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.
Back in 1988, Die Hard changed the face of action cinema, taking inspiration from the likes of Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon by eschewing the usual musclebound formula and putting personality and characterisation front and centre. What we got was one of the most rewarding exercises the genre has ever produced, a movie buoyed by the cynical charms of an everyman hero looking to fix things with his family in time for festive celebrations, and in doing so he was forced to go above and beyond, delivering thrills and spills by the bucket load.
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 a memorable and highly rewarding punch on the nose outside a debris-strewn Nakatomi Plaza one fateful and seasonably warm winter’s eve, 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, including one that sees our all-action hero explode out of an ejector seat just in the nick of time, and you have a highly effective exercise in sequel-making that is sure to leave you leaping out of your own seat as our gang of well-oiled terrorists are forced to turn up the heat.
Though 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, and the sequel works on a self-referential basis that is beautifully suited to the character’s half-reluctant heroics.
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, McClane has become something of a celebrity, but that has no bearing on his personality, or on the way in which his colleagues treat him. This time, Dennis Franz plays the role of the belligerent police captain, while Art Evans assumes the role of 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 infectious everyman with the kind of personality that can bring out the best in people as well as the worst, an essential factor in elevating the series above the majority of action fodder. In the ensuing years, the genre’s self-reflexive lens would be prescribed and shipped out with the manufactured efficiency of a global opticians brand, resulting in a generation of movies that lacked heart, but back in 1990 such a imitative formula still felt fresh, and in Willis, Harlin and De Souza had all the heart they would ever need.
But 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 enigmatic and highly personal 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 is also missing some of the festive sparkle of the first movie, while Evans’ airport engineer lacks the emotional depth and camaraderie of Reginald VelJohnson’s Al, whose own burdening conflicts added even more resonance to Die Hard‘s ‘back for one more scare’ moment. Never has gun-inflicted murder felt so magical.
The movie may lack invention, but 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 thrill 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.