a critiQal film review Die Hard 2 (1990)

Plot: Just two years after his near-death experience at the Nakotmi building in LA, John McClane (Willis) battles terrorists who take over Washington Dulles Airport's communication system around the holidays. The terrorists, led be ex-Col. Stuart (Sadler) will crash planes into the ground one by one unless their demands are met - including one on which Mrs. McClane (Bedelia) is a passenger.

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  • ...Die Hard on a bigger scale and with a bit more slickness - definitely a worthy sequel.

With the upcoming DVD release of Live Free or Die Hard (2007), it seemed like it would be a good time to take a look back at how the Die Hard series has done so far. After reviewing Die Hard (1988) last week, our next stop in the series was obvious: Die Hard 2.

Bruce Willis is back as the action hero that kicked his career into super-drive, John McClane. Having already established the McClane persona in the previous film, Willis just has to concentrate on being the best action hero he can be in Die Hard 2 – and he does so with each scene. Despite the less isolated circumstances this time around, he still breaks away from the pack as he pursues his own leads with a doggedness that is enviable. He’s like a dog on a scent, and no matter what obstacles are thrown his way, the viewer never has any doubts he’s going to win through in the end. It’s watching him get there that’s the fun part. It’s not quite as perfect as his previous incarnation of McClane, but it’s close.

Unfortunately, a bit of the dry wit that Willis peppered the first film with is missing in Die Hard 2. Instead of memorable quotes, he tosses in a lot of throwaway lines, most of them dealing with his feeling of “deja vu” (including an odd reference to being in a basement again, which he wasn’t ever actually in during the first film). While some of these lines will still elicit a chuckle or two, they aren’t going to stay in the viewer’s mind with the same force that many of the lines of the original do – with the exception, of course, of the famous “Yippee-ki-yay” line which shows up once again in this film.

While Alan Rickman set his career on fire with his performance as the smart, yet utterly evil, Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), the same can’t be said for William Sadler’s performance in Die Hard 2. While he does do a decent job of portraying one of the corrupt ex-military villains that abound through action films, he doesn’t really set himself apart from all the rest.

Instead, he lets the toys at his disposal make the part for him. While he can’t match the evil cunning of Rickman’s villain in the first film, he does have quite a bit more lives in the palm of his hand, and uses them to his advantage without even blinking an eye – in fact, he gets a steely look in his eye (a look which later shows up again in Robert Patrick’s portrayal of a cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Since Patrick is also in a bit part in this film, it’s possible he may have borrowed a bit for that character from Sadler’s performance in Die Hard 2).

Joining Bruce Willis for Die Hard 2 are another couple of familiar faces, including Bonnie Bedelia as Mrs. McClane, William Atherton as slimy reporter Richard Thornburg and even an appearance by Twinkie-loving LA cop Powell, portrayed once again by Reginald VelJohnson. While having returning cast members is a plus to any sequel, the filmmakers make full use of some of these familiar faces as they toss Mrs. McClane and Thornburg into close quarters to pick up on their feud right where they left off. A lot of the best scenes in the film that are Willis-lacking center around the constant animosity between these two, making this feud entertaining enough to continue in film after film.

While the plot is a bit far-fetched, and contains a few plot holes (why no FBI this time around?), it’s intense and so full of action, Die Hard 2 is an action fan’s dream come true. True, the claustrophobia element so well played in the first film is gone, but the ante has been upped for this second film, bringing with it a bigger feeling of helplessness for it’s hero…plus, the filmmakers make full use of the fact their characters are not stuck anywhere by branching out in their action sequences, ranging them both inside and outside the airport.

While the first film has more of a sense of a personal battle between McClane and Gruber, this time around it seems more general, with McClane’s team (of which he’s not always an invited member) going up against Stuart’s team. Tossing in a few surprises and a smarter-than-average villain, Die Hard 2 is still a worthy entry into the Die Hard series.

Think Die Hard (1988) on a bigger scale and with a bit more slickness, and you get the general idea. Definitely a worthy sequel, but, as with most sequels, it can’t quite match up with the original. Since the original was amazing, however, coming close is all that Die Hard 2 needs to do – and it does manage that, thanks to it’s intense action and worthy performances from most of its cast.

If you own Die Hard (1988) (and why wouldn’t you?), Die Hard 2 should already be a part of your collection as well.

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