Tagline: Die Harder
Director: Renny Harlin
Writer: Steven E. De Souza
Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson, Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans
18 | 2hr 4min | Action, Thriller
Budget: $70,000,000 (estimated)
‘How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?’ a bewildered John McClane asks as he finds himself in yet another terrorist hotspot. By the time we hear these words, we have already asked ourselves the same question many times over.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder is as ‘more of the same’ as its tagline suggests, and screenwriter Steven E. De Souza is under no delusions to the contrary as Renny Harlin takes the reins for John McTiernan’s blockbuster opus, this time plunging our reluctant hero into a flaming soup of rogue military operatives, federal double-crosses and impossibly dismissive police captains. Sound familiar? Well, the similitudes don’t stop there.
This time McClane finds himself stuck at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Once again he is meeting his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and once again he is in for a very long day as our ruthlessly efficient crooks attempt to extricate a South American drug lord from justice. This time the hostages are a plane full of passengers, a circling rabble who face the prospect of running out of fuel as Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) shuts off the runway lights and forces another aircraft to explode into flames, just to show that he is serious.
Once again, Holly is among the ill-fated passengers, as is Thornberg (William Atherton), the slimy reporter from the first instalment, who this time tries to stir trouble from 39,000 feet. Atherton further displays his cowardice by hiding behind a restraining order took out against Holly after she punched him on the nose, and the two provide much of the comic relief in an otherwise bloodthirsty movie.
Harlan ramps up the violence as he attempts to recapture the thrills and spills of the original, resulting in a movie that is not for the squeamish. Die Hard 2 is incredibly graphic. The body count is higher, the manner of deaths are more extreme and the action is blistering. Add to this a couple of incredibly tense, blockbuster set-pieces, and you have a very effective exercise in sequel-making.
Although it would be easy to criticise him, Harlin does the right thing by staying loyal to the original formula. For one thing, McClane’s charm lies in his sense of irony, and there is nothing more ironic than a constant sense of déjà vu, particularly when the events featured in the first instalment were so far beyond the realms of plausibility to begin with. Taking this into consideration, there is no sense in doing things half-assed.
On the contrary, things should be so similar as to make the humour self-reflexive, and De Souza is determined to have us in on the joke at the ground floor, ramming it so far down our throats that knowing derision becomes an essential part of our involvement. When McClane is escaping through the elevator shaft as two cops are waiting to accost him on the ground floor, he deflects a reporter’s inquisitions by telling her, ‘It’s okay. I’ve done this before.’ We know he has, and we know exactly what is coming, but that is besides the point. It’s how we get there that counts.
Are there any differences to speak of? Well, after his heroics at the Nakatomi Plaza, McClane has become something of a celebrity, but that has no bearing on his personality, or on the way his colleagues treat him. This time, Dennis Franz plays the role of the belligerent police captain, while Art Evans assumes the role of the token black sidekick, the return of Sgt. Al Powell, now safely behind his desk in Los Angeles, proving a contrivance too far. McClane also makes pals with a basement-dwelling janitor whose idiosyncrasies and insular nature reinforce John’s role as the everyman, an essential factor in elevating the series above most other action fodder.
Where Die Hard 2 truly excels is in its action set-pieces. It may be lacking an antagonist as potent as the immortal Hans Gruber, or even a henchman with as much appeal as the stoic Karl, but the film offers more bang for your buck, which is the most you can expect from a sequel of this nature. Although the movie is set at Christmas time, it also lacks some of the festive sparkle of the first movie, while Evans’ airport engineer lacks the emotional depth and camaraderie of Reginald VelJohnson’s Al.
Even so, in many ways Die Hard 2 is the blueprint for how a blockbuster sequel should be made. It doesn’t have the game-changing originality of Terminator 2 or Aliens, but it knows exactly what it is and excels in its execution of that formula. It is bigger, louder and more violent, while keeping the essential elements that made its antecedent such a blistering ride. The original Die Hard is a masterpiece of the action genre that will never be replicated, but Harlin pays due homage, understanding exactly what it is that makes McClane and his audience tick.
After Jamming the terrorist plane’s aeronautics flap and preventing it from taking off, McClane gets into it with the double-crossing Major Grant (John Amos), resulting in a brutal wing-bound dogfight at high speed. Grant is no push over, but the tenacious McClane gets the upper hand, leaving his opponent hanging from the wing by his fingertips as the engine sucks him in and turns him into chopped liver.
Most Heroic McClane Moment
After being kicked off the wing of the plane by Colonel Stuart, McClane pulls off the petrol cap at the last moment, lighting the fuel trail and watching on as the plane explodes during take off. The flaming trail then acts as a substitute landing strip for Holly’s plane.
Yippee ki yay, motherf@ckers!
Best Ironic McClane Quip
Trailed by nuisance reporter Samantha Coleman, McClane is presented with the proposition of a lifetime while looking for transport as a way to tackle terrorists.
Samantha Coleman: If you get me this story, I’ll have your baby.
John McClane: That’s not the kind of ride I’m looking for.
If you have to make a sequel for the greatest action movie of all time, why change a winning formula? Die Hard 2: Die Harder is exactly what it claims to be: bigger, louder and bloodier, while retaining the acerbic charm that makes John McClane the ultimate in relatable heroes. Is it as good as its predecessor? Don’t be silly! But this is Die Harder, not Better, and die harder it most certainly does.