During 1990’s Die Hard 2, John McClane (Bruce Willis) asks himself, “How can the same shit happen to the same person twice?” and he does have a point.
I mean, consider the situation. In 1988, McClane spent his Christmas sneaking around a skyscraper and saving his wife from a group of sadistic mercenaries. Two years later, John McClane spends his Christmas sneaking around an airport and saving his wife from a group of sadistic mercenaries.
There are a few differences of course. In 1988, the mercenaries were only interested in stealing as much money as they could and each mercenary had his own properly ghoulish personality. In 1990, the mercenaries are really more of a cult, led by the fanatical Col. Stuart (William Sadler). And, along with trying to make some money, they are also trying to free General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), a Central American drug lord and former CIA asset. Despite the fact that the mercenaries are played by familiar actors (like Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo, Tony Ganois, and Vondie Curtis-Hall), none of them are quite as memorable as the henchmen that Alan Rickman commanded in the first film. And while Sadler has charisma and makes a big impression during his first scene, his character is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as Hans Gruber. Franco Nero, it must be said, is as dashing as ever. He really seems to be having fun in this movie.
A lot more people die in Die Hard 2 than died in the first Die Hard and the majority of them are innocent bystanders. This isn’t like the first film, where Harry Ellis died because his coke-addled mind led him to believe that he could outsmart Gruber. The victims in Die Hard 2 include a friendly church caretaker and over 200 passengers of an airplane that Stuart tricks into crashing on an airport runway. The scene where the plane crashes remains disturbing no matter how many times that you see it and it truly makes you hate Colonel Stuart. When the plane crashes, despite McClane’s futile efforts to warn the pilots, McClane sobs and it’s a powerful scene because it’s the first scene in which McClane has not had a quip or a one-liner ready to go. In this scene, McClane fails to save the day and, for a few minutes, he’s helpless. I usually end up crying with McClane. Today, those tears are also a reminder of what a good actor Bruce Willis truly could be whenever he let down his defenses and allowed himself to be vulnerable on screen.
Die Hard 2 is usually dismissed as not being as good as the first movie and …. well, that’s correct. It’s not as good but then again, few actions films are. There’s a reason why Die Hard continues to be held in such high regard. That said, Die Hard 2 is not bad. The stakes are a bit higher and the action scenes a bit more elaborate, as you would expect from a film directed by Renny Harlin. Bruce Willis plays McClane with the blue collar swagger that made his such an awesome hero in the first film. Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton also return from the first film and Atherton once again gets his comeuppance in a crowd-pleasing moment. The cast is full of character actors, all of whom get a chance to make an impression. Dennis Franz is the profane head of security who eventually turns out to be not such a bad guy. John Amos is the major who eventually turns out to be not such a good guy. Colm Meaney has a few heart-breaking moments as the pilot of the doomed airplane. My favorite supporting performance is given by Fred Thompson, bringing his quiet authority to the role of tough but fair-minded Air Traffic Control director. Watching Die Hard 2, it does feel as if the viewer has been dropped in the middle of these people’s lives. Everyone seems real. No one seems like a mere plot device.
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? You bet it is! But so is Die Hard 2 and it’s not a bad one.