The best part of watching a film franchise unfold is the thrill of never knowing if there’s anything next. Yes, watching a franchise after it has ended means knowing there’s a sequel and it’s within reach, but there’s something about not knowing what will happen next. I’ve always felt jealous of the people who’ve seen Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy because the first two films (Sunrise and Sunset) ended abruptly and fans had to wait nine years to know it was being continued. Now I’m jealous of Lethal Weapon fans.
The first Lethal Weapon film came out in 1987, and spawned three sequels. Unlike Before where the films had a nine-year gap, Lethal Weapon‘s sequels came out in 1989, 1992, and 1998. And now, 18 years after director Richard Donner signed off on the series, there’s a TV reboot.
But first, let’s talk about the films.
Lethal Weapon is a buddy cop action-comedy series that follows two Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detectives who couldn’t be more different. Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is an older detective who believes that he’s “too old for this shit.” He’s ready to retire but his life gets tumbled when he’s paired with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), a devil-may-care transfer from the Narcotics division.
The first film sees them attempting to solve a seemingly-innocent suicide of a young girl. As they dig deeper, they realize that there’s more to the story.
The story is good, but what I enjoyed the most about Lethal Weapon is the budding friendship between Murtaugh and Riggs. The two are complete opposites: Murtaugh is a conservative family man, while Riggs is brash and impulsive. Both actors play their roles so convincingly and their dynamics look so natural that it becomes funnier.
Lethal Weapon 2 became more serious as it tackled a current issue: apartheid. Here, Murtaugh and Riggs discover a pile of gold krugerrands, a South African gold coin that was illegal to import in the US because of its ties to racism. They then uncover that the gang behind it is protected by diplomatic immunity.
Despite its political tone, it’s the perfect backdrop to Murtaugh and Riggs’s unusual friendship, plus their new sidekick Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a federal witness they have to watch. He’s supposed to be annoying and obnoxious, but I actually find his mannerisms endearing.
There’s a key scene in Lethal Weapon 2 that shows how deep Murtaugh’s bond is with Riggs, even if they argue about every little thing. For the benefit of those who’ve seen it, let’s call it the Bathroom Scene. At a pivotal moment, Murtaugh, always sweating, pauses and gives Riggs a meaningful look. Without saying anything, Riggs says, “I know, I hear you.” It’s a scene that’s hard to produce, but Glover and Gibson do it effortlessly that you believe they’re real friends.
Lethal Weapon 3 didn’t do so well but I thought it was the funniest in the series. Murtaugh is set to retire, but six days before it happens, he gets involved in an arms smuggling ring that may have ties to the LAPD. Because of this, the duo is introduced to Lorna Cole (Renee Russo), a sergeant from Internal Affairs. And yes, Leo is back!
By the time Lethal Weapon 4 rolled around, I was already attached to the characters. I noticed that Murtaugh’s kids have grown up. Riggs lost his mullet and gained a few lines on his face, but he’s still the wacky and lovable Riggs viewers met in 1987. And for some reason, Murtaugh looks exactly the same.
The last movie in the franchise has an Asian twist, and sees the detectives accidentally getting involved in an immigrant smuggling ring run by Triad negotiator Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li in his dazzling Hollywood debut). Out of all the movies, this had the most intense action scenes because of Li’s martial arts skills.
And I have to admit, I cried at the last scene of the movie.
Fast forward 18 years later and here we are, with a TV series. It must be great for those who watched the franchise in the ’80s and ’90s because they get to see the return of Murtaugh and Riggs, this time in bite-sized pieces every week.
It’s a direct reboot, and comedian Damon Wayans plays Murtaugh while Clayne Crawford plays Riggs. Apart from taking their origins and their personalities, the story is different from the movies. Three episodes have come out so far and have solved a different case each time, a great thing for a mystery nut such as myself who enjoyed Veronica Mars, Scooby Doo, and Detective Conan.
Wayans and Crawford don’t have the same dynamics as Glover and Gibson, but that’s the point. Developer Matt Miller cast the two so you don’t think about the actors in the film. A wise move, because the actors in the show have pretty big shoes to fill. If we’re going to judge Wayans and Crawford on their own terms (which we should), they’re doing a fine job. Though there’s a part of me that wishes the producers retained some of the iconic parts of the film, such as Murtaugh’s “I’m too old for this shit” and the partners’ debate on “going on three” or “after three.”
An advantage of going to TV means you have time for character development, and we see different dimensions of Murtaugh and Riggs. We get to see Murtaugh’s family life in detail and Riggs’s troubled past. It’s a nice thing and perfectly complements the films.
And oh, the action sequences are also top-notch. I think that’s an Important Thing.
All episodes of Lethal Weapon will premiere the same day in the US, on Thursdays, 8PM. Lethal Weapon is screened only on Warner TV.