I know “Lethal Weapon” was the first buddy-cop film, but I can say that it is one of the most successful of its genre and was the blueprint for dozens of buddy-cop films that would follow.
So what exactly did the film do that earned that status? Well, among many aspects, “Lethal Weapon” gave us two vastly different characters, one likable and relatable and the other tragic and misunderstood, put into a situation that brings out the best and worst in both, giving us a full range of emotions and thrills.
We watch as Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) deals with his own emotional baggage and deals with every violent police situation in the worst possible way, always being reckless with no regard for his own life. Riggs puts the lives of others ahead of his own, because he sees himself as expendable and danger to everyone around him. He lives out of a trailer on the beach, with his dog as his only companion, after the loss of his wife.
Meanwhile, Roger Murtaugh (Donald Glover) is a family man who just turned fifty. He doesn’t have much to call his own, just his wife, children and a boat that he doesn’t know how to fix. And he is content with that. He has found his happiness in the world and wouldn’t want to change that for anything, except possibly making a better world for his children to grow up in.
There is little of solving the case throughout “Lethal Weapon” and more of Riggs and Murtaugh talking about their problems with one another, ultimately coming to respect each other. Murtaugh is blown away by Riggs’ dedication to the job and his selflessness, while Riggs appreciates that Murtaugh can find his own happiness in a world that he finds so bitter and harsh.
Later buddy-cop films like “Rush Hour” focus more on the crimes and action sequences, but “Lethal Weapon” is drawn to the characters and how the police force brought them together. Though there are some thrilling action moments in the film, they feel almost personal by the time we see Riggs holding a sniper position while Murtaugh keeps a grenade on him to protect his daughter.
It is less about the scenarios and more about the dynamics between the characters. It is about how these cops become buddies.
“Lethal Weapon” is a classic 1980s action film, like “Die Hard” and “The Terminator,” that keep the characters in front of the high-octane action, so that when we see our heroes almost enveloped in a ball of fire, we are invested in their imminent destruction.
Final Grade: A-