Young Guns II (1990)

“You asked me if I have scars? Yessir, I have my scars.”

Justin’s rating: The last ride of Billy the Kid… and the 1980s

Justin’s review: In many ways, the 1980s didn’t end at midnight on December 31st, 1989. There’s always some parts of a decade that bleed over into the next before the new one asserts its own identity, and that was true of the very early 1990s. This is when we got distinctly ’80s sequels, such as Robocop 2, Back to the Future Part III, and Die Hard 2 — not to mention the Bon Jovi-infused follow-up to 1988’s Young Guns.

It’s hard not to feel like this western is trying to hold on to the past, especially considering that its whole story is about getting Billy the Kid’s old gang back together once again. Very loosely based on the historical William Bonney, Young Guns II details the aftermath of the Regulators’ revenge romp and how pretty much everyone in the west is after them for revenge and/or reward. The gang sees some turnover — Charlie Sheen and Durmot Mulroney are out, while Christian Slater and Alan Ruck are in — but Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Kiefer Sutherland continue the tradition of making us root for the underdog antiheroes.

On the run to Mexico to presumed safety, Billy’s gang has to contend with both the law and hired guns who are hellbent on taking them down. That’s pretty much the whole plot right there, a framework that is far more scanty than than already anemic first movie. But hey, if it gives us a chance to see Emilio being all cocky and tons of shootouts to ensue, why not?

I mean, there’s no need to actually appeal to real history when the cinematic world can mold and shape events to be more crowd-pleasing. This movie outright posits an alternate future where Billy the Kid wasn’t actually killed in 1881, but rather survived in the west — somehow — for the next 69 years. It’s a neat idea that really isn’t explored as much as you might hope. Instead, the plot lurches and sprints through a manhunt that involves a lot of bickering, clever ploys, and desperate shootouts.

Young Guns II certainly looks good and is full of talented actors who don’t mind getting a western on their resume. But the real star might be Alan Silvestri’s score, which became somewhat of a cult favorite afterward — far more so than Bon Jovi’s “inspired by” album.

It wasn’t like there was a whole lot of westerns being made in 1990, but even so, this one feels lacking, somehow. It’s as if it is checking off all of the right boxes — but not in the right order or with that special panache that would have made this anything other than a passable matinee experience. You won’t exactly regret seeing this, but your life won’t be changed by it, either.

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