Movie Review – Magnum Force (1973)

A man’s got to know his limitations, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of “Magnum Force.”

I promised a review of all five “Dirty Harry” movies and slowly but surely, I’ll get there.

The key to making a good sequel to a popular movie is to keep the essence of what made the first flick so awesome but at the same time, being willing to branch out just far enough to make the film stand on its own.  That’s done here and serial writers would be well-advised to pay attention.

While Dirty Harry’s catchphrase in the first film was, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” here, it’s “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Early in the film, Harry says this to one of the many bosses who spend all day polishing their brass but still want to chew Callahan out over why he can’t be kinder and gentler to the never-ending onslaught of scumbags who are trying to shoot him.  It’s meant as an insult but as the movie progresses, I began to wonder if it isn’t eventually turned into Harry’s mantra.

You see, in the ultimate twist of irony, Harry, who has long groused about the flaws in the system that allow criminals to go free, is pitted against…dun dun dun…a group of young, rookie motorcycle cops who have formed an execution squad, carrying out hits on bad guys who skirt the system time and time again.

Though Harry is often accused of going beyond the law himself, we, the viewers, know the truth.  Harry doesn’t go above the law…he just enforces the law, and he never backs down from a fight.  When other cops call it a day, Harry runs headfirst into danger, his .44 Magnum blazing, and gets the job done.

But as much as he gripes about how the system lets crooks walk, he, to use his catchphrase, “knows his limitations.”  He knows he is limited by the law and if he breaks it in the name of catching a crook, then he’s no worse than the bad guys he locks up.

Still, the setup is gut wrenching – Harry, the badass cop who bleeds blue, forced to do the unthinkable – to take on his fellow officers as though (shudder) he’s some kind of dirty, bleeding heart hippy.  Truly, Callahan’s worst nightmare.

As usual, there are a number of interludes where Harry is just out and about town, enjoying a bite to eat or doing some work when shit happens.  During the 1970s, airplanes were hijacked by terrorists pretty regularly, so I imagined crowds of that era cheered as Harry dons a pilot uniform to sneak onboard a pilfered plane only to feed the bad guys a taste of .44 caliber justice.  Today, movie goers would want to give the terrorists a cash settlement and put Harry in sensitivity training.

Further, the shootout in a department store is one of the best action scenes in the entire series, so you’ll want to check that out.

Moral quandaries abound as the film takes you into the lives of those baddies being offed by the motorcycle squad, from mobsters who start their own wars to a pimp who forces a can of drain cleaner down the throat of a prostitute who comes up a few bucks short.  On occasion, you might, sadly, find yourself rooting for the motorcycle cops but then you remember that while the system is flawed, the same system that occasionally lets bad guys go also keeps people from being like, “Hey, I don’t like so and so’s face so I’m going to say he’s a criminal for no reason and take it upon myself to blow him away.”  Vigilantism is never the way, no matter what Batman tells you.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Overall, it’s a rare sequel that’s as good as the first.  Harsh as it may sound, we all need to know our limitations.  That’s the hardest part of life, isn’t it?  In theory, Harry would probably like to dispense his own brand of Magnum justice to the wicked, but he knows he’s limited by the law and as much as he complains about it, he knows he’s limited by it, so he won’t step over that line, though he occasionally wiggles his foot over it from time to time throughout the series.  Here, the crooked cops didn’t know their limits and thus, must face Callahan’s wrath.

“Know your limitations” is good advice for life, as much as we hate to hear it.  Don’t wait around for the perfect job, when a subpar gig will put money in your bank account.  Don’t wait around for the perfect lover when an imperfect person is willing to spend time with you.  If you never settle for less than perfection, you’ll never experience much in this very imperfect world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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