The sequel to John McTiernan’s 1988 actioner Die Hard isn’t quite the carefully orchestrated picture of its predecessor, but it’s still a guilty pleasure packed with impressive set pieces. Like Die Hard, Die Hard 2 is based on a book. This time, it’s Walter Wager’s 58 Minutes, a novel that featured a cop named Frank Malone. Obviously Bruce Willis’ John McClane was an easy substitution to make.
Die Hard 2 was actually a bigger box office success than its predecessor, thereby solidifying the Die Hard franchise that we continue to see in spurts today. It was also the first motion picture to use digital matte painting and blue screen compositing, a significant leap ahead in the action genre, to assist in crafting the exciting plane crash sequence.
It’s two years after the incident at Nakatomi and New York City cop John McClane (Willis) has relocated to Los Angeles in an effort to patch up his relationship with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). When we meet him, he’s at Washington Dulles International Airport and is waiting for her to land. McClane’s suspicions arise when he spots a couple of dudes in army gear touting a package and a gun.
Naturally, the cop gets in the middle of a sticky situation and before long he’s unearthed a rapidly progressing plot to hijack the entire airport to aid in the safe landing of a drug lord (Franco Nero). The plan involves a crew of mercenaries led by a rogue US Army Colonel (William Sadler) and McClane works with and against an incompetent airport police chief (Dennis Franz) to stop them.
Die Hard 2 is a less straightforward picture when compared to Die Hard and it seems to have too many characters. It makes an effort to echo the situations of the first picture, from the bureaucracy to the presumably nosy media, but it often forces a slew of unnecessary characters into the mix to cover all of its intended bases.
While it’s neat to watch McClane butt heads with Franz’s character, the number of other individuals working with and against him starts to get out of hand. There’s Barnes (Art Evans), Trudeau (Fred Thompson), Marvin (Tom Bower), and even Sam the reporter (Sheila McCarthy). That doesn’t even touch the ruthlessly long cast of scoundrels and double-dealers or the characters on Holly’s plane.
Even with the dense cast of characters, Die Hard 2 carries many moments of eagerness and tells a reasonably convincing story. It fails to generate much tension because it makes the audience too aware of what the villains are up to, but it’s still neat to see McClane dart around an airport and cause havoc.
That’s largely because McClane really is the Everyman character. His condition deteriorates as he goes through more strife. The odds are stacked against him; he refuses to give in and even admits that he “hates to lose.” This adds an interesting dimension because the situation isn’t so much about surviving but saving the day. Had McClane stayed out of the way and sipped coffee at the airport bar, he would’ve been able to wait for Holly to land without risking his life.
Director Renny Harlin unfortunately doesn’t have the same confident touch of McTiernan and a lot of Die Hard 2 is crammed with frantic attempts at establishing catchphrases and memoirs for the trailer. McClane of course re-utters the famed line the series has become known for, but this time out it feels overly considered.
There are plenty of questions to ask that may disrupt the illogical façade of this lionized B-movie, but that would wreck the fun of what is just the ticket for an action marathon. Die Hard 2 has sufficient violence and profanity to save the day and feels like a heavyweight when equated to the lesser lights of today’s genre pictures. It’s energetic and icepick-bloody – and I’ll be damned if that ejector seat scene isn’t all kinds of rad.