12 Days of X-Mas: Die Hard 2
The original Die Hard is the obvious Christmas movie pick. You might've already seen me write about that action classic before, sure, but it’s worth noting its sequel makes an attempt at recreating every aspect of what made the first movie great, including having all the action play out over Christmas Eve. While it ends up being a passable action sequel, it’s an interesting look at what makes a worthy Christmas movie.
After saving the day in Nakatomi Tower two years ago, John McClane is now back together with his wife Holly, moving to Los Angeles with her and the kids. He finds himself at the Dulles International Airport waiting for Holly’s plane to land so they can visit his in-laws. Don’t worry, if you didn’t catch all that, McClane spews out the exact same exposition in the first minute of the movie. Die Hard 2 makes it very clear you’re watching Die Hard 2. It’s one of those sequels that leans so much on the first that it ends up being a frustrating watch. If you're expecting a sequel that tries to maintain the feel of the original while also adding new, exciting and smart elements to the mix, go watch Die Hard with a Vengeance. Here the setting is different, but it's just too in adherent to the Die Hard premise to move into any refreshing territory.
McClane proclaims halfway through Die Hard 2, “Oh, we are just up to our ass in terrorists again, aren’t we John?” He finds himself as the “wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time,” as someone reminds him. Oh, and as he's running through the underground tunnels of the airport, he asks the all important question, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” It’s terrorists again, John. Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) and his crew of rogue soldiers (future big shots John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick play small roles in the unit) shut down communications at Dulles, essentially holding the passengers and crew aboard the planes hovering above the airport hostage. They demand the release of General Esperanza (Franco Nero), who’s under custody for drug trafficking. Of course, Holly is in one of those planes quickly loosing fuel above Dulles, so McClane makes it his priority to stop the terrorists’ plans. Oh and Reginald VelJohnson pops in for two scenes playing Al Powell, just because we need to see him eat Twinkies. Also, William Atherton returns as news reporter Richard Thornburg who by pure chance is in the same plane as Holly. Okay. If this actually happened, in real life, and if I were McClane, I'd be convinced there was all knowing, all controlling God out there who was just phoning it in at this point.
There are plenty of thrills; McClane certainly kills his fair share of bad guys in some pretty inventive ways. During an airport terminal shootout, McClane topples over a scaffolding onto a terrorist, completely crushing the life out of the poor bastard. He later takes an icicle and plants it through the eye of one the baddies in a top-tier takedown. To cap it all off, he completely wipes out the villains in the biggest, most over-the-top explosion in the movie. Our hero takes it all with the same type of wit (or is it a form or psychosis?) that grounded his character in Die Hard. Bruce Willis was born to play McClane, at least for like two more movies after this. Here we're stuck with archaic dialogue, mostly involving fax machines and the '90s, but Willis still has the charisma to make the lines work, to a point. He tries, that's important to remember.
Like with any sequel though, Die Hard 2 takes the action to some new, albeit too extreme, heights. It’s all just a preview of how far off the franchise will go into standard blockbuster territory versus the everyman, walking-barefoot-through-glass struggle we saw in the first movie. The ejector seat escape out of the exploding plane bit is priceless, sure, but it's also a grand leap away from some of the harrowing life and death thrills seen in the original.
But, how good of a Christmas movies is Die Hard 2? Well, you forget it’s Christmas about 20 minutes into the movie. Head of the Dulles police force, Captain Lorenzo, played by Dennis Franz in a quintessential loud, angry Franz role, reminds McClane early in the movie, it’s Christmas Eve and he doesn’t have time to deal with McClane’s theories of an impending terrorist plot. Then when the terrorist plot happens, the movie itself has no time to address anything Christmas related.
Die Hard frequently reminded us of its Christmas motif; we begin at a Christmas party, one McClane is forced to go to, further proving he's the wrong guy at the wrong place, etc. From “I have a machine gun now. Ho Ho Ho.”, to the gift wrapping tape McClane uses to hide the gun from Hans Gruber in the final showdown, the original movie earns its status as a tried and true Christmas classic. You can't take the Christmas out of Die Hard and expect the same result. Die Hard 2 fails to bring the Christmas cheer. It really proves there has to more than just a Christmas setting to make a movie a certified Christmas movie. It's thanks to that hard-to-replicate aura of the original that I can see myself drinking eggnog and wrapping Christmas gifts while watching it. Die Hard 2 is a decent sequel to a classic. It's dumb for the most part with occasional well-crafted action set pieces. It shouldn't be your go-to holiday viewing. Maybe if you've lost your Die Hard disc and the stores are closed on Christmas Eve, then maybe I'd suggest Die Hard 2. Hey, both films end with Vaughn Monroe's "Let it Snow", just one will make you feel a bit more in the spirit than the other.