I think that Die Hard 2 is often overshadowed by the original Die Hard, and I can understand why. The original is an action classic which has become an annual Christmas watch for many people, myself included. However the sequel is equally good, and as with many sequels, is much bigger in scale. Die Hard 2 (or Die Harder) was produced with double the budget ($7 million), double the cast, and was released in the summer of 1990. It also doubled the earnings of the original, with a worldwide box office of over $240 million and so I have to wonder where the love for this film has gone. Oh… it’s right here.
We follow ex NYPD Officer John McClane as he finds himself in a terrorist controlled airport on Christmas Eve while waiting for his wife’s plane to land. Once again, John finds himself facing off against this unforeseen threat, although this time with the added struggle of not being taken seriously by airport police. The main villain of our piece is Colonel Stuart who is portrayed with perfect poise and menace by William Statler- whom many folks will know from his portrayal of Death in the Bill and Ted films. All he wants is to commandeer the plane of a foreign political prisoner, and he is willing to hack the airport control tower and crash as many planes as it takes to get that done. With several planes circling the airport, running low on fuel and awaiting permission to land, there are a lot of lives at stake. The stakes here are higher than they were previously, and unlike before, John is not on his own, having to contend with local law enforcement and the airport management. Whilst they do eventually, inevitably, come to his aide, they remain hesitant of his heroics throughout most of the movie. They even go so far has to have him escorted out of the Control Tower when he finally has proof that one of their “punks and thieves” is a professional mercenary. Once again, the law enforcement in this franchise proves itself to be utterly undependable.
We are once again joined on our journey by the selfish and arrogant Richard Thornburg who is aboard the same plane as John’s wife Holly… much to his dismay. You may also know actor William Atherton from his role as Walter Peck in the original Ghostbusters, and his portrayal of self-centred jerks continue to be an absolute joy all these years later. Even as Thornburg is giving an interview on the news, live, over the phone, from the airplane… he is watching himself in a bathroom mirror. The absence of his character from the following sequels, though understandable, is a real shame because I could genuinely watch this character in a fake news show akin to The 9 o’clock News. The other star player is the late Fred Thompson, who portrays Air Traffic Flight Director Ed Trudeau. His performance feels genuine and you get the feeling that his character has been doing this job for years, but still cares about every single person in his airport. As his systems are taken away from him and his planes are left stranded in the air, he barely ever loses his cool. Every person in this or any other level of authority should aim to be this kind and respectable.
The big draw of Die Hard 2 the new setting. It’s often described as The One With The Airport as opposed to its predecessor The One With The Tower. It means that instead of navigating the small amount of space between several floors, John is having to run from one end of the airport to the other, which proves to be as tiring as getting shot at continuously. It also means that while the plot can have the same bones (John, terrorists, boom) it is delivered in a different way. Instead of dealing with these terrorists directly, he at times simply has to watch their actions play out. They have based themselves at a church on the outskirts of the airport grounds, placing them far enough away from the action that they won’t have to suffer any consequences, unlike the previous film where if the building had collapsed it would have killed everyone. John is stretched thin here while the terrorists are barely lifting a finger. Shifting location was a decision that worked for the most part in Home Alone 2 but with Die Hard 2 it proved to be the best of their many creative decisions.
On top of all this are the practical effects, which I could really just sum up with “exploding plane” but which deserve more attention than that. This was the first film to take a matte painted background and to composite live-action footage over the top of it. Although it was only used for the final scene, it would pave the way for the likes of Independence Day, and I can think of no better legacy. There is something about how practical the effects in this film are and how real it makes everything seem. I think that’s because they allow the events to take their toll on John and everyone around him. Much like with Die Hard John is left covered in grime, blood and injuries by the time the credits roll, in stark contrast to today’s action flicks which seem to have decided that their heroes cannot be shown to have weakness. That’s the thing with Die Hard 2. Yes, it’s bigger, and yes, there has to be a small suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t feel fake or forced. It’s a good time and I really look forward to watching it every year.
Until Next Time…