“Young Guns 2” came out 2 years after the first movie and brought back every character that survived the end of the first film. There is an awkward sequence that bookends the movie concerning an old man who comes out of hiding claiming to be a very much alive Billy the Kid. I’m not sure why the sequence was put into the movie, even though such a case did actually exist, although I don’t believe the man was ever conclusively proven to really be Billy the Kid.
The only reason I could think of for the inclusion of the sequence is that the filmmakers didn’t want the audience to leave the movie with a bad lump in their throat by way of the unavoidable ending. According to real western history, Billy was shot in the back late one night while walking around a dark adobe house, with Garrett laying in wait in the darkness. He was shot by Garrett, his former friend and ally, who had become a lawman and went “to the other side.” Perhaps test audiences didn’t like the fact that they had invested themselves in two movies only to see their hero shot to death in a less-than-heroic fashion (true history be damn). The bookend sequence involving an old (but very much alive) Billy the Kid was probably an attempt to tell the audience, “See? Everything worked out after all!”
Whatever the case, “Young Guns 2” returns with the same writer and cinematographer, and as a result the movie once again looks great and has a good, raw feel. The action is even more intense, the blood flows freely, but the film seems somehow disjointed from the first film. The movie, I believe, mostly follows what I like to call the “lost months” of Billy the Kid, which is a fancy way of saying writer John Fusco probably made up the bulk of “Young Guns 2.”
That isn’t to say the whole movie has no basis on fact. The Pat Garrett angle and scenes where Billy attempts to get amnesty from the New Mexico Governor are all based on recorded history. Billy is also arrested at one point, but manages to slip out of the handcuffs because he has small hands; later, he shoots one of the lawman in a rather cowardly fashion. All of these are true.
Christian Slater (“Pump Up the Volume”) joins the cast as Arkansas Dave (pronounced “Arkansaw” for those of you who don’t know), a publicity-hungry gunman who struggles to become as famous as Billy, but never seems to achieve it. For better or worst, this time around Estevez seems to be taking his part more seriously, and the jovial Billy from the first film is not always present.
At times “Young Guns 2” does seem to be excessively violent, although it helps that much of the violence and gunbattles are very realistic and Murphy shoots (no pun intended) them with flair. The movie also has a darker side to it, although this seems appropriate considering that Billy is destined to be shot dead at the end of the film. A sense of permeated doom warns the audience that not everything will be all right in the end. (Although this is somewhat undermined by the bookending sequence with the old Billy, natch.)
As with the first film, Dean Semler’s camerawork is splendid, and the New Mexico terrain has never looked better. While John Fusco’s screenplay seems to be taking more liberties with Billy the Kid’s legend in this one, the backshooting Billy does return for an encore. Most movies shy away from their hero shooting someone in the back, or someone unarmed, but “Young Guns” has never had that trouble.
“Young Guns 2” is a good sequel to a good Western, providing more of the same — which is what we expected and wanted. The bookending sequence with the old Billy works if you like to deceive yourself about the fate of the real Billy the Kid. That is, if you didn’t know Garrett shot Billy in the back in the first place, in which case you should probably read a little bit more. Libraries are free, you know.
Geoff Murphy (director) / John Fusco (screenplay)
CAST: Emilio Estevez …. William H. Bonney
Kiefer Sutherland …. Doc Scurlock
Lou Diamond Phillips …. Chavez Y. Chavez
Christian Slater …. Arkansas Dave
William L. Petersen …. Pat Garrett
Alan Ruck …. Hendry William French