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Reviews Young Guns (1988) and Young Guns II (1990)

genre: action, drama, western

After almost 25 years, I decided to revisit Young Guns and Young Guns II. Young Guns II was a film I had watched many times after the initial viewing. The original, not that often. And while most of the cast did return, the two films are quite different. Although they do have things in common.

The original, takes more time to set up the regulators, consisting of Brat Pack actors and some other big names. One of them is William H. Bonney a.k.a. Billy the Kid, played by Emilio Estevez. It's important because it explains why they are riding together. What isn't explained why other members like Doc Scurlock, Chavez, Charlie and Dirty Steve remain by his side when they soon find out that Billy the Kid is absolutely crazy. Billy himself considers them pals which to him is sacred. That might be, but Billy causes more trouble for them than that he solves. I wished the characters had more depth to them so that we would get a better idea why they were still prepared to follow Billy. I mean, after the death of their boss / caretaker John Tunstall it makes sense that they want revenge for his murder. But that doesn't explain why they would opt for the outlaw way. 

I do have to state that I don't know enough about Billy the Kid and the other cowboys. So I don't really know how much of the story is true. It doesn't really matter, although it does seem that you are required to know some of the history, since the films skips quite a few events while rarely pointing out how much time has passed. It gives the film a bit of uneven pacing. At times, the film seems to be dragging, since it basically goes from one event to another without meaningful dialogue or conversations. The action sequences are solid and thrilling enough, but do miss an emotional component.

Overall, the film hasn't aged well. And I believe that has to do with the fact that it lacks story and distinctive style. For a one time watch, it certainly will entertain, but for multiple viewings it falls short.

Enter Young Guns II. This is the one I am really fond of. It has several memorable quotes and lines, more stylish and dramatic scenes, a musical score to die for and a brilliant Emilio Estevez who gives us the immensely likeable but insane Billy the Kid. 

There are no pacing issues in this one. In fact, the film moves quite fast yet spends just enough time to make you root for Billy and co without detracting from the main narrative. Like the first, there is not that much to the story. But it does feel there is more at stake regarding the hunt for Billy and his gang. Especially since former friend, Pat Garret, has turned against them. William Peterson, gives the much-needed depth and maturity to the character who would be responsible for the death of Billy the Kid. Young Guns II depends on you knowing this historic fact as it plays around with this notion and wants to put doubt to that legendary tale. I also have to mention Jenny Wright as Jane Greathouse. She wasn't in the original, but the boys are familiar with her and her profession. She turns out to be quite pivotal and essential, since through her some criticism is offered against the new wild west. 

The action in the original was bloodier, but I found the action in this sequel far more enjoyable and memorable. It's because of the style and energy infused by director Geoff Murphy. He also makes you more invested in them. It could also be that there is more humour in this film. Don't get me wrong, it was present in the original, although that one took itself a little too seriously. The comic relief in that film felt like filler. In here, it emphasizes how crazy the outlaws are. 

To me, Geoff Murphy, has found the right balance between violence, comedy and drama. Add to that the stellar musical score, and you will understand why I regard this sequel the superior of the two. I would even go so far as to call this a classic.

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