R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Time to Die Harder

Oh man, I can’t f*cking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?

As this particular summer has shown us, the old adage about a sequel never living up to the original is correct way more often than it should be. This really goes especially for the Action genre, where often sequels will go with the “Bigger is Better” credo, but hardly ever live up to the first film’s originality or energy. From Speed 2: Cruise Control to Bad Boys 2, over and over film makers choose bloat as a substitute for a good story and likable characters, giving us more examples like The Matrix Revolutions than The Road Warrior or Aliens. While this cinematic junk food can satiate our initial appetites on occasion, many times we’re left unfulfilled.

This was the problem facing the makers of Die Hard 2, which not only had to be good in its own right, but had to deal with the inevitable comparison with a movie that some consider to be the greatest Action movie of all time. Making matters worse is that obviously Alan Rickman, everyone’s favorite cinematic villain Hans Gruber from the first film, dies horribly at the end of the first film, and some how another heavy would have to take his place. Also, John McTiernan, who had helmed John McClane’s first outing, was busy filming The Hunt for Red October, and could not return in time to film this second film.

Who would they get to fill in for McTiernan, who had not only jumpstarted this franchise, but also helmed the immensely successful Predator as well? Producers would hire the man who would go on to direct The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Driven, Exorcist: The Beginning, and one of the biggest financial disasters of all time, Cutthroat Island. This is the man who was supposed to follow up what was perhaps the greatest American Action film of all time and not screw it up? While some would argue to the contrary, amazingly enough, I think that’s exactly what Renny Harlin managed to do.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder Starring Bruce Willis, William Sadler, Reginald VelJohnson, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Fred Dalton Thompson. Directed by Renny Harlin.

By the time we catch up with Bruce Willis’ John McClane, it’s nice to find out that it seems he’s kind of gotten his life together. He and Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) have reconciled and he’s now part of the L.A.P.D. Now considering that Los Angeles’ Police Department is probably the most notorious one in the entire country, I’m sure there could have been an awesome Die Hard movie in which McClane would have to deal with dirty cops, just like Dirty Harry had to in Magnum Force. As it is though, McClane is actually in Washington, D.C., visiting his in-laws for the holidays, waiting patiently for Holly’s flight to arrive at Dulles International Airport.

I love that in this second outing; Willis is completely comfortable in John McClane’s skin. His smart ass mouth and cool demeanor are on full display early on in this picture, which once again sets the tone for this entire picture. Once again, Willis is able to get to the core of this everyman, who simply loves his wife and wants to enjoy his Christmas, but also knows that he just can’t let it go when terrorists threaten all he holds dear, even if he has to do it in the face of authority. To be honest, he probably prefers to do it in the face of authority.

One of the things I like about this movie is that since his escapade at the Nakatomi Plaza, his reputation has followed him around. John hates the semi-celebrity status he’s attained, shunning a reporter early on in the picture. Where his reputation really hurts McClane is when he actually tries to do some good though. After stopping a couple of suspicious characters in a baggage claim area, McClane is chastised for bringing a gun into the airport and accused of just being an overzealous glory hound by the leader of the local Airport Police Unit, Captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz).

Only, this being a Die Hard movie, it hits the fan and does so big time. In a ridiculously over the top plan, terrorists don’t necessarily take over Dulles, but do take control of its air traffic control functions, stunningly asserting their authority at the cost of hundreds of lives. It also sets the stage for some pretty amazing action sequences, especially a firefight that takes place in a new annex where Lorenzo’s SWAT Team is wiped out by bad guys and only McClane is left to save the day.

Also because McClane is on the outs with Airport personnel, film makers had a great excuse to get McClane back in the underbelly of the building he’s in. I love watching McClane wander through basements, prying open grates to get where he needs to go, complaining the entire time, saying things like “Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. A little eggnog… a f*ckin’ Christmas tree… a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this motherf*ckin’ tin can!” Its really hysterical watching him get all riled up, because we know who he’s going to take his frustrations out on eventually some very unlucky bad guys.

Though not nearly as iconic as their predecessors, the heavies this time out are pretty memorable. William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart makes a formidable foe for McClane, going the opposite route from the wily Alan Rickman, making Stuart completely serious for the entire film, never really relenting on his intense demeanor. While this doesn’t endear us to him in the way Rickman’s Hans Gruber did, you can respect how determined and serious he is about succeeding in his mission. Whereas Gruber was a brilliant thief, merely posing as a terrorist, Stuart is the real deal, which again isn’t quite as fun, but lends a type of credibility to the character.

His mission here is to take over the airport and allow time for political prisoner General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero) time to hijack his transport plane and escape with Stuart and his mercenaries. Franco Nero, who shined as the hero of such Spaghetti Westerns as Django, looks like he’s having a blast hamming it up as a Noriega-esque villain, and gets quite a few good scenes in, including a confrontation with McClane.

A funny tidbit from IMDB.com says that Esperanza is supposed to hail from the fictional country of Valverde, which is the same country that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Matrix invades in Commando, perhaps putting this film in the same universe as the earlier film. Apparently, Schwarzenegger was actually one of the first people considered for the original Die Hard, perhaps even making the film a sequel to Commando. It’s crazy to think what could have happened if that had been the case, as Die Hard is such a part of American culture. Just thinking about how Bruce Willis wouldn’t be the star he is today without Die Hard on his resume is a scary thought in and of itself.

It makes me wonder how much these sequels also add to the Die Hard legacy, as while NO ONE puts them on the same level as the original, I would think they’ve still got a hefty following. It helps that Die Hard 2 has a ton of Action, with Renny Harlin putting together what is definitely the best film of his entire career. Occasionally letting loose with the mayhem he would show in The Long Kiss Goodnight, such as with the film’s signature moment when McClane is launched into the air in an ejection seat in an incredible shot where it looks like he is shot into a craned camera, Die Harder never goes brain-dead in the way that his later crap epics Cutthroat Island and Driven would.

Harlin even fills the movie with a ton of extra atmosphere, as adding to the problems at Dulles is a gigantic snow storm. This snow is permeating the entire movie, which was apparently very difficult to produce, as the movie had to keep moving locations in order to find a place where it was actually snowing. After places such as Minnesota and Michigan were a bust, the shoot eventually went to Denver, Colorado, but even after that fake snow had to be used to create the right look for what they needed.

The result is what I consider an amazing and worthy sequel to Die Hard despite falling short of the original’s glory because of perhaps too much repetition. Die Hard 2 is a gloriously R-Rated, hard hitting action fest that doesn’t stave from absolutely gory and brutal violence. Most importantly, the film was a further showcase for the blossoming film career of Bruce Willis, who hadn’t done another Action film since Die Hard a couple years earlier. The film helped establish him as a premiere Action star who would soon be on the level of, and then surpass, his contemporaries Schwarzenegger and Stallone. As a film by itself though, Die Hard 2 is a satisfying sequel that you never have to feel guilty about watching or loving.

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