Movie Review: Die Hard 2
Rating: R (excessive violence)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: July 4, 1990
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Stars: 4 out of 5
Many movie fans believe that the first film in a franchise is always the best and that no sequel can quite live up to the original. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, not the least of which is "The Godfather Part II," which surpassed the brilliant original. In much the same way, "Die Hard 2" surpasses the original "Die Hard," giving the audience a big helping of the same irresistible mix of one-liners and action that made the original such a hit, along with more action and a dash of self-awareness.
The action moves from the office building of the first film to Dulles Airport near the nation's capital. It is Christmas, so the airport is packed full of travelers, including John McClane (Bruce Willis), who is waiting for the plane carrying his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) to land. Unfortunately for him and everyone else, a plane with a drug cartel leader on board is also landing around the same time. A group of terrorists, led by ex-CIA agent Colonel Stewart (William Sadler), takes over the control tower in order to get the cartel leader released to South America.
Colonel Stewart has his henchmen turn off all the runway lights so that the approaching planes can't land, and they even cause a plane to crash to show they mean business. The rest of the planes are in severe danger, because a blizzard is approaching and they may run out of fuel before the crisis is resolved. McLane can't wait around to see if the government can diffuse the situation, since it might be too late for Holly by the time they figure it out. He must take matters into his own hands, so he does what any action hero would do. He teams up with the janitor.
McLane realizes that the janitor would know the entire layout of the airport, including the labyrinth of halls and doors in the lower floors where passengers aren't allowed. He uses his fearlessness and the janitor's knowledge to come up with a plan to neutralize the colonel and get Holly's plane safe on the ground. As he tries to enact his plan, several setbacks force him to hop onto luggage conveyor belts, leap onto the wing of a moving airplane in the snow, and even get ejected from a cockpit. Some of these scenarios are pure action, while others are played for both action and laughs.
Screenwriters Steven E. de Souza (who wrote the first "Die Hard") and Doug Richardson seem to have written the script without worrying about hitting the brakes. From the moment the terrorists take over the tower, the movie switches to high gear and rarely lets up. Thankfully, both writers seem to know that even the most action-packed film needs moments of levity to help viewers catch their breath. They provide this in the form of comedic one-liners, which Willis delivers with a wink and a knowing smile. His performance is so good that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role, even though Willis was something of an unlikely action star when the first film came out in 1988.
Director Renny Harlin has since gone on to direct quite a few action films, many for an American audience. "Die Hard 2" allowed him to cut his teeth outside of his native Finland, where he was already a bona fide star. Here, he shows that he can handle a big-budget production, using every dollar to produce the carnage and mayhem that the terrorists leave in their wake. Because the film was released in 1990, computer and imaging technology was not what it is today, but Harlin still manages to give the audience a thrill ride using the technology that was on hand at the time. Nothing looks fake or computer-generated, which makes the action scenes seem more authentic and makes the entire film more enjoyable.
"Die Hard 2" would become the second film in a much larger franchise that still stars Willis as the everyday man who saves the city, the country, and maybe even the world. Each film has more elaborate stunts and plots, but many fans consider this second installment to be the foundation of the franchise, the one that each subsequent film would be compared to. It helped set up each sequel and was somehow better than the first. For that reason alone, it is worth the price of a rental or purchase, though Willis' undeniable charm and heroics are the real selling points.