Children of Bond - Die Hard 2

Little time was wasted moving a sequel to Die Hard into production after the success of the first film. The main question was what could happen to John McClane this time in the absence of Hans Gruber and the Nakatomi Plaza? Whatever option they took it was unavoidably going to be somewhat unbelievable that McClane was such a magnet for trouble, forever finding himself in these explosive situations. There was money to be made though and ultimately it's just a film.
No one complains that it's unrealistic having James Bond forever encountering larger than life villains or outlandish situations but then James Bond is a fantasy secret agent not a New York policeman. Therein lay the rub. Like it not, the McClane character was going to lose some plausibility if a franchise was to be developed around the first picture. The sequel had double the budget of the first film and although it earned some solid reviews and is generaly regarded to be a competent and entertaining film it does provide evidence that bigger is not neccesarily better.
Doug Richardson, later a novelist and screenwriter on Bad Boys, had impressed with an unproduced spec script called Hell Bent... and Back and was hired to write Die Hard 2 while 1988's Die Hard was still in cinemas. The producer Larry Gordon wanted him to adapt Walter Wager's book 58 Minutes into Die Hard 2. 58 Minutes was about an NYPD captain named Frank Malone waiting for his daughter at JFK international airport. The airport is taken over by a mysterious villain who gives the authorities 58 minutes to accept his demands before planes start crashing. Malone must somehow save his daughter and to make matters worse a blizzard is coming in.
Richardson's approach to the sequel was: "Using the novel 58 minutes as a rough sketch, it was about putting John McClane in the middle of it. Wrong place wrong time. And let the natural suspense drive the action without winking at the audience. Essentially, it was about making it a stand alone."
Sadly, John McTiernan was unavailable to direct Die Hard 2 because he was busy on The Hunt For Red October. One wonders if - in hindsight - they should have put Die Hard 2 back and waited for him to be available because he did plan to direct the Die Hard sequel before the scheduling conflict. The man chosen to replace McTiernan was Finnish director Renny Harlin. Harlin was a young up and coming filmmaker who had just directed the horror pictures Prison and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Harlin's first film (the Finnish funded) Born American opened at number nine in the United States and put him on the map.
Harlin would go on to direct arguably the best of the many Die Hard variants in 1993 with Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger. Cliffhanger was essentially Die Hard on a mountain range. Harlin went off the boil in the end but he was a much in demand director for most of the nineties and around the time of Die Hard 2 was hired to direct Alien 3 before leaving the production due to creative differences. Harlin also turned down the chance to direct GoldenEye a few years later.
Harlin's take on Die Hard 2 was this: "My goal was to replicate the experience of the first one without copying it. I think it's important to be faithful to a character and this applies to his behavior, his sense of humor and also his limitations. It can be dangerous when stunts make a down to earth character into a superhero."
Michael Kamen returned to score the film while Oliver Wood was placed in charge of the cinematography. While Harlin and Wood do a solid enough job, McTiernan and Jan de Bont can't help but be missed. Die hard 2 does seem to lack a certain sprinkle of the Die Hard magic they managed to capture in the first film.
Bruce Willis was - naturally - back as John McClane and this is the only Die Hard sequel that includes characters from the first film. Bonnie Bedelia as Holly McClane and William Atherton as the oleaginous journalist Richard Thornburg find themselves sitting together on one of the circling planes and Reginald VelJohnson as Sergeant Al Powell is given a cameo.
William Sadler, a regular television performer who later become known for films like Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and The Shawshank Redemption, was signed to play the villain Colonel Stuart with relative unknown Donald Patrick Harvey as his second in command Garber. Look for a young John Leguizamo as one of Sadler's team. Leguizamo said much of his part was cut out in the editing room. Another of Sadler's team, Robert Patrick, would be cast as the T-1000 in James Cameron's Terminator 2 the following year.
The wonderful Dennis Franz, well known to television viewers as Norman Buntz in Hill Street Blues, was cast as the stubborn minded Captain Carmine Lorenzo, the head of the airport police. Franz would go on to become even better known for his long running part as Detective Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue. Fred Thompson plays Ed Trudeau, the Chief of Dulles' operations. Doug Richardson based the character on the man he met researching airport operations. Thompson was not just an actor but a politician and served in the United States Senate representing Tennessee from 1994 to 2003.
The tough looking John Amos was known through films like Coming to America and took the part of special forces leader Major Grant while Art Evans takes the role of Leslie Barnes, the chief engineer. Franco Nero, who plays the dictator General Ramon Esperanza, is a cult actor known for many films, including Django and Enter the Ninja.
The premise? Once again it is Christmas Eve, two years after the Nakatomi Plaza caper, and John McClane (wearing a blue checked shirt but you do get some vague vest action) is at Dulles International Airport in Washington waiting for his wife Holly to land. He doesn't seem to have much luck at Christmas though because once again he is soon up to his neck in trouble. A team of mercenary terrorists, led by the renegade Colonel Stuart, seize the airport by taking control of the air traffic control systems. Stuart wants to rescue Ramon Esperanza, the drug baron dictator of (the fictitious) Latin American country Val Verde.
