Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) Review
Die Hard 2: Die Harder was directed by Renny Harlin (5 Days of War, Born American), written by Steven E. de Souza (Commando, 48 Hrs.) and Doug Richardson (Money Train, Welcome to Mooseport), who adapted from a novel by Walter Wager, and stars Bruce Willis (Detective Knight: Redemption, Death Wish), William Sadler (Hard to Kill, VFW), Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue, City of Angels), Fred Thompson (Secretariat, Law & Order), John Amos (Good Times, Coming 2 America), Franco Nero (Top Line, Massacre Time), Reginald VelJohnson (Family Matters, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee), and Bonnie Bedelia (Parenthood, Salem’s Lot). It follows John McClane as he tries to avert a disaster at an airport after it’s seized by terrorists.
The Plot: Lightning hardly ever strikes the same place twice; a sentiment that even sequels to massive successes and all-time classics can attest to. de Souza and Richardson basically recycle the story of the first Die Hard and, while the originality isn’t high, a second helping of a terrific plot isn’t a bad thing.
Dulles airport during the holiday season is already a mess to contend with, but for McClane (Willis), who’s trying to meet with his recently reintegrated wife Holly (Bedelia), it’s about to get a whole lot worse. This is the biggest pitfall of Die Hard 2, as the surprise of the first is largely absent; it’s clear that danger is afoot. There aren’t very many holes to poke, but that grand reveal of the first film held more water than one might’ve first thought. Also present at the airport is Col. Stuart (Sadler) to facilitate the escape of drug baron and dictator Esperanza (Nero), no matter how much traffic is present.
What helps prop up the story is the closeness of McClane’s support, with airport policemen Lorenzo (Franz) and Trudeau (Thompson), fellow cop Powell (VelJohnson) and eventually Maj. Grant (Amos) at his side, kind of, as the terrorists soon take over the terminal and cut off communication with any other potential allies. Still, we know it’s going to fall onto McClane to save the day.
Odds for the good guys seem decent, but the writers did manage to slip in some more subplots like inclement weather having an adverse effect on the situation, Holly being kept in the sky thanks to Stuart’s plan, and a betrayal or two throughout the runtime. Beats are kept familiar but slightly rearranged and Die Hard 2 remains densely packed.
No one is going to confuse the plot of Harlin’s Die Hard 2 for an original affair, but de Souza and Richardson had enough skill to make a return to form engaging and occasionally surprising despite what came before.
The Characters: It’s easy to manage the main characters of a sequel when those of the first outing are some of the best and most iconic ever made. Die Hard 2 retains what made its heroes so great while adding some memorable new faces to the franchise.
McClane’s personal life has been on the upswing since the events of the first film, with a repaired marriage to Holly and a new friend in Powell, but that hasn’t mellowed him out. He’s still a sardonic, noble, troublemaking New York cop that just wants the job done and the day over with. Willis got to have a little more leeway with the character, adding in a hatred for technology and more one-liners and humour that fit well with his uncanny familiarity with this type of situation. Relationships are well balanced, as there’s some time devoted to his support too.
Supporting the fight isn’t exactly what Lorenzo and Trudeau had in mind, and it’s understandable why they put up just as much resistance to John as they do assistance. Lorenzo makes clear that a high-traffic location can’t just be shut down without consequence and, as a negative bonus, after the Nakatomi “stunt” that McClane pulled has put local reporters on alert, he’s even less inclined to get involved. He retains a dutiful outlook on saving the people in Dulles but values his job more than the potential risk of making a mountain out of a molehill. Trudeau is equally skeptical but far more negotiable than his underling.
It would’ve been a fool’s errand to try and match the personality of Hans, so the movie goes for a more restrained villain in Stuart, a cold contractor with a devout belief in his mission. Just as authoritative but without the time or desire to charm his opposition, Stuart makes his every demand clear and has the power to back up his threats. He’s a decent antagonist, but not great. Thankfully, the movie has more than enough personality to make every other character a treat.
The Action: For a Die Hard scenario film to work, it would suggest that going bigger would be the worst decision one could make in regards to the action, but Harlin blows it all up in a surprisingly enjoyable fashion. While Dulles isn’t exactly compact, the director keeps everything remarkably close quarters and suspenseful.
Chaos was contained in the first film, and that remains true in Die Hard 2, but on a larger scale. This is first seen when John finds the villainous plan taking its first steps in the luggage sorting area, in which the arena is much wider than almost everything in the first film but loaded with more impressive stunts and a sense of clarity that benefits from its expansion. As far as the gunfights go, there are more participants and repercussions that never come at the cost of vulnerability.
Pyrotechnics make up for a much bigger percentage of the action in Die Hard 2 than in the first, and in a rare result for a sequel, that wasn’t a bad move. Stuart and his men aren’t imbeciles, as they have plans to destroy almost everything that could be used against them, including a communication antenna, the airport’s guiding lights, and eventually an entire 747 just to prove a point. Harlin treats these sequences equally as spectacle and catastrophe, making every blow up as punchy as possible.
Of course, there’s the one thing no one can account for: John McClane. Die Hard 2’s script makes sure to give him a few moments of blue-collar ingenuity that are far less probable than anything he came up with in the first but are still satisfying, such as a way to traverse the airport and a couple of deus ex-machinas along the way. Nothing is quite as visceral as it was in the first film but Die Harder is just as kinetic and exciting.
The Technics: With a bigger budget and the creation of some new technology comes to a wider final product. Even with some new bells and whistles, there’s a comforting level of similarity in the construction of Die Hard 2, which is staged as well as one could hope without the original director’s involvement.
Maintaining a lot of design decisions from the first is a major reason why both movies can be watched back-to-back, whereas all of the other sequels don’t gel with the precedent Die Hard and Die Harder set. Michael Kamen (Band of Brothers, Pink Floyd: The Wall) returned to add new cues to his previous score, going bigger while still nodding to the excellent theme of the first; and while Jan de Bont didn’t return to lens the movie, cinematographer Oliver Wood (Morbius, Rudy) did a good job of replicating the flowing shots and informative stills of his predecessor.
Harlin’s direction couldn’t’ve hoped to match McTiernan’s, but he did a solid job in keeping the sequel snappy, as the runtime is about 15 minutes shorter than the original and paced accordingly. With then new tricks like live-action compositing over a matte painting being used a few times, as well as a few more explosives here and there, the sequel has a few more tricks up its sleeve that make it stand out above other actioners from the time to. It’s a slick piece of popcorn entertainment.
Calling Die Hard 2: Die Harder more of the same isn’t an incorrect statement, but it is an overly dismissive one. It doesn’t have an all-time villain or a wholly original plot, but it packs a punch with characters, action, wit, and technical prowess, i.e.; where it counts.