But how does the very first film hold up?
Probably the darkest film in the franchise, Lethal Weapon focuses more on Riggs' (Mel Gibson) depression and Murtaugh's (Danny Glover) family life than the actual crime plot at hand, which almost feels like a subplot at times. The villains, Gary Busey's Joshua, a tough ex-army guy turned ruthless killer, and Mitch Ryan's General do pop up now and then, offering the odd action beat but all in all, this first film is more of a character piece about the slow building of an unlikely friendship. A lot of emphasis is put on Riggs' suicidal state following the death of his wife as we see him get dangerously close to killing himself and almost jeopardising various cases.
Luckily, he's an unbeatable shot who can make smiley faces with bullets and is dedicated to his work so his unpredictability makes him both a liability and an asset to the force. Murtaugh's disbelief at Riggs' impulsive actions is, as ever, a lot of fun as he starts to understand, motivate and even like his new partner despite the latter making him rather nervous from time to time. Future instalments may have prioritised full-on action sequences and comic-relief sidekicks but this first film is much more down to Earth giving us car chases and action only whenever the plot demands it and no jokey, fast-talking, squeaky-voiced Scrappy-Doo characters whatsoever.
You know who I mean.
That Lethal Weapon still works this well to this day is mostly down to the writer/director team behind it all. Not only do you have Shane 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' Black writing the script but also Richard Donner behind the camera. The latter, by that point, had already proven himself with the likes of Superman, The Omen and The Goonies but still decided to jump head-first into yet another genre. Knocking it out of the park once again. He would go on to direct all the other Lethal Weapon movies. The film is solid in how it tells its story with Riggs and Murtaugh not only working on this one case but dealing with other stuff on the side too. Like a guy about to jump off a building, for example.
That said, it's not without its handful of silly moments. The whole let's-look-at-the-actor's-ass scene, so well spoofed in Loaded Weapon I, was certainly big in the 80's (see every Jean Claude Van Damme film ever made) but it's still completely unnecessary. The end Mission: Impossible II-style fist-fight is also maybe a bit too over-testosteroned for its own good and could have easily been switched for a slightly more rewarding showdown but overall, nothing is too distractingly over-the-top, depending on how you feel about Mel Gibson's untanned buttocks. In the end, the film does admittedly leave you wanting more but, luckily, there is much more.
It's easy to see why Lethal Weapon became such a popular franchise: the charm of both Gibson and Glover, the dynamic between their characters, the sharp writing and directing make this a thrilling little action flick with loads of potential and a duo at its heart you can't wait to see more of.
Nowhere near too old for this shit.