Esperanza is due to fly in to stand trial and Stuart demands a Boeing 747 to be put at his disposal to make his escape with the dictator and his team. If his demands are not met he will start crashing planes. As his wife is on one of those planes (now circling the airport with its fuel running low) McClane decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands and try and wrest control of the airport back from Stuart and his men...
One immediate problem with Die Hard 2 (sometimes known as Die Hard 2: Die Harder on posters) is that the action is no longer wonderfully self-contained in the manner of the original. The constrictive setting of the shimmering skyscraper forced them to be more inventive and was a major part of the appeal.
Here they have an entire airport and its surroundings to play with and the novelty is unavoidably lost - making this seem much more like a generic action film than the first one. There is even a snowmobile chase at one point and while everyone loves a good snowmobile chase it does feel more like James Bond than the John McClane character we saw in the first film. The idea here is that if the first film was riffing on The Towering Inferno then this is Die Hard meets Airport but the setting and story simply doesn't work so well this time.
The sequence where McClane uses an ejector seat to escape from a stationary plane is pure James Bond. So much so that GoldenEye more or less ripped off this setpiece five years later with Pierce Brosnan in a helicopter!
McClane was somehow more realistic in the first film too, a reluctant hero. While he has an obvious motivation to intervene here (his wife is on one of the planes circling above) you do get the impression he'd do so anyway. It's highly contrived the manner in which he becomes suspicious of two military types at the start of the film and is soon having a guns blazing shoot out and scrap with them in some baggage room, thus stumbling onto Stuart's grand scheme for the first time.
No one can deny though that Die Hard 2 is a big film that gives you plenty of bang for your buck - gun fights lovingly framed and staged, explosions a plenty, spectacular sequences involving aeroplanes. It's a perfectly competent and entertaining action film but one that just feels somewhat functional and uninspired when placed alongside its illustrious predecessor. It's as if they were desperate to get another film with the Die Hard tag out as soon as possible rather than wait for anyone to come up with a really great idea or script.
Renny Harlin was fine at this sort of stuff and directed some good action films (Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight) in his day but he lacks the refinement and panache of John McTiernan. Die Hard 2 throws a lot of money at the screen but is significantly less stylish and sleek than McTiernan's film and never generates that rush laden rollercoaster ride - that spectacular coda upon coda feeling. The first film had a vivid palette and sheen and this one is very blue and dark at times with a lot of action taking place at night. The fake dusty snow that frames proceedings doesn't always convince either.
The biggest problem with the film is probably William Sadler's villain  - a bland and largely charisma free baddie who you can barely remember after watching the film. The camp antics of Rickman and Jeremy Irons (who were both very Bond villain) in the first and third films were much more fun and gave Willis more oppurtunity for verbal sparring. Hans Gruber was witty, flamboyant and amusing but Sadler is no fun at all and seems like he's just wandered in from a Steven Segal film.
McClane's cat and mouse game with the other villains was much more inventive and enjoyable. Hans Gruber's domain was a high-tech skyscraper that he had complete control of like a king but Sadler and his men set up a HQ in a windblown shed in the airport grounds. It's not the same really.
As usual, McClane has to battle the authorities as much as the villains - especially the chief of airport security Captain Carmine Lorenzo. Fans of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue will enjoy the diminutive walrus mustached presence of Dennis Franz as Lorenzo. In a radical departure from his usual parts he essays a diminutive bad tempered walrus mustached policeman here! I love Dennis Franz so I was happy to see him.
The film lacks the wit of the first one and Willis only gets a few good wisecracks and laughs from the script (and his improvised gags) so his verbal jousts with Franz are sorely needed. "Hey Lorenzo, let me ask you something: what sets off a metal detector first? The lead in your ass or the s*** in your brains?" Willis throws himself into the action in his usual fashion and proves that he has more than enough charisma to carry a Die Hard film on his shoulders without Alan Rickman in support. He'd arrived as a major film star.
One welcome thing about the film - that at least makes it seem like a blood relative to the first Die Hard - is the inclusion of some of the key supporting characters from the original. It's contrived of course but nice anyway to see these characters again. Die Hard 2 is a lavish and generally entertaining film but one that perhaps does seem as if it is going through the motions rather than ever creating anything special or new with the franchise. It's watchable but tends to wash over you rather than leave a litter of unforgettable scenes and images in the memory as the first picture does. If this had been the first Die Hard film it's doubtful the brand would have become so iconic.
Still, despite feeling more mechanical than Die Hard (you can almost hear Die Hard 2 desperately grinding through the gears) this is an expensive sequel that remains very watchable. It has some grand scale stunts and some solid laughs.
- Jake

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