Die Hard 2 (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★
It cannot be denied that “Die Hard 2,” directed by Renny Harlin, is bigger and more elaborate than the original in terms of special effects, stunts, chase sequences, and villainous takeover. But it isn’t necessarily better. For one, believability is thrown out the window—so much so that even our hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis), now an L.A.-based cop visiting his in-laws in the East Coast for the Christmas holidays, acknowledges the near impossible odds of he coming upon yet another terrorist plot. You’d think that its self-awareness would be charming—and it is once or twice—but after such one-liners are uttered, the picture reverts to by-the-numbers and occasionally thrilling action.
What elevates the predecessor is style. There is a foreboding feeling about it even before terrorists set foot inside the Nakatomi Tower. The group leader was played by Alan Rickman, commanding a genuinely ominous presence, so controlled and calculating. We are reminded of the antagonist’s cold-bloodedness every fifteen minutes. Here, the man who takes over the airport is played by William Sadler, the character being a former colonel in U.S. Special Forces working for a deposed dictator (Franco Nero) currently on his way to the United States. Sadler is physically fit and his expression is stern, but his presence is not imposing. He fails to put a stamp of originality to his character. I felt the actor delivering a performance instead of being. As a result, when McClane and Sadler are finally face-to-face, there is only minimal tension. Because we know that the villain is one-dimensional, there is no surprise in store that may blindsight McClane.
I enjoyed the realistic look of the airport. People look as though they intend to get somewhere; holiday cheer can be felt in the air. It is so crowded, you believe the story really is taking place amidst the holiday rush. When a chase gets busy, for instance, McClane and his target can readily disappear into the sea of sardines. They trip, fall, and get funny looks when they bump into someone. I enjoyed it most when the picture forces us to pay attention to the action, not necessarily in terms of who lives or dies, or even the level of creativity of the sequence. By simply making the eyes dance, we feel we are a part of whatever is going on.
However, minimal time is spent on terminals. Instead, much of the action unfolds in and around the communication tower where air traffic flight director Trudeau (Fred Dalton Thompson) and airport police captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) struggle with how to regain control of the hacked systems. Humor, I guess, is supposed to be had between McClane and Lorenzo butting heads but I found it to be more of hindrance, a nuisance, in a film attempting to establish a sense of tone and urgency. I yearned for the predecessor’s quiet moments in which McClane is forced to observe the things he has no control over. Death contributes to his guilt, but it also strengthens his resolve.
There is something personal at stake for McClane, but the execution is lacking. His wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is on her way from Los Angeles. Because the communication tower is compromised and the guiding lights on the landing strip are turned off, planes are unable to land safely. It is only a matter of time until fuel runs out. Bedelia’s talent is wasted here. She is stuck on the plane with an opportunistic TV reporter (William Atherton) who has placed a restraining order against her for having punched him in the face in the previous picture. But nothing of interest is done with either character. For the most part, it feels like a waste of film. The whole thing is a tired setup for the hero and the belle to hug and kiss once the day has been saved.
“Die Hard 2” stands in the shadow of its predecessor, and it shows. Perhaps the better choice would have been to overhaul the formula and establish new rules and expectations. What’s at offer is tolerable and occasionally terrific—like McClane attempting to stop a plane from taking off late in the picture and the tight-lipped colonel’s idea of “punishing” those in command of the communications tower for insubordination—but it fails to take the franchise to the next level.