A sequel to Die Hard was as inevitable as that stain you get from putting tomato sauce in Tupperware. After all, that first film supplied the template for dozens, if not hundreds, of bone-crunching action flicks that followed. Bruce Willis also delivered a new style of action hero: John McClane was a blend of cocky bravado and deep vulnerability–a sensitive soul who could squish Euro-trash monsters in one scene, only to get choked up over his wife and kids in the next. He also had a cheesy one-liner loaded with almost every mag of 9mm bullets. The result was 80s box office gold, which only meant that McClane’s thrill ride had to continue. Here then, is Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and if that title wasn’t conceived in a fog of cocaine powder, then I’ll eat both of my shoes.
Christmastime is here, again! That means John McClane is about to meet up with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). This time, it’s in our nation’s capital. McClane arrives at a snow-packed Dulles International, where Holly’s flight is due to land. Of course, warning signs start popping up that an international incident might be imminent. We meet Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), a disgraced soldier who’s probably evil, if only because he practices naked Tai Chi in his hotel room. Turns out the Colonel got a little too cozy with a few South American drug lords, and ended up in the military clinky-clink. McClane spots a few of Stuart’s henchman lurking around the airport, and he suspects they might try and spring their old boss when he passes through the terminal.
As with the first film, ol’ John alerts the authorities, who all turn out to be gibbering morons: Captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) mocks McClane’s celebrity status and chucks him out of the control tower. Meanwhile, Airport Chief Trudeau (Fred Thompson) worries McClane might be onto something, but can’t risk causing a stir on their busiest holiday.
Naturally, this bureaucratic ineptitude gives Stuart’s minions a chance to do their evil: They hack into the airports systems and prevent any circling aircraft from landing. This starts an official countdown to when these thirsty airliners start running out of fuel and thunking on the runway. Desperate, McClane takes his one-man fight to the bad guys before they kill his wife.
That’s pretty much all the plot you need. Most of that is really an excuse for Willis to start downing jarhead villains with his trusty sidearm. Harder has even bigger set pieces than its predecessor, as McClane is no longer trapped in the claustrophobic confines of Nakatomi Tower. This time, we get snowmobiles, runway brawls, and even a murderous fistfight on the wing of an airliner. Director Renny Harlin does an outstanding job of staging the action and keeping everything coherent.
With that said, Die Harder is just a notch below its predecessor. As with most sequels, the new car smell has faded from this one. Also, the original had one of cinema’s all-time villains, in the form Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Sadler is lean and mean, but he’s also nowhere near as fun. Still, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas if John McClane isn’t setting airliners on fire with the flick of his cigarette. So, if the first film was great, then this one rates as pretty good. As inevitable movies go, Die Hard 2 could’ve been a lot worse.
124 min. R. HBOMax.