Back to the Past : Die Hard 2 (1990)


Warning: contains 20-year-old spoilers

Despite the fake snow, the body count and the unseasonable language, ”Die Hard 2” is something of a pleasant holiday movie. For a select group anyway, those for whom yippy kai-yay has been creating warm fuzzy feelings for more than 2 decades. And while the Renny Harlin (”Cliffhanger”) directed film doesn’t match the giddy exhilaration of the original, it does match the spectacle. And near every theme. And the end credit music.

Like its predecessor, the story begins with New York (turned L.A.) cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) at an airport, though without the make fists with your toes bit or the limo service care of the gawky Argyle. No, this time John’s there to pick up. He’s managed to keep things luvey with Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) since their Nakatomi adventure in the first film, and now she’s on her way East for the holidays, nearing descent into Dulles International Airport. The occasion sours when a group of U.S. Army Special Forces commandos turned terrorists (think dietitian turned cookie tester, though marginally worse) take control of the runways and air traffic control systems. Pourquoi? A South American dictator and drug lord, Esperanza (Franco Nero), is being extradited to American soil to face the music. The reasons for the music aren’t that important. They’re delivered quick enough to remind us that foreign affairs are a messy business plus one more important thing – this is a bad man. The American terrorists plan to liberate him. Led by the grim, uncompromising Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), they demand full cooperation and a fully-fueled escape vehicle in exchange for the safe landing of the planes overhead. Holly’s plane has 58 minutes before it runs out of fuel. Now John has something more to do than smoke cigarettes.

”Die Hard 2” can be thought of as a stand-alone. There is no continuing story, no ongoing family saga or hobbit quest that demands a sequel to John McTiernan’s ”Die Hard”, so the expectation is more of the same, only bigger, higher and faster. It’s an expectation that’s almost fulfilled, albeit the story is more intense and gutted of the humor that helped make the original an action classic. The screenplay was adapted from ”58 Minutes” by Walter Wager, a novelist notably of spy fiction. ”Die Hard 2” has a greater mix of action sequences than the original, but the battlefield is bigger too. Guns, planes, snow mobiles, and fists in an airport baggage room are a few of the tools used. The scene where McClane ejects himself from an exploding cockpit is one of the best in the series, even head to head against those using today’s technology. The rest should be familiar enough to anyone who’s seen an action movie since the late 80s. The villains travel in packs, are technically skilled and have the collective conscience of a boiled egg. Other details are overused and very spy-like. Whether the message, “This is Buckwheat. The clubhouse is open,” is any more secretive than, “It’s Harold here. You can come in now,” I’m not sure.

As for McClane, he finds himself again personally tied to a crisis via Holly, and again on Christmas Eve. At least the film makes light of it. “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” McClane asks himself on the move in an airport basement. Perhaps the better question would be, “How can the same guy piss off every authority figure in America?” Part McClane’s stubbornness, part authority’s blockheadedness is the probably the closest we’ll get. Either way, we know now that it wasn’t just an L.A. thing. Airport police captain Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) starts things off in the sequel. He’s a louder, foul-mouthed version of the Dwayne T. Robinson character from ”Die Hard” and unimpressed by McClane’s heroics in L.A. “This time you’re in my little pond, and I’m the big fish that runs it.” Some expletives follow.

No, it seems that the people McClane bonds with easiest are the under-ranked and unappreciated, like Sgt. Al Powell in the L.A., and here Marvin, a nerdy airport janitor who helps McClane find his way to his next action sequence. It’s no wonder the story ends with McClane calling out for his wife, cold and bloody on the Dulles tarmac. Ain’t easy being a fly in the ointment.

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