Should I Watch..? Die Hard 2
What's the big deal?
Die Hard 2 (sometimes called Die Hard 2: Die Harder) is an action thriller film released in 1990 and is the second film in the series following 1988's Die Hard. For this sequel, director Renny Harlin took over from John McTiernan and the film is loosely based on the novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager. The film sees Bruce Willis return to our screens as New York cop John McClane, this time fighting terrorists who have taken over Washington Dulles International Airport during a blizzard, which prevents a number of planes from landing - including one carrying his wife. Against all expectations, it almost grossed more than double the original film and further enhanced Willis's reputation as a movie action superstar.
What's it about?
Two years after the events of the first film, John McClane is waiting at Dulles Airport to pick up his wife Holly who is flying in from LA for Christmas. Despite the snowy conditions, there are no real delays so John waits patiently in the airport bar. Noticing a couple of men in army fatigues carrying concealing weapons, John follows them into the baggage area and a shoot-out occurs. John realises that something bad is about to happen and contacts the airport security chief, Captain Lorenzo. But Lorenzo doesn't believe him and has McClane thrown out.
Meanwhile, a nearby church is being used by terrorists to execute an audacious plan. They cut power to the airport's landing lights and take over their air-traffic control tower, preventing a number of passenger planes from landing. Their goal is to release Latin-American dictator General Esperanza from custody and fly off to freedom and any attempt to take back control will result in the terrorists bringing down one of the planes. John, realizing that Holly is effectively being held hostage up in the air, has no choice but to take on the terrorists himself before tragedy strikes.
Lt. John McClane
General Ramon Esperanza
Sgt. Al Powell
Captain Carmine Lorenzo
Steven e. de Souza & Doug Richardson *
Release Date (UK)
17th August, 1990
15 (2013 uncut)
What's to like?
As you'd expect, the action is pretty full-on and this time, it throws you pretty much straight into the fray. Willis is still a likable guy, popping off wisecracks at a similar rate as he blows away the bad guys. And of course, it still has that old-school feel to it - there is not a hint of CG to be found so all the stunt-work looks and feels pretty real. Of course, this film give McClane a whole airport to play in and sure enough, the action uses its environment well in the same way that the Nakatomi Plaza was almost a character itself in Die Hard.
It might sound as if I'm clutching at straws here and that's because Die Hard 2 is simply not as good as the first film, as if any action film has a chance. Stood alone, there's nothing at all wrong with the film - the action is great, the hero is not just a world-weary caricature and the story has a great pace to it, making it feel urgent and energetic. There are also some impressive action sequences including a snowmobile chase and a fist-fight on the wing of a plane while it's preparing to take off. But the magic is missing and McClane is already starting to move away from the desperate every-man he was in the first film and into an action stereotype.
- Black & Decker paid 20th Century Fox for a scene where McClane used one of their cordless drills but when the scene was cut, Black & Decker sued the studio. It was the first ever product placement lawsuit and was settled out of court.
- The General is from Val Verde, the same fictional South American country that first appeared in Commando and later in Predator. Writer Steven E. de Souza invented the country so as not to get bogged down with legal technicalities whenever a script called for a South American country.
- Denver was unusually snowless during filming so artificial snow had to be used instead. Ironically, it was supposed to be filmed at Moses Lake in Washington but production was moved due to lack of snow.
What's not to like?
Despite having all the ingredients to replicate the first film, Renny Harlin forgot to mix them properly. The baddies, led by William Sadler's neo-Nazi colonel, have a plan but not any motivation that I could see - why would these guys be interested in springing this general from prison? The airport is far too big for McClane to get personal with the villains so there's no real pay-off like you had when McClane and Hans Gruber meet in the first film. Willis' ad-libs feel a little too rehearsed for my liking, robbing the film of the sense of humour it once possessed.
I'm not surprised that they got it wrong - after all, Die Hard was a game-changer while this feels generic, rushed and slightly cynical. After all, what are the odds that McClane finds himself in the same predicament (and it is the same, despite the setting) and even at Christmas as well? The film mistakes action for improvement, knowing that the tense proximity between hero and villain from the first film can't be replicated in a whacking great airport. But Die Hard was about more than just the action - it had humour, charm, a baddie for the ages in Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber and a supporting cast that actually contributed to the film. Die Hard 2 has none of these things.
Should I watch it?
For action film veterans, there's enough in this film to justify seeing it. McClane has already become the unstoppable cop and his noisy brand of justice is exactly what action movies need. But anyone looking for the humour, tension and charisma of the first film will be sorely disappointed - Die Hard 2 knows the notes but not the song, taking a much-loved classic and turning it into a bombastic but generic shooter.
Great For: alternative Christmas parties, action fans, snowmobile riders
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, people who don't like flying, airport security staff
What else should I watch?
True fans of the series know that Die Hard is the one to beat for all other action movies but what about the other sequels? Die Hard With A Vengeance is still quite good fun and finally sees McClane have nice weather although he has the city of New York to run around in and even Samuel L Jackson along for the ride. The two most recent films - Live Free Or Die Hard and A Good Day To Die Hard - aren't worth your time, money or effort as they ignore stunt-work and pyro and happily wander down CG Avenue. It still brings a tear to my eye to see McClane fall so low.
The fact that a lot of films can be pitched as "Die Hard on a..." or "Die Hard in a..." speaks volumes about how much influence the original still has - and how little imagination Hollywood screenwriters possess. Decent rip-offs of the formula include Under Siege which is Die Hard on a ship, Speed is Die Hard on a bus but better than that might suggest and Taken is Die Hard in Europe for paranoid Americans.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox