Rated R. We still have a while until Live Free or Die Hard, so just get comfortable with John McClane using the f-word every other word. There's smoking, violence. You know what? There's a lot of smoking and a lot of violence. That violence spirals into gore. A guy gets an icicle to the eyeball. That grosses me out. There's some really awkward butt nudity. If you don't like guns, strap in because there are so many guns. So so many guns. It's Die Hard 2! R.
DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin
SPOILER HEAVY BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH EASIER TO WRITE: Why does no one fight if this one is a Christmas movie? I'm willing to go above and beyond that this might be more of a Christmas movie than the first Die Hard. The first movie has Christmas as an arbitrary holiday. It is an excuse to get John to Nakatomi Tower, but really, everything else is just window dressing. It being LA and all, it doesn't look like a Christmas film. But Die Hard 2 almost has to be at Christmas. It's a major blizzard at Dulles airport. It's overcrowded because it is Christmas. People intentionally cover things up to not avoid a panic on Christmas. Maybe no one really has a problem with Die Hard 2 being a Christmas movie. I wish I lived in a world like that. The real reason no one fights against this movie is that most people don't like this movie. And they would be wrong because I really genuinely enjoy Die Hard 2: Die Harder...despite its faults.
I always knew that people weren't big on Die Hard 2, but I never really understood it before. But watching it critically, I know where some of the complaints come from. Again, disliking the whole movie for these reasons is a little bit silly, but I'm going to address them early. The big one that's kind of unforgivable is the fact that Die Hard 2 really is Die Hard 1. It's one of those sequels that really rides the coattails of the first film. It's the same problem that people have with Ghostbusters 2, which I also enjoy. I admit, a movie shouldn't depend on the first film for the formula. It's so weird that John McTiernan directed parts 1 and 3 because 1 and 2 look exactly alike. I mean, just the way these movies are shot, you'd think that they brought back the entire production team to make the movie. I'm going to step out from the criticism for a second and say that the second one is different enough to be enjoyable, but it has a lot of the same beats. The movie twice addresses how implausible the entire situation is. That's a bad sign. I don't think we can get any worse than Captain Lorenzo. The first movie had the implausibly skeptical character who ignores all of the evidence to maintain power. Lorenzo has just stacks and stacks of evidence that things are going poorly. He's the exact same character as before. Also, William Atherton is on Holly's plane? That's absurd. Getting Al back into the film is also insane. This is all stuff that goes out the window with the future installments, so I'm going to forgive this stuff. But why be this lazy? (Because they went with what they knew worked. As forgettable as this movie for a lot of people, the movie was financially successful and fairly enjoyable.) The second reason that the movie is kind of a sin is that the bad guys are hilariously over the top. 1990, you are a silly year for action movies. Hans Gruber was a great villain. He's pretty cut and dry. He's comfortable and that's great. Colonel Stuart so over the top, he can't be taken seriously. His introduction is naked tai chi or krav maga or something. He's watching the TV and then he uses the remote for the TV as a gun to show how hard edge he is. Hans Gruber was a guy pretending to be Col. Stuart and that worked so much better. Stuart is just silly. The military stuff just doesn't really fit in the world of John McClane.
But Die Hard 2 is different enough to still be enjoyable. Fundamentally, there's one thing that a lot of people ignore. John's dynamic in the second film is just very different. McClane still gets a lot of alone time, but he's not alone. Die Hard had Al being a friendly voice from a distance. There are a lot of people that John interacts with that end up being on his side. Yeah, he gets the Lorenzos of the world on his case, but mostly, he's the guy working ahead of the problem with people giving him advice. We still have the moonbase bottle element to the film (for the most part), but John doesn't have to be covering the same areas over and over again. The airport offers a lot of different elements that Nakatomi intentionally closed off from him. This means that John ends up taking out scores of bad guys at a time as opposed to sneaking up and Assassin's Creeding them. I know. That's what people want and that's what Live Free or Die Hard will get wrong. But it is a new threat to me. The intellectual, logical part of me says that John McClane shouldn't be able to hold his own against Army Rangers. The part of me that eats too much candy and wonders why his mouth feels gross really enjoys that element of the movie. It's so satisfying watching John McClane take out Navy Seals. It's fantastic. Also, I know that there are probably a ton of plotholes in the mercenaries' plans, but it seems like a pretty good plan. Col. Stuard seems to have it all together. The only plotholes that kind of confuse me is that John seems to go into taking down the terrorists unaided. Like, when General Esperanza lands the plane and John takes him out, it seems like he's being counterproductive to his cause. There's a moment in the film where I'm not sure if John is doing what's best for Holly or if he's trying to have his cake and eat it too. In my head, there's a reason why John is risking the plane that Holly is on. I believe that JOHN believes that the mercenaries are going to crash the planes anyway. That's how I wrap my head around everything. But who knows? Maybe the movie just needs John to constantly be the underdog hero. But their plan seems super effective. It's weird how much Die Hard 2 also ups the ante about the stakes. Gruber took out Mr. Takagi and Ellis, but mostly leaves everyone alone. Sure, he was going to blow them up on the roof, but John stopped that. Stuart honestly blows up a plane willy-nilly. BTW, Renny Harlin, interesting choice to show us the inside of the plane before everyone died. What a decision.
