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The Ending Of Lethal Weapon 2 Explained

These days, hardly a year goes by without another buddy cop movie. It's a tried-and-true genre that's worked for decades. And while there's no consensus on which movie was the first buddy cop movie, one of the earliest was In the Heat of the Night in 1967, which starred Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. But the movies that established this film formula often draw inspiration from '80s pop culture staples like 48 Hours and the Lethal Weapon franchise too.

Lethal Weapon 2 premiered in 1989. This time, Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) found themselves up against Arjen Rudd, the crooked South African consul who was the head of a drug smuggling operation. Things quickly got personal for Riggs when he found out the South Africans had murdered his wife. And like any good buddy cop movie, Lethal Weapon 2 relied on two main ingredients: a kick-ass action story, and the relationship between its two main characters. But while the first Lethal Weapon followed Riggs and Murtaugh as they formed their unlikely friendship, Lethal Weapon 2 took Riggs' and Murtaugh's relationship development in a new direction entirely. 

Lethal Weapon 2's ending also mirrors the first film of the franchise, so let's start there. 

In Lethal Weapon, the renegade cop evolves

Riggs and Murtaugh are the quintessential cop duo, and Lethal Weapon established the template for many buddy cop movies to follow. At the start of Lethal Weapon, Riggs is the cop who doesn't play by the rules, and the recent death of his wife has left him reckless and suicidal. Whereas Murtaugh is more by-the-book in his approach to his work.

Of the two, Riggs undergoes more personal growth. The criminal case they investigate is personal to Murtaugh, as they uncover a heroin-smuggling ring made up of Vietnam War vets, one of whom served with Murtaugh. Riggs starts off like his usual reckless self, and he and Murtaugh don't get along too well as a result. But over the course of the movie, as the drug smugglers threaten Murtaugh's family multiple times, Riggs does whatever he can to help his partner. The experience bonds them as friends, and that's how Riggs begins to process the grief over his wife's death. At the end of Lethal Weapon, Riggs gives Murtaugh the bullet he'd saved for his suicide but no longer needs. He's grown as a person and his healing has begun. 

And in Lethal Weapon 2, it was Murtaugh's turn to evolve. 

Lethal Weapon 2 depicts a by-the-book cop that changes his ways

Murtaugh is well-established as the cop who plays by the rules. His catchphrase in the first movie is "I'm getting too old for this sh*t," which he always says in response to Riggs' recklessness. But as demonstrated by Lethal Weapon 2, there are times when it's necessary to play by the rules, and there are times when the rules get in the way.

In another reversal, the crime they investigate in Lethal Weapon 2 is personal to Riggs, not Murtaugh. Riggs and Murtaugh find out that the South Africans murdered Riggs' wife, and on top of that, the South Africans murder Riggs' new girlfriend, Rika (who's also Rudd's secretary). The only thing stopping Riggs and Murtaugh from taking down Rudd and his gang is Rudd's diplomatic immunity, which places them above the law. 

But when Rika is murdered, Riggs decides he wants revenge at all costs, diplomatic immunity or not. And Murtaugh decides to throw away his badge to help his partner. This decision kicks off Lethal Weapon 2's climax, in which Riggs and Murtaugh ambush and kill the South Africans as they try to escape Los Angeles. In the film's climactic moment, Rudd shoots Riggs in the back, then tries to claim diplomatic immunity. Murtaugh shoots him dead and says, "It's just been revoked."

By doing this, Murtaugh has broken one of his cardinal rules, which is to do things by the book. But he breaks this rule in service to his friend. At the end of Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs and Murtaugh are both different people than they were at the start of the series, but their friendship is stronger than ever. 

Turns out, nothing brings people together quite like violating diplomatic immunity laws.