Together the two men, whose approaches differ become friends and work together to bring down a heroin smuggling circle of criminals.
The idea of wacky mismatched partners may be a cliche now, but when Lethal Weapon was released in 1987 it was almost fresh and innovative. The script, penned by Shane Black is rapier-quick in delivery and style, but it never forgoes character development or plot cohesion in the name of style. In many ways, Lethal Weapon could be just as much a top-drawer drama as much as an action film, but the stunts are so well handled and delivered to the audience that it’s tough to top.
Lethal Weapon keeps its audience guessing throughout and just when you think you’ve seen it all before, it pulls the rug out from beneath you. This is never more evident than the ‘jumper’ scene set high above the city. Riggs goes to talk the jumper down and just as you think you know how it all ends, Lethal Weapon switches things up. It’s masterful film-making from the man behind Superman: The Movie and The Goonies and might just stand up as one of the finest, most exhilarating entries in his filmography.
The key, not only with action films, but all films is to make the cinema-going public care about your characters. It’s all well and good to have unbelievable action scenes and huge explosions, but if you can’t engage with the characters the genre becomes tired and dull very quickly. It’s lucky then that Lethal Weapon has two incredibly convincing performances at it’s heart. Glover as the stay-at-home, calm character plays perfectly against the over-the-top, twitchy and suicidal Gibson. A slim and trim Gary Busey does a great job as the psychotic villain of the piece.
In fact, the late 1980s and early 1990s saw him play a host of characters similar to Lethal Weapon‘s Joshua and he never fails to disappoint. The actual action scenes too are memorable and exciting. Lethal Weapon never gives into wanton destruction and every scene has a point within in the script. It’s cut and edited to within an inch of its life, which means the audience are kept on the edge of their seats throughout.
It’s just plain fun to be in the company of Lethal Weapon‘s characters, narrative and overall atmosphere and it’s no wonder that the series is still be talked about to this day. Lethal Weapon really is one of the all-time classic action films and one whose legacy rivals Die Hard and The Terminator in terms of its genre.