CS Soapbox: Do We Really Want Lethal Weapon 5 to Happen?
There’s been talk of a fifth entry in the Lethal Weapon franchise, which originally began in 1987. Two Popes producer, Dan Lin spoke about a potential fifth Lethal Weapon film at a recent edition of The Hollywood Reporter’s Producers Roundtable: “We’re trying to make the last ‘Lethal Weapon’ movie. And Dick Donner’s coming back,” said Lin. “The original cast is coming back. And it’s just amazing. The story itself is very personal to him. Mel and Danny are ready to go, so it’s about the script.”
The last time we heard anything substantial about a Lethal Weapon 5 was back in 2018 when Lethal Weapon director, Richard Donner said he was ready to make the very dark, then entitled Lethal Finale.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan was president and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) was “too old for this shit.” The first Lethal Weapon movie introduced us to one of the most sympathetic, over-the-hill homicide detective ever portrayed on screen. Having just turned 50, Murtaugh found himself contemplating retirement, only to be partnered with the unhinged “lethal weapon,” Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson).
Due to the chemistry of its leads and Shane Black’s damn near perfect script, Lethal Weapon became the pioneering buddy cop film, forever changing (if not inventing) the genre: two mismatched badge wielders solving crime. Lethal Weapon 2 was one of the most successful sequels of its kind, and then, of course, a 3rd and 4th film were made, all, while Murtaugh slid back down his hill and Riggs, became more and more hinged. With each entry the franchise became less inventive and dark, ultimately, resembling more of a sitcom than its suicide-jumper origins.
It’s been over 20 years since Lethal Weapon 4. For the most part, those outside of Generation Z (and are old enough to drive) hold the first Lethal Weapon near and dear to their cinematic hearts and look back fondly on its popcorn-worthy sequels. We haven’t seen Danny Glover grumble or Mel Gibson run in quite some time and that’s okay, those days are behind us; we’re too old for that shit. Apparently not.
Do We Really Want This to Happen?
Gibson was perfect for the role of Riggs prior to 2006. Since then, Gibson’s reputation for questionable behavior has had an adverse effect on the way audiences perceive him. When the Lethal Weapon franchise was in his prime, Gibson’s signature brand of crazy was cool. In the ’80s and ’90s, we cheered on his wild-eyed antics, whether it be in Lethal Weapon or Braveheart, you didn’t mess with Mel Gibson. His characters used their crazy for good, not evil. Riggs takes down a bunch of white supremacists in Lethal Weapon 2 and William Wallace fought for the freedom of his people. Given Gibson’s infamous antisemitic remarks (among other things), it seems strange that Gibson would even want to re-align himself with a character well known for losing his cool. His contemporary portrayal of Riggs would inevitably be different, less organic and more restrained—that sounds boring. I mean, look at those eyes; that’s million-dollar madness.
Gibson’s precarious reputation isn’t the only reason Lethal Weapon 5 is a crazy idea. It’s a bad idea for everyone, especially Murtaugh. Danny Glover is 73 years old and definitely too old for this shit. The Lethal Weapon franchise ended on a mediocre note in 1998 with Lethal Weapon 4. The only character not over-the-hill in that movie was Chris Rock’s Lee Butters, a fellow detective who courted, slipped one past the goalie and married Murtaugh’s daughter. Today, Chris Rock is 54 years old and has no intention of doing Lethal Weapon 5 (probably). Without resorting back to that over-quoted phrase, Lethal Weapon’s premise is played out—in what way could Murtaugh and Riggs come back without it being nonsensical?
As previously mentioned, the Lethal Weapon movies have gotten historically worse with each installment; none of the sequels even compare to the original movie. Feel free to disagree with that statement but there’s no denying the series’ tonal shift or plummeting critical reception. This is not to say that Lethal Weapon 5 can’t buck that trend. If the fifth movie’s script really is as dark and emotional as everyone says and doesn’t fall into the trap of making Riggs and Murtaugh seem like ageless superheroes (I’m looking at you A Good Day to Die Hard) then it won’t be limited by the restraints of that universe, Lethal Weapon 4 having ended in a Christmas card kind of way.
How It Could Work
It would be genuinely surprising to see Glover and Gibson’s fall back into their Lethal Weapon roles organically. To find Riggs and Murtaugh in a place that feels consistent with the ending of Lethal Weapon 4 just isn’t something that should be attempted. Lethal Weapon is a pioneering action franchise starring two fantastic leads and that’s what fans remember it for. However, similar to how characters change, those leads have changed. Jumping right back into another installment would feel like a desperate attempt to reignite nostalgia and feed the Hollywood machine. A machine that loves to tarnish the memory of classics by milking characters, plot, titles, and careers for all they are worth.
