Tuesday, May 29, 2018

In short: Die Hard 2 (1990)

Clearly, the only way to top an instant classic like the first Die Hard is to make a film that is basically the same but just a little different than the original, and definitely louder and bigger. However, Renny Harlin’s sequel still features a relatively constrained place for John McClane (who else but Bruce Willis again?) to get increasingly beat up in.

If you squint a little, you can see hints about the wrong direction the series will head towards in the future, but even though this one softens the class politics of the first film quite a bit – not so much discerning between working class and bosses anymore but more aiming for people willing to do their actual jobs versus those there only to play politics – and doesn’t really feature any of the random moments of veracity I loved particularly in the first one, there’s still quite a bit of humanity in here to ground the action. After all, how many other big loud US action movies are there whose hero breaks down crying after not managing to save an airplane full of people? Or how many of them realize that, if you want to make a guy’s wife (a returning Bonnie Bedelia with slightly less frightening hair than in the first film) a part of the film’s emotional and very real stake, you really need to show her coping with her own duress, too, which also turns her from a price to be won into a person an audience wants to see saved?

While it is completely outrageous and far-fetched, the sequel’s plot is still also well-constructed in its unfolding, playing fair with its plot twists, and not so much aiming to provide an excuse for the action sequences but making them an organic part of a flow. Things need to move in an action movie, is what I’m saying (alas too late for the writers of the next Die Hard film to hear), and it’s even better when they move in interesting and fun directions even when nothing explodes.

Speaking of explosions, I believe Harlin was at the time the second best director of big US action movies (after Die Hard’s John McTiernan, obviously), and it shows here. There’s an appropriate heft to many of the action sequences but also a sense of good fun that turns the potentially annoying smart-ass moments of the film into something enjoyable, like a corny joke told by a good friend.

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