I don't know how much I have to say about this, but I love that there's a sequel where the lesson from the first film is carried over in the second. I talked about this again in my Home Alone review, but Home Alone 2: Lost in New York undoes all of the goodwill from the first film. Kevin becomes a little turd all over again and then learns the same lessons. But John actually became a better cop, a better husband, and a better human being since the events of the first Die Hard. John and Holly are madly in love. He abandoned his New York job and it looks like Holly is still working for Nakatomi (what a decision! I know she was high up, but geez...). I know that this disappears in the future entries and I'm pretty sure we never see her again for the rest of the franchise. But by having John's life together, it gives him more incentive to make sure that Holly is safe. I know. He would have protected Holly at all costs, regardless of the status of their marriage. But things are working out for him in this one. The worst thing that happened in his life compared to the first one is that his in-laws' car got towed by Vito. He has his wife and kids. Heck, not only that, but Holly wants to have a romantic evening with him instead of doing the completely rational thing of going to see her parents and the kids. Good for you, Die Hard 2. Despite the fact that a lot is a copycat of the first one, you were smart enough to make the two of them get along. Also, they kept Holly as a complete boss. The first one, she didn't put up with any guff when it came to Hans Gruber. She kind of put up with guff when it came to Ellis and the toxic nature of the Nakatomi corporation, but that could be argued that she's a corporate shark who knows how to pick her battles. She straight up electrocutes William Atherton. (Oh pre-9/11 airlines, what a throwback!)
I also like the twist. I mean, it's silly in retrospect. But the first dozen times I watched this movie, I didn't see it coming. This has been the longest break I had since watching Part II. It has been so long, that a lot of this movie seemed new. But I remembered the twist with the bullets. I don't know why Colonel Grant didn't just kill McClane a billion times before the end, but that can be argued with the Hollywood logic of "I didn't want to get caught and I didn't think he'd be that much of a pain in the butt." Taking McClane out of the airport for five seconds really works for me. What is odd is that the last act of the movie is very differently paced than the rest of the film. I got to the church sequence and honestly thought the movie was almost over. It wasn't. The pacing on the last sequence isn't slow, but I honestly can't understand how Harlin bent space and time to make the last forty to fifty minutes of the movie just be a takedown on the General's plane. There had to be a lot of talking and prepping and stuff like that. But it is really weird. I don't know if the movie was really working to get a two-hour runtime, but it definitely had that. But I would like to say that I really wasn't bored. Even when everything is revealed, this is prime John McClane. I mean, I still have one of the best entries in the franchise to go with Die Hard with a Vengeance, but I kind of think that the John McClane in the first two films is pure John McClane. He seems really broken by the third movie, so take that from what you will. McClane is a fun character in these movies. He has way too many jokes. That's not a bad thing because it's 1990, but I'm pretty sure that he needed a joke for everything. I'm borderline sure that they ADR'd a joke in there because it was one second when he didn't have a joke written for him. It's when he's stuck in the parachute and he asks where the door is. (A related question: the most famous shot of the film is the ejector seat. Where did he eject from? That was a military cargo jet, not a fighter plane.)
Please, give Die Hard 2 another try. It's John McClane being John McClane. That's absolutely fantastic. Yeah, it's more of Die Hard 1, but that's not the worst thing in the world. Also, it's a great Christmas film. I'll die on that hipster hill in a second.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.