DIE HARD 2
Hey gang, it’s part 2 of the “Die Hard” retrospective, I’m going to be talking about the first sequel in the series, “Die Hard 2.”
The first thing that I’ll say is that almost everything I read gives this movie the ridiculous official title “Die Hard 2: Die Harder.” But the only times the movie even uses “Die Harder” is in its promotional material. The movie itself only calls it “Die Hard 2.” It may be nit picky, but “Die Harder” is just so cheesy, I only refer to it as “Die Hard 2.”
This one was based off of another novel. Whereas the first movie was based off “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorpe, the plot to this one is taken from the book, “58 Minutes” by Walter Wager, although I have no clue how faithful this adaptation is. “58 Minutes” has absolutely no relation to “The Detective” series.
This one becomes more of the type of action movie that the first one differentiated itself from. One of the factors is because the director of the original, John McTiernan declined to return because he felt he would be repeating himself. So, the one to step up to the plate is Renny Harlin, who made the “Die Hard”-type movie “Cliffhanger” and even a film a that cloned the third “Die Hard” movie with wrestler John Cena called “12 Rounds.” Here, I feel Renny Harlin does a serviceable job, but the drop in directing quality is pretty evident. He tries to duplicate the formula, but he tries too hard. In fact, I once read a top ten list of “Die Hard” clones where number 1 was actually “Die Hard 2” which I found pretty amusing.
Bruce Willis, his wife played by Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald Vel Johnson, and even William Atherton, who played the blood-thirsty reporter, Richard Thornberg from the first one, reprise their roles. Here, it’s established that McClane is back with his family, now as a cop in LA and he even became somewhat famous after the events of the first movie. He’s at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. during a snowstorm waiting for his wife to arrive for Christmas vacation.
While he waits, a group of mercenaries plan to hijack the airport. How do you hijack an entire airport? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie cause it’s too complicated to explain in this review. In short, they reroute landing power from the airport tower to their own secret base. Their goal is to intercept a plane that’s transporting a Central American drug lord of a country the movie invented. He’s jailed and he’s paying the mercenaries to break him free. So, the mercenaries suspend landing of all flights until the drug lord’s plane lands. This means McClane’s wife remains in the air in danger of losing fuel.
McClane catches on from the very beginning when he spots two mercenaries doing some sort of recon work in the baggage area. He tries to alert authorities, but through some weird personal vendetta, he decides to handle it himself. And that’s part of the problem I have with this entry. McClane becomes a little too willing to get in on the action in this one. In the first one, he exhausts all options before getting involved himself. Although he isn’t too gung ho about it. He tries to alert the tower after he gets in a fire fight with the bad guys, but the McClane of the first movie couldn’t wait to step aside for the LA police and here, he goes out of his way to bring down the mercenaries. I understand his wife is on one of the planes, but his wife was held up at gunpoint in the first movie and he didn’t want to be the one to save her! Here, he willingly works by himself. It’s almost like he gets caught up in his own press like they say in the movie.
The main villain this time around is Colonel Stuart played by another character actor, William Sadler, whom you may recognize from “The Shawshank Redemption” and who hilariously played the Grim Reaper in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” Colonel Stuart is a villain archetype that we see all the time in action movies. He has a cold gaze and stern delivery. He doesn’t have too much charisma, and I can understand that, since he’s more of a military-type character, but with better writing, he could’ve been a lot more memorable. He does have a memorable introduction though. The first we see of Colonel Stuart, he’s doing some sort of Martial Art kata in his hotel room naked. Uh, thanks. Wasn’t expecting that! Although it’s sort of awkward to watch, it does show his character is pretty hardcore in some way. This scene was actually taken and used in a Chinese “Die Hard” clone starring Jet Li! Although, the villain was just in his underwear.
I would go more into the plot, but really, it’s just a rehash of the first one. The whole movie takes place around the airport. Everyone works against John again. I mean, did we really need the reporter, Thornberg, to come back? The characters in this one fall a bit short, but they don’t necessarily hurt the movie either. They really do try duplicate the intelligence of the original, but it’s just far too over the top to be taken as seriously. And here, John’s jokes are even cheesier than the first movie. I think I read somewhere that they let Willis improvise a lot more in this movie and it shows.
The suspense, save for maybe a couple scenes, is all gone. It’s a straight up action movie. And they up the ante of the first one. Here, planes explode, the body count is probably the highest in the series and McClane is put into extraordinary situations. There’s a particularly fun scene where McClane is locked in a cockpit of a plane and the mercenaries throw grenades through the windshields. All the grenades take a laughably long time to explode. Enough time for McClane to react, come up with a plan to escape, strap himself into an ejector seat, then eject. I’m not experienced with grenades, but even in the movie world, that took a while. It does showcase some pretty cool special effects though.
In another fun, over the top, scene, McClane enters a skywalk shootout from the air ducts from maybe two stories up, drops down and rolls into the middle of gunfire! If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter video game, you know that won’t give you any clear advantage! This whole scene is hilarious, but pretty awesome too. It’s a typical 90’s action scene.
It’s all fun though. This movie may have traded its suspense for action, but at least it’s entertaining. This one is more of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s almost like a parody of the first one. John even says to himself, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” That should tell you everything. It’s more tongue in cheek and even more violent than the first one. John McClane may feel different, but he’s still a charismatic character and it’s a pretty fun story to watch.
TWO AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FOUR.
One more thing of note, the edited for TV version of this movie is notoriously bad.
Coming up, John McTiernan returns as director for the third movie,”Die Hard with a Vengeance.” Stay tuned.
