Franchise Evolution: Lethal Weapon vs. Die Hard (part 2 of 2)
Stage III: Adequate Thirds
Lethal Weapon 3 (1992): Directed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, and Rene Russo
The third entry falters, with a sub-par script and a rather annoying stretch of preachiness following Murtaugh shooting his son’s gang member friend to death. It’s really a needless development, and comes off as an excuse for Danny Glover to do some actual acting as opposed to just muttering, “I’m too old for this shit!” for two hours.
Granted, there was some social consciousness stuff in the second film, but Richard Donner kept it subtle… sort of. Here though, he brings the movie to a halt in order to stage a mini-sequel to Boyz n the Hood sandwiched in between the action beats. It stops the movie dead in its tracks, which is not good when the hallmark of your franchise is its relentless pace.
On the other hand, it does have a great opening sequence with an impressive building explosion, and Rene Russo makes a nice addition to the regulars as Riggs’ new love interest, an IAD officer named Lorna Cole. Joe Pesci is back too, though if you really stop and think about it, he has no reason at all to be here. Seriously.
The villain is also rather weak when compared to the ones in the first two. Stuart Wilson does a decent enough job, but when you’ve had hilariously evil South Africans and Gary Busey, a Brit playing a disgraced ex-cop selling stolen guns to gang members doesn’t quite cut it.
Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995): Directed by John McTiernan, starring Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, and Samuel L. Jackson
Oddly enough, the third Die Hard movie improves on the second by stepping out of the box, to an extent. There are still terrorists, and the plot is still not what it seems, but now McClane is in the wide open canyons of New York City.
It’s a good change too, as we get a refreshing look at McClane in his element, and amusingly enough, he ends up having just as shitty a day as he does when out of his element. The plot is good for what it needs to be, and Jeremy Irons makes for a great villain. Samuel L. Jackson is also fun as the sidekick, and he and Willis have great chemistry.
Probably the only problem I have with the movie is that it just doesn’t much feel like a Die Hard movie. One misses the sense of claustrophobia that came with the first one, and to a lesser extent, the second, but the film is entertaining enough to get a pass from me. I can forgive a lack of tension if it’s replaced by something else.
Edge: Die Hard With a Vengeance
It’s Die Hard by a hair. Both third entries have their problems. I’ve already spoken about the problems Lethal Weapon 3 has, but unlike Die Hard with a Vengeance, it does have an acceptably explosive climax with a shootout in a burning housing project.
The third Die Hard tries to go out with a bang, but doesn’t quite make it. It’s loud enough and violent enough, but it just doesn’t quite satisfy like it should. Still, overall, it is the better movie.
Stage IV: Your Mileage May Vary Fourths
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998): Directed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, and Jet Li
Six years after the third movie, Warner Brothers was in dire need of a big release for the summer of ’98. Oh, they had a few other entries. Quest for Camelot. The Negotiator. The Avengers. The fact that two of those three are dissected on this very site should tell you how well that lineup did.
Hell, The Negotiator is the best of the three, and even then it’s a little hokey. I mean, I paid to see it, but that truly proves nothing. I also paid to see Lethal Weapon 4 in the theater. Twice.
Lethal Weapon 4 was rushed into production in January of ’98, and was released in July of the same year. Yes, you read that right. The fact that it even works at all is a goddamned miracle.
The plot, what little there is, revolves around Riggs and Murtaugh going up against a Triad gang led by Jet Li, while also dealing with two pregnancies (Lorna, and Murtaugh’s oldest daughter), several running gags involving Murtaugh, Chris Rock on hand as a motor-mouthed cop (think Chris Tucker, only likable), and Joe Pesci is back as Leo. And no, he doesn’t have jack to do with the story here, either.
So we have an overstuffed cast, a vague plot, way too many subplots, and more bantering than any movie should be able to get away with. Seriously, the main reason I never recapped this one was that once I started on it, I realized just how many times the word “banter” or variations of it were being used after only a few pages, and got pissed off and abandoned it.
The action is good throughout, with a nice opening shootout, a good finale with Jet Li, and an excellent freeway chase that I would argue makes the one in The Matrix Reloaded look rather blah. Mainly because it is, but that’s not important right now!
The movie is truly a mess, albeit a very watchable one. Though, it’s oddly uncomfortable in hindsight when you have a character played by Mel Gibson making vaguely racist remarks towards some of the Chinese characters. Maybe he was secretly trying to tell us something about himself.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007): Directed by Len Wiseman, starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long, and Timothy Olyphant
The fourth Die Hard movie follows the pattern of the third, moving McClane into a more open area, with D.C. and Baltimore serving as locations as he goes up against cyber-terrorists led by Timothy Olyphant. Justin Long is also here as the sidekick, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Lucy McClane, who amusingly enough proves to be just as much of a hard-ass as her dad when she’s captured by the villains.
Despite a ton of action and humor, the movie never really takes off, with the middle section being the best, and the finale just barely getting there. Outside of editing in post to make it PG-13, the fourth Die Hard is a solid enough action movie (though I recommend you just watch the R-rated cut), so much so that there honestly just isn’t a hell of a lot to talk about, besides saying what an annoying, unlikable asshole the Kevin Smith character is. Seriously, I was hoping for just one moment where he gets punched in the mouth. Alas, it was not to be.
Edge: Lethal Weapon 4
Shockingly enough, Lethal Weapon 4 takes it by sheer virtue of the fact that it’s a miracle the thing is even remotely watchable. Performances are what they need to be, the action is good, and while there are way too many subplots running around, the movie moves quickly enough to where you don’t really give that much of a damn.
Incredibly enough, Die Hard is still on the radar, as Bruce Willis is reportedly interested in a fifth one. Hell, as long as they go for the R and tell Kevin Smith to stay the hell home, I’m in!
As for Lethal Weapon, the franchise left off on a reasonable enough note, and while talk pops up every now and then about a fifth one, given Mel Gibson’s current level of popularity, I think you’re more likely to see Snooki from Jersey Shore jumping center for the Lakers next season.
Both franchises have had their good moments and their less than stellar ones. I sort of favor Die Hard these days. There’s more consistency, the cast doesn’t get clogged up, the scripts are generally more coherent, and on top of all that, Bruce Willis has yet to show a side of him even close to being as unpleasant as the dark side Mel Gibson has shown in recent years. And no, Hudson Hawk doesn’t count. We’ve always known he has an ego as vast as the Sahara.
The Lethal Weapon films from best to worst:
- Lethal Weapon 2
- Lethal Weapon
- Lethal Weapon 4
- Lethal Weapon 3
The Die Hard films from best to worst:
- Die Hard
- Die Hard With a Vengeance
- Die Hard 2
- Live Free or Die Hard
Next up in Franchise Evolution: The Punisher!