Looking back at Die Hard 2

Our Die Hard franchise retrospective arrives at the functional but fun Die Harder...

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

One of the factors that makes Die Hard such an outstanding, genre-defining slice of cinema is John McClane’s everyman persona. He didn’t ask to spend his Christmas Eve offing terrorists left, right and centre but he’d be damned if he didn’t do his duty in the face of fire. Using his handgun, fists and his wits and witticisms, he manages to get through the night, a battered and bruised (and flawed) man.

Where Die Hard 2 (with the fantastic tagline Die Harder) changes things is in making McClane an out-and-out action hero. Here, he can stab a guy in the eye with an icicle (although not in the UK 15-rated version), ride snowmobiles with great aplomb and generally come out of nearly every situation looking like he’s the latest, greatest all-action star. He’s morphed into a leaner Schwarzenegger and that just isn’t what McClane was ever meant to be about.

On Die Hard‘s own terms, then, the sequel throws out the key element that made it the rip-roaring success it was and in that sense Die Hard 2 is a poor attempt to rekindle the magic of the first; a quick cash-in on Willis’ star-making turn.

There is another way to view Die Hard 2, however. Forget that McClane is essentially one of us and instead view him as the wise-cracking, takes-no-crap, hard-bitten cop from New York who won’t ever back down that we all realise is part of his make-up. Bring that aspect of his character to the fore, suspend your disbelief for two hours and you have a movie that is, quite simply, damn fine entertainment.

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The plot, once again, revolves around a group of mercenaries, led by Colonel Stuart (played by the superb William Sadler). This time, the prize is the release of a drug warlord and the venue is Washington’s Dulles International Airport. The crazies have taken over the airport’s communications and are threatening to ground plane after plane unless their demands are met. The thing is, one of those planes rapidly running out of fuel has McClane’s wife on board (Bonnie Bedelia returns to her role for the last time in the series).

Step in John McClane and a hell of a lot of action set pieces.

For that’s ultimately all Die Hard 2 is. From the initial altercation in the airport’s baggage bays, to the Annex Skywalk attack (‘Hey, asshole! What do I look like to you?’ ‘A sitting duck’) to the explosive conclusion (‘Holly! There’s your fucking landing light!’) the film plays out action sequence after action sequence, interspersed with the odd bit of plot and witty one-liner along the way. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, for it’s not. The set pieces are all brilliantly done and thrilling to watch, particularly up on the big screen, although it’s fair to say that some of the sequences (McClane’s ejection seat escape from a burning plane the main offender) haven’t stood up well over time. It’s just that it fails to recapture the first film’s brilliance because of exactly this approach.

Fleshing out the villains, making them human was another part of Die Hard‘s charms. You really couldn’t give a stuff about the mercenaries here, however, and you’re simply waiting for them all to die in all manner of hideous, if at times faintly amusing, ways.

The sequel’s attempts to recapture the original’s successful formula stretches to bringing back all the old characters you got to know first time round. Al, Thornburg, Holly – they’re all here, although in fairness, Al barely features. Thornburg and Holly are given the best roles, their time together on the same flight ending in a tazar gun in a toilet. Fab.

Another area in which the sequel is lacking is that among the bangs, crashes and smackdowns are precious few moments of contemplation for our modern-day Roy Rogers. Whereas in the original, we’d see him worrying about his next move, damning his own plight along the way. The only real moment McClane lets his guard down here is when Colonel Stuart shows just how serious he is by tricking a plane into crash landing. McClane cries and mopes for a brief moment and then gets back to work. More moments of humanity would have provided the sequel with an added layer.

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Revisiting the same formula that worked so well in the first film was never going to be a complete success, and so it proves here. However, by throwing in more action that in any other film of the series, Die Hard 2 stands up on its own explosive, testosterone-fuelled terms.