Steve Grzesiak’s review:
I think, considering that Dirty Harry is one of my favourite films of all time, that I should probably take some kind of offence to Magnum Force. It's not even because it's not nearly as good, but more to do with the fact that it takes the character of Harry Callahan to places that I did not want to see him go to in this film's predecessor.
Dirty Harry got Callahan perfect - it's one of the reasons the film is so good. All we see is Callahan the cop. We don't see his home life, we don't know anything about him outside of his profession, and we don't want to know anything about them. So they had a major decision to make with Magnum Force - more of the same, or do we characterise and even humanise Callahan a bit?
They obviously opted for the latter choice. There's no doubt that the character is weaker for it, too, but considering the success and high quality of the original, they perhaps had no choice. In my opinion, an equally serious minded sequel that used Callahan in the exact same way would have been far, far poorer than Magnum Force turns out to be.
The changes to Callahan are not all that major anyway, but any flaws that become apparent are covered by a really excellent plot which sees some of San Francisco's top criminals being executed by a mysterious renegade cop who decides to mete out the justice that the courts are not providing. It then twists into an altogether more conspiracy-laden story and a very deft twist near the end.
In terms of the layout of its plot, it operates in a similar way to Dirty Harry in some ways. As the original saw Callahan having to deal with a subplot which involved 'talking down' a man threatening to commit suicide, this features him dealing with a hijacked plane. This is probably the weakest part of the film - although funny and well executed, it's also absolutely ridiculous. We also see him lumbered with another naive young partner.
But despite its occasionally unavoidable downsides, this really is an excellent thriller in its own right. It's lengthy enough to really give the main story time to breathe and bed in, and also ensures that this is not a one man show with the always excellent Hal Holbrook, in another nod to the original, playing an antagonistic superior to great effect. Eastwood is excellent once again even though he has to work with a weakened character, but aside from a decent David Soul turn, the support cast isn't given a huge amount to do.
Judged on its own merits, it really is a fine film that's more deserving than just being viewed as one of Dirty Harry's inferior sequels. It's easily the best of those and there are so many more positive things going for it that I would love to mention in this review. Then again, a man's got to know his limitations....