The Success Of Will Smith’s ‘Bad Boys 3’ Does Not Make Mel Gibson’s ‘Lethal Weapon 5’ A Good Idea

With around $130 million in domestic earnings after 14 days of release, Bad Boys For Life will presumably, sometime today, cross the $133 million unadjusted domestic total of Bad Boys II. The $130 million Michael Bay-directed sequel was released during a time (less marketing expenses, a healthier post-theatrical marketplace, etc.) when a $130 million-budgeted could be a halfway decent hit at $273 million worldwide. With $215 million global as of Sunday (and presumably around $237 million worldwide as of yesterday), Bad Boys For Life should be over that global number by Sunday night. And, presuming and over/under $18 million third-weekend gross, the $90 million actioner should be just over the unadjusted $146 million domestic cume of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

At that point, it’ll be the biggest-grossing “new” January release, not counting Oscar season expansions like American Sniper ($350 million), Chicago ($171 million) or Hidden Figures ($170 million) of all time. No, that doesn’t account for inflation. Star Wars: Special Edition earned $137 million in January of 1997 which would be around $260 million adjusted (which was the biggest grosser ever in January for a few years). Once it passes the $177 million, it’ll also be past the inflation-adjusted likes of Cloverfield ($80 million in 2008/$118 million adjusted), The Green Hornet ($98 million in 2010/$113 million adjusted), Kung Fu Panda 3 ($143 million in 2016/$151 million adjusted), Ride Along ($134 million in 2014/$148 million) and, yes, Paul Blart: Mall Cop ($146 million in 2009/$177 million adjusted).

It’s probably the unexpectedly high grosses earned by the third Bad Boys movie that has spurred yet another round of chitter-chatter about a fifth Lethal Weapon movie. As tempting as it may be for interested parties to point at Bad Boys 3 and proclaim Lethal Weapon 5 to be a surefire hit, they aren’t the same thing in terms of franchises and/or specific appeal. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are 54 and 51, compared to Danny Glover and Mel Gibson who are presently 73 and 64. Sure, Sean Connery was 65 when he made The Rock, but Nicolas Cage was 32. Moreover, the “we’re too old for this sh*t” plot that fueled Bad Boys For Life has already been done in the Lethal Weapon films.

Moreover, Lethal Weapon has been playing the “both hero cops are old enough to retire” thing at least since Lethal Weapon 4. Heck, the younger, still “into the action” cop trying to dissuade the over-the-hill cop from plot was already part of Lethal Weapon 3 back in 1992. Sure, Richard Donner and friends could hope for collective amnesia among pundits and moviegoers (it worked like a charm for Blumhouse’s Halloween), but even Chris Rock’s “young cop” from the fourth movie is now 54 years old. At best, we’re looking at a “three generations of Murtaugh” plot, featuring Roger Murtaugh’s now-22-year-old grandson not unlike last year’s terrible Shaft sequel. Moreover, Mel Gibson’s offscreen behavior at least since 2006 has, fairly or not a decade later, colored his onscreen perception.

Yes, Gibson is still a terrific actor and an engrossing screen presence. However, his best and most interesting roles at least in the last several years have played off his real-life controversies. It’s one thing to play and over-the-hill and discompassionate action anti-hero in movies like Get the Gringo, Blood Father and Dragged Across Concrete. It’s another to essentially play Mark Wahlberg’s “rascally” father in Daddy’s Home 2 as essentially a slow-burn villain from a tone poem European thriller, and no I’m not kidding and yes, it’s why Daddy’s Home 2 is better than Daddy’s Home. But do we really want to see a Lethal Weapon movie that retroactively realigns Martin Riggs, a guy who massacred South African white supremacists, with Gibson’s current reputation?

Conversely, would pundits forgive a Lethal Weapon 5 that pretended that Mel Gibson’s offscreen reputation was unchanged between the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs in 2002 and today? Moreover, Lethal Weapon was a slight anomaly in being an overly liberal/progressive action franchise during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Riggs and Murtaugh battled apartheid in Lethal Weapon 2 (while trying to save dolphins from tuna fishermen). Lethal Weapon 3 advocated for gun control and argued that violence in African-American neighborhoods was a side effect of white people (including corrupt cops) getting rich off arms dealing. Lethal Weapon 4 explicitly compared the plight of undocumented immigrants to the pre-Civil War American slave trade. And that’s not even counting the three-season Lethal Weapon Fox show.

Behind-the-scenes melodrama notwithstanding, the first two years (which featured Damon Wayans and Murtaugh and Chance Crawford as Riggs) used the freedom of episodic television (and the inability to have non-stop action) to really dig into Riggs as a decent man struggling with both a horrible childhood (his father was a violent white supremacist) and the loss of his pregnant wife. The “two steps forward, one step back” progress of his character was both narratively frustrating and refreshingly realistic. My favorite scene in any Lethal Weapon film is the bit in Lethal Weapon 2 where Riggs monologues about the night his wife died, information he’s willing to share with Trish Murtaugh (Roger’s wife) but not Roger himself. The TV show had several scenes like that in each season.

Nonetheless, the key issue is, fair or not, Mel Gibson himself. Bad Boys For Life is a hit partially because audiences wanted to see Martin Lawrence as Marcus and Will Smith as Mike 17 years after Bad Boys II. Fair or not, there is a decent-sized audience that would not want to see Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs. Yes, Gibson can still earn his fee and justify himself in lower-budget, VOD-friendly action dramas or when directing pacifistic war actioners like Hacksaw Ridge ($180 million on a $40 million budget). But even Daddy’s Home 2 earned just $180 million on a $69 million budget, well below Daddy’s Home’s $242 million gross (on a $50 million budget). Even if Gibson’s casting didn’t hurt the movie, it certainly didn’t help.

Lethal Weapon 2 was one of the first true breakout sequels of the modern era, earning $147 million domestic in 1989 compared to Lethal Weapon’s $65 million. Lethal Weapon 3 opened with $33 million in 1995 (toward a $144 million cume), the third-best debut ever at the time behind Batman ($43 million) and Batman Returns ($46 million a month later). The franchise stands alongside Robocop and Die Hard as one of the three films that shaped the modern action movie. That being said, if audiences don’t want to see Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs, then Lethal Weapon 5 (presumably starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo and Chris Rock) is doomed. Not every over-the-hill action franchise (Rambo, Terminator, Predator, etc.) deserves, demands or justifies a comeback.

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