Synopsis: Bruce Willis returns as heroic New York cop John McClane, who once again finds himself singlehandedly battling a gang of terrorists. This time, he struggles to outwit a deadly plan after terrorists take over an international airport, leaving his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and hundreds of passengers trapped in a plane that is circling overhead.
Die Hard 2 7.75
eyelights: Bruce Willis. its incredible supporting cast. its slightly broader scope.
eyesores: its more outrageous action sequences. Its cheesier one-liners.
“Shh… it’s okay. I’ve done it before.”
‘Die Hard‘ was unexpected success. Though it was intended to be 20th Century Fox’s summer blockbuster actioner, the 1988 John McTiernan motion picture was deprived of stars, becoming a small gamble for the studio. But it ended up raking in the cash as well as the accolades, which inevitably led to the 1990 sequel ‘Die Hard 2’.
Full disclosure: I Died Harder first.
I know, I know… that’s akin to blasphemy: you always see the original first. Always. If you don’t, at the very least you’re missing crucial background information that informs the characters’ behaviour and even the plot. Plus which the tone is influenced by predecessors: Would ‘Aliens‘ be remotely chilling if not for ‘Alien‘?
I highly doubt it.
But, you see, ‘Die Hard’ came out when I was 15 – and it was rated R. Oh, I saw the commercials and heard tons about it from friends – but I didn’t even have a VCR, so I didn’t get to see it. However, when ‘Die Hard 2’ came out, I was nearly 18 and it was much easier to get into a movie that was rated R. So I got to see this one first.
And I liked it.
And so it is that, despite being an inarguably inferior film to its forebear, ‘Die Hard 2’ remains a guilty pleasure of mine, one that elicits fond memories to this day. And it’s actually pretty decent (though some are adamant that it’s a piece of !@#$), enough so that it outdid ‘Die Hard’ at the box office, almost doubling its take.
It’s not hard to see why. Though McTiernan could not return due to his commitment to ‘The Hunt for Red October’, key components of the cast came back: Bruce Willis as John McClane, Bonnie Bedelia as Holly, Reginald VelJohnson as Al, and (in a credulity-defying coincidence) William Atherton as the despicable Richard Thornburg.
What? No Alan Rickman, you ask? Hmmm….. I think that that would have been pushing it.
With these familiar faces on board, and a script once again co-written by Steven E. de Souza (based on yet another novel), it’s no wonder that it feels a little bit like ‘Die Hard’ – except that it’s set in an airport instead of a high-rise, there are way more outlandish action set pieces and thrice the amount of corny one-liners from McClane.
This time, McClane faces a horde of former U.S. Special Forces collaborating to release an extradited prisoner from Val Verde, General Ramon Esperanza, who is set to land at the airport. On Christmas Eve. As McClane is waiting for Holly’s plane to arrive. Caught in the middle, McClane has no choice but to try to save the day.
Ahem… but will he?
Look, just by virtue of the fact that it’s a sequel starring the same main characters, you know that it will end well for our hero (um… unless you’re watching ‘Beneath for the Planet of the Apes‘, which is another ball of wax). There may have been a smidge of doubt in the first film, but there isn’t here – it’s more a question of “how”.
Of course, there’s the no-small-matter of McClane himself, who’s become more of a caricature since the first film, wisecracking pretty much non-stop and coming out unscathed of encounters that would have felled most men. Whereas there was a level of realism to his first incarnation, now he’s in the same league as Schwarzenegger.
So it’s hard to buy into the tension.
Still, the picture is full of treats, like its core conceit and resulting hijacking situation, William Sadler making a heck of an impression as a cold, psychopathic villain, its supporting cast of very strong character actors, and its vigourous pace – as McClane incessantly runs around trying to alert the authorities and/or stop some of the baddies.
There’s no lag time in ‘Die Hard 2’; it’s certainly exciting.
But it does trip up along the way.
- For starters, there’s the introduction to the Special Forces, which is perfectly choreographed, but which feels like something out of a music video or a training video, not real life. They’re all so robotic and menacing that it feels a bit much, like we’re seeing a bunch of Series 800 Terminators going out to kill Sarah Connor.
- Then there’s the aforementioned action sequences. Whether it’s the first one, which finds McClane using a golf club, then a bicycle, and falling from great heights without getting hurt, or the one in which he escapes gunfire and grenades by ejecting himself from a passenger jet’s cockpit just in time, it can get pretty ridiculous.
- There’s also McClane and the airport security chief’s constant arguments, which grew tiresome over time. It sort of made sense at first, given McClane’s apparent intrusion, but Captain Lorenzo was far too obstinate, ignoring an endless stream of security concerns just because McClane was in his face. It was basically a farce.
- And yet this was counterbalanced by an equally absurd notion: McClane’s pairing with the airport janitor, who seems to be the only staff on site. The guy is a rambling nutcase, but he happens to be the right man at the right time with the right tools. It sort of makes sense since McClane has become a rambling nutcase here, but still…
- The finale, which is set on the wing of a Boeing 747. First, McClane commandeers a media chopper to catch up to the plane, but the baddies don’t notice. Then McClane surprises them by jumping out of thin air. Then they fight for a SUPER LONG time on the wing (how long is the runway?). Then he lets the fuel out, but no one notices.
WTF. WTF. WTF.
Then it ends with a schmaltzy holiday ending to make us gag with good cheer.
Still, ‘Die Hard 2’ does a terrific job of anchoring its character in one location (or nearly), giving a sense of claustrophobia not too far removed from the original. So it still works. And it does hold a few surprises in store to rattle its audience, which was nice – though implausible. Plus its cast plays off of each other rather nicely too.
So, though it’s not a must-see in the same way that ‘Die Hard’ is, this one’s a fairly enjoyable slice of Hollywood diversion. And it’s a much more fitting follow-up than most sequels are: it doesn’t fully rehash the hit formula, but it also hasn’t become something altogether unfamiliar either – aside for its protagonist and/or setting.
Ultimately, you could do worse than to Die Harder.
Date of viewing: November 22, 2016