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Review: Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Directed by: Renny Harlin

Premise: Terrorists take control of a Washington D.C. airport on Christmas Eve, disabling the runway and forcing incoming airliners into a holding pattern. John McClane (Bruce Willis) must foil their plot and save his wife who is stuck on one of the planes.

What Works: The filmmakers of Die Hard 2 attempt to recapture what worked about the original film and they generally succeed. Most of the recognizable concepts and characters return for the sequel and it has the stunts and action sequences that audiences expect from an action film in general and from a Die Hard movie in particular. The filmmakers of Die Hard 2 reverse the geographical gimmick of the first movie; where the original Die Hard was set in a claustrophobic vertical environment, the sequel is set in a widespread horizontal environment. This fundamentally alters the challenge that John McClane must face in the movie, as he dashes from one location to another, and it gives the filmmakers a broader pallet to work with. This is a bigger film and the moviemakers of Die Hard 2 handle it well. The first film was essentially intimate and the challenge of that show was establishing the geography of the building early on and then finding ways of making that continually interesting. The sequel has an almost epic scope with big visuals and equivalent special effects but the filmmakers don’t get lost in it and maintain a credible scale between John McClane and the action set pieces. Die Hard 2 also distinguishes itself as a darker movie than the original. The villains of the first film were thieves with no political or ideological motive and supporting characters like the FBI agents and the SWAT team, although buffoonish, were generally well intentioned. In Die Hard 2 the allegiance of the supporting characters is much more questionable and the villains are far more vicious. The scenario of the movie, in which several airliners full of holiday passengers threaten to crash, raises the stakes from the original Die Hard and the filmmakers deserve some credit for taking risks with the violence and the body count. Even within the expectations of an action movie, Die Hard 2 is a very violent film. Director Renny Harlin established himself as a filmmaker with horror pictures like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Prison and he utilizes gore and a harsh regard for human life to give Die Hard 2 some of the visceral qualities that worked for the original film.

What Doesn’t: Die Hard 2 suffers as a sequel that is quite obviously aping its predecessor. This is the kind of sequel that comes across as written by studio executives trying to replicate the success of the original film, a path that is nearly always folly. Rather than unfolding organically, many set pieces and plot twists ensue like items on a checklist and much of the drama is contrived and the plot twists are absurd. Unlike the original Die Hard, where John McClane was trapped in a bad situation, he forces his way into the drama of the sequel. Recalls of the original film, such as the appearances of characters like Reginald VelJohnson’s police sergeant and William Atherton’s unscrupulous reporter, are out of place in this movie and their presence is distracting. Die Hard 2 is just too self-referential for a movie that is only the second installment of a franchise. The movie also has some problems in its tone. Because it gets so vicious the movie isn’t as much fun as the original film. The first Die Hard successfully combined action and adventure with macho wit but the dialogue of the second film is often very hokey. The actors do what they can with it but all too often they are sabotaged by bad lines. Die Hard 2 is also hurt by the overuse of cursing. The first three Die Hard movies were known for their coarse language; this was a prominent feature of 1980s and 90s action movies like Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop. But in Die Hard 2 that language is so overused that it becomes obnoxious and comes across as juvenile instead of masculine.

DVD extras: The blu-ray edition includes a commentary track, featurettes, trailers, and deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: Die Hard 2 is an acceptable action picture but it certainly isn’t a great one. At its best, the movie is as satisfying as the many imitatiors of the the original film but at its worst Die Hard 2 is stupid and mean spirited.

Episode: #428 (February 24, 2013)