After Die Hard swung in on a firehose from the flaming wreckage of an exploding high rise and changed the face of action movies as we knew it, a sequel was obviously inevitable as a trademark Bruce Willis smirk following an after-kill punchline. Sure enough, a couple of years later, terrorists with a sinister agenda descended on another American facility (this time an airport in Washington DC) and once again, Detective John McClane finds himself knee deep in cordite smelling ka-ka. But there was a major change, the original movie’s director wasn’t going to be calling the shots and Renny Harlin (surely the don of 90’s Hollywood rent-a-directors) was drafted in to marshall McClane’s sophomore adventure – but did the final result show Harlin to be the wrong guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time?
As I stated before, John McClane once again finds his Christmas holidays made all the more awkward by something worse than horrendous traffic and a turkey that’s turned out a little dry. Domestic terrorists led by the rogue Colonal Stewart have decided to hijack the snowy Washington Dulles International Airport in order to free captive drug lord and full time dictator of Val Verde, General Ramon Esperanza (you gotta admit it’s one hell of a resume) and to do so they manage to hack into the air traffic control tower and block all communications to the circling planes.
Awaiting patiently in arrivals is McClane, waiting to pick up his long suffering wife Holly who is on one of the delayed flights but who soon finds himself stumbling into the middle of Col. Stewart’s plot and finds himself simultaneously fighting off both murderous mercenaries and a strong sense of deja vu as he struggles to liberate the airport before his wife’s plane runs out of fuel. However, there’s an even more dangerous threat on the horizon because it wouldn’t be a Die Hard movie without some sort of double-cross that changes the entire complexity of the game – so can the wildly out of his depth McClane possibly wriggle his way out of this one?
Whereas the first film had a sense of an ensemble piece with all the vastly different characters having moments to shine, Die Hard 2 (now that Willis was fully cemented as a legitimate action hero) is much more the John McClane show as our blue collar hero alternates between blowing away bad guys and being baffled by fax machines and beepers while wondering aloud to himself (a lot) as to how the same shit can happen to the same guy twice. To be fair, even though credulity is stretched a bit thin, Willis pulls us through with style with copious wise cracks, rants and smirks to keep the faithful happy.
The movie is as enthusiastically violent (if not more so if you can believe that’s possible) than the first film with McClane practically DRILLING bad guys with excessive gunfire to the point where the overworked coroners would have to collect up the vast quantities of dead people with a squeegee. When he’s not emptying whole clips into a single, screaming target or crushing people to death with scaffolding, he’s stabbing wrong ‘uns in the eye socket with a bloody great icicle like a complete maniac. It makes for some great, visceral shootouts and Harlin isn’t shy in breaking out the blood bags or slow motion, especially in a thrilling gun fight between the airport’s SWAT team and some terrorists as John races to get there and even the odds.
However, there’s an arguement to be made that maybe Die Harder is a little too nasty with the mid-film crashing of a passenger plane kind of making the movie a bit of a bummer. Hans Gruber executing the odd person made him a gleefully hissable villain – Col. Stewart immolating innocent men, women and children in a huge fireball removes a fair amount of the escapist joy the original tried so hard to maintain.
Also, a major selling point that made the original such an instant classic was that virtually every character, no matter how big or how small, was memorable and stood out with their own little moment in the spotlight. After Die Hard 2 ends you’ll be hard pressed to remember ANY of the secondary characters who populate this new set of surroundings that McClane finds himself. My point is everyone remembers Argyle the limo driver, or Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robertson, or the coke snorting Ellis – who the hell remembers Marvin the janitor or Samantha Coleman the nosy reporter or ANY of the bad guys who are mostly faceless military goons who includes a small pre-Terminator 2 role for Robert Patrick (a pre-1000 if you will). The fact that the villains are portrayed by such familiar character actors as John Amos, Franco Nero and William Sadler – whose introductory and legendary scene of nude Tai-Chi is quite possibly the most memorable thing about any other character in the whole movie – just goes to prove how underwhelming they truly are.
Another issue I find have is with the location. The snowed airport seems like fertile ground for many crazy shenanigans and the filmmakers try to use as many as they can, but the problem remains that every single character, if they REALLY wanted to, is totally free to wander off whenever and wherever they please, which thwarts the claustrophobic feel of the original in which everybody was sealed in together and escape was impossible.
The ad campaigns at the time screamed that “Lightning Strikes Twice” and while Renny Harlin certainly does a good job of aping John McTiernen’s slick style and producing some muscular action sequences, there’s a strong feeling the the original’s magical sense of joy is somewhat lacking.
Die Hard 2 is undeniably a nicely capable sequel, I think we can all agree. But maybe, just maybe, Die Harder should have tried harder…