Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: July 4, 1990
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Genre: Action / Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5
The original “Die Hard,” released in 1988, grossed more than $140 million on a $28 million budget. While action flicks were popular in the 1980s, “Die Hard” is considered one of the transformative films of the action and thriller genres, having had a strong influence on action films through the nineties, an influence that is evident even today. The success of the original gave the studio no option but to create a sequel, “Die Hard 2,” which was released only two years later.
The original film was based on a novel. Instead of choosing to write an original screenplay for the sequel, producers decided to base the sequel on a novel by a different author. The move could have been a disaster, but the writers successfully adapted the source material to the “Die Hard” universe, and most viewers find the continuity of the series to be one of its strongest elements. The world in which the series exists feels real, and the injection of a new novel gives the movie a freshness that many sequels fail to capture.
Like in the novel, the tension of the film revolves largely around planes at risk of being brought down by terrorists. John McClane is waiting at Washington Dulles International Airport for his wife’s plane to land. After seeing two suspicious-looking men carrying a package, McClane decides to follow them when he notices that one is carrying a gun. He kills one man after they open fire and uncovers that the dead man is a mercenary.
Unfortunately, McClane can’t convince the airport’s chief of security (Dennis Franz) that a larger plot is afoot. Later action will finally convince the chief that action is necessary, but his resources will be of little help to McClane. The film’s action continues at an unrelenting pace, and the sheer volume of terrorists is staggering. This action takes place against a truly terrifying background; should the terrorists’ demands not be met, they will begin crashing airplanes , and if that isn’t enough to make McClane mad, his wife’s plane is among the likely targets.
The tension further builds when a plane crashes. Action films tend to limit portrays of innocents dying, and the well-shot scene increases the audience’s support for McClane. Giving into the terrorists’ demands is not an option, but they have accounted for all reasonable countermeasures. Only extraordinary acts, similar to those performed by McClane in the original, can save the day. It’s also Christmas Eve, and perhaps some holiday magic can help as well.
Through sheer determination, quick thinking, and a bit of luck, McClane manages to defeat the terrorists. While the death count is too high for a particularly jubilant celebration, McClane and his wife finally meet. It certainly wasn’t the routine trip they imagined, but a terrifying plot has been foiled, and hundreds of lives have been saved.
The scope of the sequel is greater than that of the original. While the plot involving the tower in the first “Die Hard” is more than enough to captivate viewers, it lacks the punch of the sequel, which makes McClane’s anger and violence even more justified. Having his wife aboard a potential target also adds a bit of depth to his rage, and members of the audience, who likely remember the couple’s reconciliation in the original film, feel the connection as well. Despite the over-the-top violence of the film and its break from realism, the action has an organic feel that later imitators have rarely been able to match.
The film also helped solidify Willis’s role as one of the world’s iconic action stars. Countless other actors were offered the role of McClane in the original ” Die Hard, ” and producers, who only knew Willis as a comedic actor, were unsure if he would be believable as an action hero. He gained a considerable amount of credibility in the first film, and his performance in the second finalized the evolution. While his comedy chops remain strong, Willis is now known as one of cinema’s greatest action stars, and “Die Hard 2” demands much of the credit.
The film also succeeded at setting new standards for Hollywood action films. In particular, the airplane crash scene set a high bar for realism. More recent films are able to rely on computer-generated images for their scenes, but the filmmakers had no such luxuries with “Die Hard 2.” Throughout the 1990s, action films became known for their big explosions and violent scenes, but few were able to match the impact of “Die Hard 2.” It is Willis, however, who ultimately makes this film memorable. The hero archetype had largely stuck to its Grecian roots in previous action films. In the “Die Hard” series, the snarky, flawed, but relentless hero was born and became the new archetype for the action-thriller genre.