"The magic is back!" Or so blared the tagline for 'Lethal Weapon 2.' But for once the advertising wasn't a big fat lie, with both critics and audiences in agreement that 'Lethal Weapon 2' was that rare sequel that not only matched its predecessor, but outclassed it. The second adventure of bad-boy buddy cops Riggs and Murtaugh not only earned stronger reviews and bigger box office that the first 'Lethal Weapon,' but even among diehard fans of the series it remains widely considered to be the best installment in the series.
As 'Lethal Weapon 2' begins, detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) have been assigned to protect foul-mouthed federal witness Leo Getz (Joe Pesci). Seems Getz has been doing shady business with a crew of South African thugs, led by the slimy Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland), and the average life expectancy of a rat is never long. Riggs also becomes romantically involved with the beautiful Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit), who's connection with Rudd may be more complex -- and dangerous -- than it first appears. Needless to say, lots of non-stop action, one-liners, double crosses and big explosions follow.
Like most first sequels, 'Lethal Weapon 2' doesn't so much continue the story of the original film as remake it, throwing in a few new elements to keep the successful formula fresh. The best addition is Pesci, who's fast-talking "Okay-okay-okay!" shtick gets some of the film's biggest laughs. Pesci also throws a welcome wrench into the somewhat rote Riggs-Murtaugh banter, which gives Gibson and Glover a whole new foil to play off of. (It works.) The love story angle, however, is a little less successful. If you're not familiar with Kensit, she was major tabloid fodder in Europe for most of the late '80s and '90s, largely for marrying and divorcing famous rock stars (most notably Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Liam Gallagher of Oasis). Her chemistry with Gibson is surprisingly strong, and she delivers a capable performance, but the character is about as perfunctory as a Bond girl. She is certainly no match for Rene Russo, who would become Riggs' permanent love interest beginning with 1991's 'Lethal Weapon 3.'
Is 'Lethal Weapon 2' as good as, or better than, 'Lethal Weapon?' In hindsight, not really. It is certainly the best of the sequels (especially compared to the tired 'Lethal Weapon 4,' which really scraped the bottom of the creative barrel), but lacks the freshness of the original. And like the 'Batman' movies, the introduction of so many supporting players sometimes distracts from the main Riggs-Murtaugh relationship rather than enhancing it. But if you are a fan of the first 'Lethal Weapon,' then by all means check out the second chapter. Faster, louder and arguably funnier, if the magic isn't totally back in 'Lethal Weapon 2,' then there is still enough spark left in the characters and the situation to make it an enjoyable return trip.
As I wrote in my review of 'Lethal Weapon 2' on HD DVD, the film boasts a few notable stylistic improvements over the original. Most obvious is the increased budget -- after 'Lethal Weapon' became such an unexpected sleeper hit, Warner gifted the filmmakers with lots more cash, which results in a more polished, slick visual look. 'Lethal Weapon 2' was also shot in 2.35:1, versus the original's more confined 1.85:1 dimensions, which gives the sequel a far more luxurious, cinematic feel.
Technical clutter aside, 'Lethal Weapon 2' looks as good on Blu-ray as it does on HD DVD. Partly that's because, as one would expect, Warner is using the same master for both formats so all of the basic qualities of the transfers are the same. But also, Warner has switched over to the VC-1 compression codec for its latest Blu-ray releases, which is has been on all of its HD DVD releases, making for a true apples-to-apples comparison.
Color reproduction on 'Lethal Weapon 2' is improved considerably over the original film, especially the richer reds and more vibrant blues in dark scenes. Fleshtones, too, look more accurate. Contrast is a bit brighter as well, which gives the picture added depth, and blacks are nice and solid. There is visible grain present, but it is appropriate to the film's age, and hardly excessive. The source material, however, does suffer from occasional dirt and speckles. Nothing severe, but the print is not absolutely pristine. Detail is impressive for a film from 1989, though the image still looks a tad dated. Some shots suffer from an obvious softness, and overall three-dimensionality can't compare to a modern transfer. Ultimately, 'Lethal Weapon 2' is a strong catalog effort from Warner, and should please fans of the film.
Like the Blu-ray version of the original 'Lethal Weapon,' Warner gives the sequel a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track at 640kbps, though despite the healthy bit rate the film's sound design is a bit dated. State-of-the-art in its time, 'Lethal Weapon 2' now sounds less-than-enveloping in 2006, with rather gimmicky surround action and some obvious dialogue flaws.
Dynamic range is good for a film now almost two decades old. Low end could have used a bit more oomph for my taste (even the action scenes don't deliver much in the way of deep .1 LFE), but the rest of the audible range is clear and fairly natural sounding. Unfortunately, some of the stereo and surround effects have a canned feel -- panning between channels often ping-pongs from one speaker to another abruptly, so the mix never sounds totally smooth. Some of the offscreen dialogue is also obvious ADR, and when any vocal effects are sent to the rears they usually draw attention to themselves rather than recede into the background. Still, I'm probably nitpicking -- technically this mix sounds perfectly fine, and it is hard to expect much more from a soundtrack originally produced in 1989.
Just like 'Lethal Weapon,' its sequel doesn't fare much better in the extras department on Blu-ray. Of course, none of the 'Weapon' films ever got the kind of feature-laden DVD special editions usually afforded to huge money-making franchises, which in hindsight seems quite odd. Also, Warner has again elected to present the film in its theatrical version only, eschewing the Director's Cut that was featured on the previous standard-def DVD release.
However, we do get a couple of supplements, including the extra four minutes of Director's Cut footage, presented here as Additional Scenes. Though the quality of the material is not that great, the scenes never did that much for me anyway. Mostly they involve extended shtick with the Riggs character, most of which feels like padding, as the film was already fleshed-out enough at 113 minutes. In any case, the scenes are here for you 'Lethal Weapon' completists.
Also included is the 1989 featurette "Stunts & Action." Running a scant four minutes, it is one of those cheesy EPK things that plays like an extended commercial. Utterly forgettable, though its vintage nature does give it a bit of charming nostalgia.
The only other extra is the film's theatrical trailer presented in 480p widescreen.
'Lethal Weapon 2' is a bit better than Warner's Blu-ray release of the original film, if only because the film itself benefits from a bigger budget and more polished look. Otherwise, the soundtrack is decent and the extras quite pithy. However, if nothing else, 'Lethal Weapon 2' offers more evidence that, all things being equal, Blu-ray can deliver quality on par with HD DVD. Which for now, I suppose, is enough?