Review: Die Hard 2: Die Harder

It’s Christmas Eve, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) is at an airport in Washington DC to meet wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) so they and the kids can spend Christmas together. First he needs to deal with an arsehole cop (Robert Costanzo, in perhaps his best-remembered role) towing his car. Anyway, when he enters the airport he bumps into a not terribly friendly Col. Stewart (William Sadler), and before long he notices some suspicious activities that lead to him suspecting a terrorist plan is in the works. Indeed that is so, with Col. Stewart gaining access and control of the airport runways and control tower, who uses planes such as the one Holly is currently in, as leverage for a series of demands, including the release of a big-time drug lord (Franco Nero, of all people), about to go on trial in the U.S. McClane takes it upon himself to once again play hero and save his wife and everyone else, even that arsehole reporter from the previous film (William Atherton) also on board Holly’s plane. Along the way though, he’s gonna run into a brick wall of stubborn disinterest from police captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz), and the airport manager (Fred Dalton Thompson). Colm Meaney briefly turns up as a pilot, Art Evans plays an engineer, John Leguizamo, Don Patrick Harvey, and Robert Patrick are goons, and John Amos turns up late as Army Special Forces Maj. Grant. Reginald VelJohnson picks up a quick buck in a brief cameo reprisal as Sgt. Powell.

Some people think this 1990 blockbuster sequel from briefly popular director Renny Harlin (“Cliffhanger”, “Cutthroat Island”) is better than the first film. Those people are wrong. Whilst undeniably well-directed, the only improvement here is that the action scenes are perhaps better. Otherwise it’s a highly watchable, but somewhat overrated film. It’s a good movie, but let’s not get ridiculous. The original was a classic.

The film gets off and running pretty early with the title thundering in straight away and scaring the shit out of me every time. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis’ John McClane figures out that something is amiss within 10 minutes. It’s a shame though, that the bad guys are slightly undermined by having Willis dispatch one of them before the criminal plan is even really starting to roll out. It’s interesting that the premise in this one is slightly inverted from the first film, to have Bonnie Bedelia on a plane coming in to visit Bruce Willis and their kids…and then the plane gets hijacked and Willis has to save her (and everyone else). It’s a clever idea. I’d argue that Willis’ McClane gets far more screen time and good moments than the villain (s) this time out, and he’s perfectly fine as a guy who started out in the first film with very little Christmas spirit and now just seems completely fucking over it. The issue here is that the film is completely overpopulated, and with that and McClane getting a lot more screen time than anyone else, it not only wastes the absolutely terrific array of supporting actors, but chief villain William Sadler as well. He worked much better for me this time around than on previous viewings, but he just isn’t in the film nearly enough. He certainly looks mean and tough enough, although I’m not entirely certain he was the right villain to follow Hans Gruber. The man can act, has a great look, yet let’s face it…no one really remembers the villains from this film the way they do Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. The reason for that has nothing to do with Sadler himself, who puts in a very fine effort as always, even better than I remembered. However, the script by the usually trustworthy action movie specialist Steven E. de Souza (“Commando”, “The Running Man”, “Die Hard”, “Ricochet”) lets Sadler down. Sadler does his cold-blooded, grim-faced best, but because de Souza and co-writer Doug Richardson (“Bad Boys”, “Hostage”) put so much emphasis on Willis’ McClane (fair enough, he’s the lead character), and there’s way too many characters to properly flesh out in 2 hours of screen time, Sadler’s not able to shine like he should, and like Rickman’s Hans Gruber did. Part of that is also because the character he’s playing simply isn’t all that interesting, but a lot of it is due to there being too many other characters competing for screen time. Sadler’s finest moment by far is one rather daring scene (that absolutely wouldn’t make it into a film today) where Sadler deliberately has a plane fuck up its landing, crash, and kill everyone on board. This guy is cold as ice and shows that he means business. With more screen time and depth, he might’ve been really something. But ultimately, there’s just not enough room for him here when everyone else needs to be fitted in somewhere.

Some of the supporting cast fare better than others here. Although he and Bonnie Bedelia end up a bit underused, the returning William Atherton yet again steals his every scene as the slimiest reporter/news anchor of all-time. You can’t wait for him to get punched in his stupid face. On the other hand, spaghetti western veteran Franco Nero is a slightly odd casting choice as one of the other villains, and doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to resonate at all. Also, if you criticised the first film for featuring stupidly stubborn law enforcement characters yet claim this film is better, you’re a hypocrite because the authorities here are even more ignorantly stubborn. Essentially playing this film’s version of the Paul Gleason character from the first film, Dennis Franz is absolutely a perfect casting choice and gives an objectively rock-solid performance, one of the film’s best. It’s a shame his character is poorly written, and basically a repeat of a character we already saw in the first film, only worse. Fred Dalton Thompson and Art Evans, as slightly more reasonable airport staff members, are excellent but by the time they turn up you already feel like the film has too many characters. Ditto, the immediately reassuring John Amos, but he does have the benefit of being an effective piece of casting for reasons I won’t reveal. I’ll just say it’s good casting but his involvement in the film, whilst far too short, is in a way also one of the better bits of screenwriting. You’ll understand once you’ve seen the film.

All the scenes of McClane bickering with authorities on the ground make you realise ultimately that the formula of the first film worked, and this slight inversion of the formula is less effective because the trouble is up in the air or far away from where McClane actually is. The amazing thing is that despite the problems with the script, the film still manages to be quite entertaining. Part of that is because Bruce Willis and the character of John McClane are good company. Also, the supporting cast is rock-solid and Harlin knows how to direct an exciting action movie. That’s the level the film works best on: action mode.

Overrated action-thriller sequel has fine (if very loud) action, a reliable hero, and a lot of good character actors assembled. However, the overpopulation proves a debit more than credit, and a bit of repetition doesn’t help, either.

Rating: B-


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