"Shot down / In a blaze of glory…"—Jon Bon Jovi
Young Guns II opens circa 1950 with an old man telling his story to a lawyer (Bradley Whitford, TV's The West Wing). The old man wants to arrange a meeting with the governor of the state and get a full pardon from killing 21 men. Why? He says that he's the real Billy the Kid. The lawyer wants proof, which comes in the way of a flashback of a year after the events of the original Young Guns. Billy has been riding with some new outlaws, including Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater, Hard Rain) and Pat Garrett (William Petersen, Manhunter). After being captured by the law and reunited with two of the surviving Regulators (Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips), Billy busts his way out of a hanging with "Doc" Scurlock and Chavez Y Chavez in tow. But Billy can't hide from the law forever, and when his old "friend" Pat Garrett is deputized as a lawman and swears to hunt down and kill Billy, things really start to heat up. Hiding out in various towns and trails, Billy will eventually come face to face with Garrett in one final explosive showdown…
Young Guns II is as fun, if not quite as good, as the original Young Guns movie. The production, performances, and shootouts all feel slicker and more professional—it's as if Warner Brothers wanted to one-up the original, and I'll be a cactus bur if they may not have succeeded. Emilio Estevez received yet another chance to hoot and holler as the egotistic Billy the Kid, tossing off the film's most popular catchphrase (when Billy points his gun at a poor soul, he quips "I'll make ya famous"). Since half of the original Young Guns cast was killed of in the previous film, this time around we get Christian Slater's smarmy mug as Billy's competition for the group's leader and Alan Ruck as Hendry French, a mild mannered farmer who joins up with the one time Regulators due a streak of bad luck in his life (though his character is the most sorely underdeveloped of the bunch). Although Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips return as the sensitive "Doc" Surlock and Chavez Y Chavez (everyone's favorite angry Mexican Indian), respectfully, this is really Estevez and William Petersen's movie. Both Petersen and Estevez make fine rivals on both sides of the law, plowing through their roles with a lot of pierced staring and tenacity. Their relationship is the backbone of the story, and by the time the middle passages of the film arrive, it's clear that we're really watching and waiting for the outcome of Pat Garrett's hunt for Billy's hide. If the film stumbles, it's in the pacing and solid story arc—the screenplay sometimes rambles about without a clear direction as to where it's going. Even so, there's enough here to make this a worthy sequel to the original, and not just a paltry extension of the story. Is Young Guns II the perfect western? Nope. But like the first film it's a lot of fun and filled with a wild spirit that's as infectious as poison ivy.
Young Guns II is presented in a very attractive looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Unlike the newly created Young Guns: Special Edition from Artisan, this transfer looks excellent, with the colors appearing solid and black levels even and dark. I also think that the 2.35:1 scope looks better than the original's 1.85:1—there's something about the old west that just looks better in a longer aspect ratio. Aside of a small amount of grain and softness in one key scene, this picture looks mighty fine. The soundtrack is presented in newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix in English. This is a very middle-of-the-road 5.1 mix—while the dialogue, effects, and Alan Silvestri's rugged music score are all clear, directional effects and surround sounds are kept at a minimum. There is some depth and dynamic range to this track (it's certainly better than the first film's), making it a decent sound mix for the film. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in French. No alternate subtitles have been included on this disc.
Unlike Artisan, I don't think that Warner Brothers has any plans to redo Young Guns II into a coveted "special edition" anytime soon. What fans do get is a theatrical trailer for the film, and that's it. It's enough to make fans wanna shoot the town drunkard.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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