Reappraising ‘Die Hard 2’, John McClane’s Other Christmas Adventure

Die Hard 2 makes no sense even existing.

Of course the sequel to John McTiernan’s groundbreaking 1988 action masterpiece makes perfect sense from a bottom line standpoint, which is really all that matters in Hollywood. The first one made hella cash, and the second one followed suit with an even bigger payday. It was a massive hit, solidifying the John McClane character into popular culture for decades. But what about the merits of “Die Harder” as a standalone sequel in the continuing adventures of John McClane? As a film. In that regard, it’s the third best of the original trilogy in a runaway (let’s just pretend 4 and 5 never happened for now, okay?).

Too often in Die Hard 2, there’s something just a little hollow and, somehow, too preposterous at work. Yeah yeah, there was plenty of over-the-top nonsense in Die Hard with A Vengeance, but John McTiernan back behind the camera is evident in the details and the creativity of the script and the plot construction is still terrific. The director was all set to return for this first sequel, but in the down time while details were being ironed out, McTiernan found another project he liked more because it gave him the opportunity to test his own limits: The Hunt for Red October.

Anyway, Die Hard 3 was still five years away. As a direct sequel to the original, one of the leanest most economically brilliant action movies of all time, Die Hard 2 is little more than a poor photocopy in just about every way. First of all, the Christmas setting here is just a gimmick to trigger familiarity. Despite McClane himself spending ample time reassuring us that he, too, wonders “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice,” it’s not enough to truly get past the endless coincidences. When you think about the fact that Richard Thornberg (William Atherton), in an amazing twist of fate (i.e., corny script construction), is on Holly McClane’s airplane as it circles the terrorist-controlled D.C. airport, running low on fuel, you know you’re watching a half-baked sequel working with a checklist.

die hard 2

Then there’s the stand in for Dwayne T. Robinson, Dennis Franz’s Carmine Larenzo, head of airport security and an even bigger ball buster than Robinson was the first time around. Even as McClane’s predictions begin to fall into place, here’s Carmine with the stick up his ass for no reason, defying McClane at every turn. It’s exhausting and all too forced.

Which gets us to McClane himself. One of the things so endearing about the original (and McTiernan’s sequel) is the way Bruce Willis played McClane, and the personal turmoil the character found himself in through the entire movie. He was on the outs with his wife, Holly, creating an organic and real world motivation for his desperate heroics. But this time, all that tension and drama is gone because Holly and John are as happy as clams. It steals some of the luster from the McClane character. This, on top of the fact that McClane is a super cop now – something that upended both 4 and 5, among many many other issues. Finding the trouble instead of the trouble finding him robs the character of any honesty.

But all is not lost in Die Hard 2. Not entirely. William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart is a worthy adversary, as ruthless and cold as the icicle McClane rams into the eye of a terrorist. He may be a step down from the Gruber brothers on either side of him, but going up against Alan Rickman, and later Jeremy Irons, is a battle not many actor’s could win. As for the action, director Renny Harlin – whose next film, Cliffhanger, still holds up – manages to craft some exciting sequences. The snowmobile chase is effective, and the climactic shootout resulting in the fiery runway for the jets running on empty is wonderfully executed. But the set piece stand-in for the original’s rooftop jump scene, McClane ejecting from the cockpit of a plane as it explodes, plays out more like a Looney Tunes riff than anything as genuinely thrilling as the original. It sums up everything amiss with Die Hard 2; it looks like the original, it sounds like the original, but it isn’t quite right.

And so you wind up with just a predictably mediocre, undercooked sequel with a few merits, but nothing more than a cheap imitation in the end that grows increasingly less interesting after every watch. It still baffles me how Roger Ebert could think Die Hard 2 was better than the original (he gave it, somehow, 3 and a half out of 4 stars!), which he couldn’t praise pretty much because he was annoyed with Paul Gleason’s dopey Dwayne Robinson.

Did he not see Franz in this one?

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.