Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Dir: Renny Harlin
The Blueprint for a Successful Sequel
By Jay Maronde
Before one can begin a review of Die Hard 2: Die Harder, the question must be posed: what really makes a Great Action Movie?
Now if your answer to that question is that you need to see some “all-new,” “next-level” kind of stuff, then this is not the Die Hard for you—as yes, this is essentially the same movie as the original Die Hard, except in an airport. The production staff of this movie seemed to have realized this glaring flaw, and as such, went “all out” in other ways to produce a fun movie.
Now, if you define a Great Action Movie as a movie with great characters, great action, and a spectacular ending, then DH2 will be a great time.
First things first, Bruce Willis returns to reprise his role as the Everyman Cop Hero Caught in the Wrong Place, but trying to save his wife (now no longer estranged) from terrorists on Christmas Eve. This time the terrorists (who for the only time in the franchise are really terrorists, not just thieves) have seized Dulles Airport while John McClane’s wife is airborne waiting to land.
It is perhaps worth noting that the worldwide popularity of John McClane played no small role in the very quick production of this sequel. Furthermore, Bruce Willis’s portrayal of John McClane was so popular with audiences that he was encouraged to do more ad-libbing “anywhere he wanted.” To that end, John McClane comes off as grittier, angrier, and more determined than ever—and it works charmingly: Willis, without a doubt, ensures his place in movie history with this fantastic performance. But it takes more than just a great hero to make a great movie.
Also necessary for a Great Action Movie is a really evil, sick, weird, villain with a fucked-up plan: in this case, to save a thinly-veiled Manuel Noriega caricature from extradition to the US. This evil villain (while possibly the weakest in the series) is played quite well by William Sadler as the traitor Colonel Stuart. As the movie opens, we find Stuart doing Tai Chi naked in a hotel room and that is just the beginning of his sick-twisted-ness. This early highlighting of his horrid personality was conceived by director Harlin as an early way to let the audience know that they were experiencing a special kind of villain. But in a shocking twist, it turns out he’s not the only bad guy we find in the movie. Again (as with the original Die Hard), the federal government sends help that isn’t really much help at all. As much as I like Sadler, he is easily outshone by his deviant co-villain, played by John Amos.
Also of note in this movie are John’s unlikely allies at the airport in the form of its Chief of Police and Head of Airport Operations, played respectively by Dennis Franz (then-hot on the success of “NYPD Blue”) and later U.S. Presidential Candidate Fred Dalton Thompson. Franz is great as an overwhelmed cop who wants nothing less than some hero cop like John McClane bringing trouble to his airport. Thompson, as would be indicated by his run for President, is always great in any role where he is the boss.
Now all these great actors doing the best acting in the world wouldn’t be impressive for an action movie at all if the movie didn’t have any action, and DH2 never for a moment lacks on action. John McClane is in the middle of gun fights, snowmobile chases, and all-out-brawls, and Harlin does everything he can to keep all of this action extremely interesting and the movie flows remarkably quickly while keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat the entire time. Harlin, however, saves the best action for the very, very end of the movie.
DH2 easily has one of the best endings of all the Die Hards, and may even boast the greatest action movie ending of all time. While the villains aren’t necessarily beaten or shot to death by McClane, his method of eliminating them is more than outrageous and serves to make for this spectacular ending. John McClane not only blows up a whole plane full of escaping terrorist scum, but in the process singlehandedly re-opens the airport, allowing for his wife’s fuel-depleted plane to make an emergency landing. Audiences always love a loud, crazy and yet “everything turns out great in the end” ending, but the manner in which McClane brings down the plane along with his classic “yippie –ky-yay-motherfucker” is pure Hollywood genius.
Die Hard 2 may not be the best of all of the Die Hards, but without a doubt it is an enormously entertaining movie. The fact that the movie is in a lot of ways a complete rehash of the original Die Hard is more than made up for by the movie’s excellent pacing, great cast, and off-the-charts action.