Last week I talked about how Die Hard is depressing. Talking about Die Hard, especially when considering the entire series, always makes me think about the Lethal Weapon films. While there are a number of differences (one is a buddy cop series while the other isn't...even though it tries sometimes), right now I want to focus on two specific ones.
1. While the Die Hard films don't get better as they go (The first is leaps and bounds above the rest [and above almost all action movies, period], but I would place the third one as next best and perhaps even put the fourth above the second.), the Lethal Weapon films each get worse.
2. The Lethal Weapon films take the Martin Riggs character in the exact opposite direction of John McClane. And they make that change a prominent part of the story. (I think this could have made it a much better film series if it had been done successfully, but its lack of grace and subtlety in this area ultimately becomes its downfall by the time you reach the fourth film.)
The first time we meet Martin Riggs, he's trying to work up the courage to kill himself. Not your typical action hero behavior. His wife was killed, and he's not dealing with it well.
Partnering with Roger Murtaugh puts some purpose in Riggs' life. He befriends Murtaugh and his family, eventually fighting to save them.
He's definitely changed by the end of the first film. He's no longer suicidal. But he still has that crazy streak, which makes him lovable.
Then in the second film, his dark past gets dug up as one of the villains admits to being his wife's assassin. And on top of that, Riggs' love interest is killed. Not many films would do something like that, especially that late in the film. Having not had a love interest in the first film, you expect her to stick around. Her death is pretty shocking.
This knocks Riggs down pretty far in the stability department. While he doesn't become suicidal again, he's definitely depressed.
That changes in the third film when he meets his match (and much more playful love interest) in Lorna Cole, a fellow cop. It would have been a total cheat to kill off this love interest as well, but aside from that fact, this was a natural progression for his character.
While the third film isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, it doesn't out-stay its welcome like the fourth one. In this film, Riggs' is expecting a baby. He's now a family man. And he's so connected to Murtaugh's family that the romance/pregnancy in that family affects him just as much.
They pound the "family" message too much, even going so far as to end the film with a group "family" picture that includes Leo Getz.
So if Die Hard is about the futility of man, Lethal Weapon is about the restoration of the soul. But as time has taught us again and again, it's a lot easier to avoid being cheesy when you break a character down than when you build him up.
In other words...I'll take futility.