After the box-office hit that was Lethal Weapon, Richard Donner came back to direct this sequel which, of course, once again starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched buddy cops Riggs and Murtaugh.
This time, the duo face off against a group of South African drug dealers seemingly untouchable due to their diplomatic immunity claims. The film is much lighter than the original in tone at first with a focus on car chases and our main guys interacting like an old married couple, as ever. There's much less of a spotlight on Riggs' suicidal tendencies this time but his late wife's murder eventually comes into play later on in the film, leading us to a surprisingly dark but rewarding denouement. Murtaugh has a lot to deal with in this movie in that pretty much everything that happens to him sees him become the laughing stock of the force: whether it's his daughter starring in a condom commercial or sitting on a toilet bomb. Riggs is given a new love interest in Patsy Kensit's liberal-minded assistant, who works for Joss Ackland's intimidating villain. The real bad guy, however, is Ackland's creepy, deadly henchman, played by Derrick O'Connor, as he makes matters with Riggs even more personal in one of the film's most powerful reveals when it takes that unexpected third act turn into revenge mission territory. The tone of Lethal Weapon 2 is lifted a little by the first appearance of Joe Pesci's mouthy federal witness Leo, who would go on to become one of the franchise's main recurring characters. The whole point of Leo's character is that he's pretty gosh darn annoying and never stops talking and, although that does become a distractingly irritating thing in later movies, he's not quite as grating in this one and is still somewhat likeable, believe it or not.
Whereas Die Hard followed up with a competent yet slightly less impactful sequel, Lethal Weapon 2 ups the ante with more action sequences, more at stake and more playful character moments. In many ways, it's a superior sequel but it's also clearly a much more commercially-friendly effort so, in that sense, the first film still wins. After all, Leo "Scrappy Doo" Getz wasn't in that one and the film never went too over-the-top, instead keeping things as real as possible. In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs is pulling off Indiana Jones-esque stunts, entire houses are being torn down: it's a much bigger film, which means that it loses out on some of the original's realism but provides a lot more entertainment. Most of the film sees Riggs and Murtaugh provoke the bad guys constantly, pushing them to their limits but, as they retaliate in increasingly lethal ways, the stakes get higher and the initial playfulness leads to an all-out war between two cops and a whole group of criminals. You could say that we spend a little too much time on side scenes, like the whole toilet thing, scenes which are later pretty much forgotten, but it's unlikely you'd want to cut anything out of this movie. It's so much fun from start to finish, it's a hard one to truly criticise for its length or lack of realism, frankly. The performances are all-around good, though Kensit really feels like the odd-one-out, providing little more than the odd flash of nudity, her line deliveries coming off as far too flat most of the time.
While some will feel Lethal Weapon 2 is a little too big for its own good and swear by the original, this is still a terrific sequel which takes what made the first film great and gives us much more: it's very funny, hugely entertaining and knows when to get serious.