Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990 USA)

Despite all the naysayers, this sequel has heart. They say it’s just a cold cash-in to exploit the success of the original. But when it comes to warming my chestnuts around Christmas time, I say this is nearly as much fun as Die Hard (1988). The airport is a familiar and charming setting for the film and the inclusion of setting the story during a blizzard is great. Director Renny Harlin does not reach the standards John McTiernan did in the first tale but he delivers enough mayhem to entertain. And the inclusion of Dennis Franz means comedy gold.

It’s Christmas and John McClane (Bruce Willis) is about to go through it all again. A team of terrorists, led by Col. Stuart (William Sadler) is holding the entire airport hostage. The terrorists are planning to rescue a drug lord from justice. In order to do so, they have seized control of all electrical equipment affecting all planes. With no runway lights available, all aircraft have to remain in the air, with fuel running low. McClane will need to be fast as his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is on one of the planes in the air. It follows the formula that worked so well the first time: one hero – one place – many terrorists, wife in danger, nobody listens to him except a black guy and everything happens during Xmas. Nothing new but why would you expect that? Don’t sweat it. Jeez, Die Hard 2 is only meant to be a popcorn movie.

The bad guy here is William Sadler, who’s hungry to have a huge Christmas Eve power trip controlling Washington DC’s Dulles airport. The terrorists plug in their communications network at a nearby church, (of course after gratuitously murdering the caretaker there). William and his men have a soft spot for South American dictator Franco Nero (a Fidel Castro look-a-like) who’s getting transported to the USA for major drug smuggling charges. William, in order to free his ‘buddy’, is willing to hold up the entire airport. This leaves aircraft circling for hours – including Holly’s plane, and causes a plane full of innocent English passengers to crash and die. Meanwhile, on the ground, John McClane is not impressing cop Carmine Lorenzo: “McClane, what the hell do you think you’re doing out there, huh? Playing John Wayne? How’d ya like to spend the rest of the night in a cell?” Franz’s angry face is a picture.

Willis is charmingly charismatic, and its fun to see him back in the role that defined his super-stardom. Especially now with the added bonus of him being somewhat self-aware of just how ridiculous it is to be in this situation once again. The problem is that there seems to be an inherent fear to try too much new with this installment. And thus, it often boils down to just simply re-using ideas from the first film. Lots of McClane crawling through vents while complaining. Lots of shoot-outs in small spaces. Lots of people talking over the radio. And even some secondary characters like William Atherton’s smarmy reporter, Richard Thornburg, are brought back in wholly superfluous supporting roles, for no other reason than the film to highlight them in an attempt to win the audience over with nostalgia. It feels too “safe” and the inability to take any real risks brings it down a lot. This is no deal breaker though as the sharp visuals are a big plus and most viewers will suspend disbelief anyway. 🙂

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