If there’s one constant in Mel Gibson’s film career, it’s vengeance. The actor has starred in at least half a dozen films as a “man on the edge” forced to transform into a ruthless killing machine to avenge the loss of an innocent loved one. This screen persona began with the Mad Max films and was further honed with Lethal Weapon 2, a film that curiously isn’t as readily placed in the Mel Gibson retribution-action category as some of the actor’s other work.
One of the reasons Richard Donner’s follow-up to the gritty buddy-cop film Lethal Weapon stands out from other revenge tales in Gibson’s career is that it possesses a decidedly comical tone, particularly more so than that of its predecessor. It boasts as many chases and explosions as any other film of its kind from the era, but what’s most impactful is the rapport between Gibson and co-star Danny Glover. Almost every scene in Lethal Weapon 2, from the opening car chase through L.A. to the toilet-bomb explosion, finds a rhythm by centering on officers Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover), specifically their verbal exchanges and expressions. A late twist turns the film into a vengeance parade for Riggs, but Donner doesn’t stop long enough for the film to become too dour. Rather, he uses these scenes to anchor the third-act conflict.
The story sees Riggs and Murtaugh take on a gang of South African drug dealers led by a consul-general (played with relish by Joss Ackland) with “diplomatic immunity,” who eventually declares war on the police. It’s fairly ordinary stuff, with some elements especially feeling like leftovers from Die Hard, which had come out only one year earlier. Most notably in both cases, the main villain is a sophisticated suit-wearing man with a foreign accent. Additionally, each villain has an intimidating sidekick that gets off on violence. Ackland and Derrick O’Connor may not look like Alan Rickman and Alexander Godunov, respectively, but they serve much the same capacity here.