Well, the newest “Die Hard” movie is about to be released on DVD and Bluray, and if you know me, you know that I pretty much grew up loving the first three films. So, I thought I’d do a retrospective over the whole series, offer my review and my personal thoughts since the movies have been such an influence on me.
This will be the first of four reviews, so buckle up; this is E.J.’s “Die Hard” Retrospective!
The first movie is actually based on the novel, “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp. In that novel, the character who would eventually become John McClane is actually an older character, a detective named Joe Leland. He’s invited to his daughter’s Christmas party rather than his wife’s. And the terrorists are actually political radicals rather than thieves. The book has a darker tone and more complex themes, but a lot of it is surprisingly faithfully adapted on film. “Nothing Lasts Forever” is a sequel to Thorp’s book, “The Detective” which actually was adapted into a film starring Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. So, if you’re so inclined, you can consider this Frank Sinatra movie to be a prequel to “Die Hard.”
The first thing people rave about this movie is how much of a breath of fresh air it was. Considering it was an action movie in the era where Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the cinemas, Bruce Willis’ John McClane was a different type of action hero. His physique isn’t that of a bodybuilder and he doesn’t plow through a sea of bad guys all at once without getting injured. It’s ironic because before being adapted into “Die Hard,” this movie was supposed to be a sequel to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Commando,” and if you’ve seen how ridiculously over the top that movie was, I can only imagine how this one would’ve turned out.
I feel the brilliance of the movie is in the pacing. A lot of people seem to think “Die Hard” is all about the action, and while I agree that the movie certainly features mind-blowing sequences, it’s actually more of a thriller and the suspense plays more of a key role than the action. Imagine if someone took an Alfred Hitchcock movie and inserted a bit of John Woo into it. There’s a good chunk of time before the terrorists show up where it almost seems like a different genre of movie. We meet John McClane as he first gets to L.A. He’s thrusted into a minor case of cultural mergence being he’s from New York and California just seems too out there for him. He sits up front in a limo, LA’s technology is trendy and he gets kissed by a drunk guy. So, wait does that never happen in New York on New Years Eve? John finally meets up with his wife at her new job in the Nakatomi Towers. It’s a somber occasion. The mood is awkward and they’re obviously still at odds with each other after she accepted the job relocation and John stayed in New York without the family. Right off the bat, John is proven to be stubborn and doesn’t waste any time arguing with his wife.
The terrorists finally show up and take control of the building while John is relaxing with his shoes off in an office bathroom. The phones are cut and John hears gunfire which springs him into action. He manages to sneak away, thus leaving John alone and is literally the hostages’ only hope for survival.
When the terrorists arrive, the movie basically becomes a “heist gone wrong” movie. Although, instead of following the thieves like most heist movies, we’re following the guy who becomes the factor that the thieves don’t anticipate. Here, we see immediately what separates John from other action heroes. He runs away, he gets scared, he doubts himself and most notably, he’s trying to pawn the situation off on someone else to handle. He goes the whole movie without shoes too which makes him so vulnerable to the action.
Every tactic John uses to get word on the outside that the Nakatomi building has been seized gives away his position. In response, the terrorists realize there’s a rogue person in the building and keep trying to rectify the situation. The cat and mouse game is really this movie’s charm and instead of normal action movies where bad guys fight the good guys in a chance meeting, the action scenes serve the story and everything in the script is based on action-reaction. John gives authorities information that exposes him, so he risks bad guys coming after him.
The main villain is Hans Gruber, played perfectly by Alan Rickman. This was his first major movie role and it’s no wonder why he became such a great character actor after this. Hans is such a charismatic individual, he’s a hard villain to hate. In interviews, Alan Rickman has even said he played the character, not as a villain, but as a man on a mission. It’s just that he’s willing to go as far as killing everyone to accomplish that mission. Despite his sociopathic nature, he’s the reason the whole villain plot becomes more fun as well as menacing. The rest of the terrorists mostly have distinctive characterizations which elevates them from being more than just a body count. And what makes this movie such an effective action-comedy is McClane’s attitude through it all. He’s such a New Yorker at heart that even in the face of danger, he can’t resist being a smart ass to the bad guy. This goes well beyond having one-liners for the sake of puns. Hans’ reactions to McClane’s attitude is just so funny!
When the police finally arrive and surround the building, they are very little help to John and even become another reason for McClane to maintain control. His only real ally is Sgt. Al Powell played by Reginald Vel Johnson of “Family Matters” fame. The dynamic is interesting here because they only communicate by CB radio which is monitored by the villains so they actually listen in on the entire genesis of their friendship. The police officer who is running the show on the outside is a quintessential 80’s asshole who is in great doubt of McClane’s status. Then, there’s the blood-thirsty news reporter who tries to exploit the situation and one of the hostages is a typical 80’s yuppie prick who tries to give McClane up and has a crush on his wife. I mean, have you ever seen an action movie with THIS MUCH characterization? Even if they’re a one-dimensional figure, they’re explored to their mass potential!
The movie was advertised and received in 1988 as a wall-to-wall action movie that’ll blow you to the back wall of the theater, but by today’s standards, the action doesn’t really ratchet up until the last half of the movie when there’s no more messing around. They just use brute force to solve all their problems!
Bottom line, I just can’t recommend this movie enough. I feel as though the sequels have cheapened its image, like the sequels have done for “Jaws” and “Rocky,” but if you ever see just one movie out of the entire series, make sure it’s this one.
FOUR OUT OF FOUR STARS.
Tune in next time where we look at its sequel “Die Hard 2.”
E.J. is just a simple man who loves movies. Don't judge.