Perhaps the epitome of that previous statement can be derived from what is now known as “The Fast Saga.” A franchise so shameless, that it has produced 10 films (a whole article needs to and will be written about why they should’ve ended with 7). However, you can’t really knock studios for making Fast and Furious movies because they continue to make millions at the box office. That said, franchises like The Fast Saga and Lethal Weapon before it, have opened the flood gates for as many sequels as a studio can muster. This is why Bad Boys For Life was made and worked; ironically, the 3rd installment in the Bad Boys franchise (which exists within the genre Lethal Weapon defined) has paved the way for Lethal Weapon 5.
The thing is, Lethal Weapon 5 can’t be Bad Boys For Life; the Bad Boys franchise has Will Smith’s stagnate popularity going for it, which basically allowed it to pick up where it left off, focusing on its leads more than the action even though Smith and Martin Lawrence are still young enough to move quickly. Lethal Weapon has always focused on the chemistry of its leads, often at the expense of story; because of its aging protagonists, Lethal Weapon 5 needs a good story. Hopefully, a factory reset is exactly what Donner and company have in mind.
Donner has said that the script for Lethal Weapon 5 is very emotional. If the fifth film focuses on the vulnerability of the characters, it could work. Think the present-day storyline of True Detective‘s third season: two retired detectives, one with Alzheimer’s, who have no business going door to door for answers but are compelled to do so. Riggs and Murtaugh shouldn’t be running around in Lethal Weapon 5—having Gibson play a Kung Fu-ready Riggs makes as much sense as him replacing Tom Hardy in Mad Max 5. If it turns into some action-heavy film, it’ll feel ridiculous—no amount of The Dark Knight Rises-eque magic knee braces could prevent that.
The original Lethal Weapon was the beginning of an action franchise; Lethal Weapon 5 would be the end of one and its pace should reflect that. Riggs’ origin is a tragic one, having lost his wife of 11 years, he finds himself suicidal and revved up. The plot and the characters worked because of their motives and the way they played off each other. Without sounding like a downer, something bad must motivate Riggs and Murtaugh’s return. They’ll be revved up emotionally but unable to use that adrenaline to participate in the kind of action seen in the series’ earlier installments. If Lethal Weapon 5 takes the easy route and makes Fast 25, it’ll just be recycling a format that has already been exhausted/jinxed on television.
Not only are there already too many sequels/reboots out there but Lethal Weapon has already been revived via Fox’s recently canceled Lethal Weapon series. In all honesty, Fox’s Lethal Weapon is the best-case scenario for any R-rated franchise that wants to make the transition to network television. It worked. The chemistry of its Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) was there, that is until Crawford got fired for a slew of behind the scenes melodrama. Unable to be action-heavy, the television show took everything about Riggs and Murtaugh’s characters and elaborated on it. Also, Crawford revived the role of Riggs in 2016 without an arduous pedigree, making the series a fun distraction. Lethal Weapon 5 is at serious risk of buckling under the weight of franchise fatigue, ultimately becoming a parody of itself.
Always Sunny’s Foresight
Always Sunny in Philadelphia saw this coming and proactively mocked it. Season 6’s episode, “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth” saw the gang screen their version of Lethal Weapon 5 for a group of high school students. The footage is so terrible that it works; it even has a sex scene taken that seems like it’s taken directly from The Room (one of the best bad films of all time) and a widely offensive attempt at a blackface Murtaugh. The Lethal Weapon parody became so beloved by fans that Always Sunny brought it back in the Season 9 episode “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6,” further exemplifying how Hollywood abuses nostalgia.
It’s 2020, Donald Trump is president and we’re definitely too old for this shit. Lethal Weapon 5 doesn’t need to be made; if Warner Bros really wants to tap back into Gibson and Murtaugh’s yesteryear magic, put them in a new movie—a spiritual successor to the Lethal Weapon franchise. That would at least be more original than doing what the Die Hard and Rambo franchises have done. Our sympathy for Roger Murtaugh is dwindling, if he comes back doing the same old chicken dance and delivers the same old quote, he’s officially just a glutton for punishment. Unfortunately, so are we—a ‘Lethal Finale’ will get made and we will go see it.