Skip to main content

Oh, we are just up to our ass in terrorists again, John.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder
(1990)

(SPOILERS) There’s a bizarre view spouted by some adherents, who surely can’t have seen Die Hard 2: Die Harder in a long time, that the legacy of John McClane is only shat on by the arrival of the baldy Bruce version in 2007. Admittedly, A Good to Day to Die Hard is lousy, but I’d argue Live Free or 4.0 is actually a more satisfying movie than with a Vengeance (which goes great guns for about half its running time, then splutters and disintegrates). And the suggestion that Bruce isn’t playing McClane in Live Free is nonsense to the extent that he isn’t really playing McClane after the first movie. Exhibit A: the caricature McClane of Die Harder, riffing some near-self-reflexive dialogue that serves mainly to distance the viewer from any claim the picture otherwise has to drama and tension (most of it relating to the same shit happening to the same guy twice, rather than being inventively witty) and fearlessly racing around an airport with precious little sense of his ever having been an average New York cop out of his depth in a life or death situation. Now, crazy shit just happens to him, and he can deal with any and all of it. He has become all that his former self was a conscious reaction against.


It wouldn’t be so bad if the absurdity of Die Harder were properly capitalised on, but it’s largely an unarresting affair, with pedestrian villains and an awkward, ungainly plot that entirely fails to follow the (presumed) template of McClane in a claustrophobic, against-the-odds siege situation. It has been pointed out that the arena of conflict escalates in each successive Die Hard outing, and while the siege situation is part of what makes the first so tight and effective, the essential ingredient of the series is surely really the sustained tension of impossible odds; Die Harder almost entirely dispenses with this. It’s a flaccid movie full of start-stop action and McClane continually exiting perilous situations to return to the safety zone of unheedful airport authorities. It means it’s not only short on personal danger, since he isn’t out on a limb, but also that that the movie as a whole is lumpen and sloppy.


Renny Harlin’s no help in this, a C-director graduating from Elm Street movies (along with Stephen Hopkins, picked for Joel Silver’s Predator 2) whose main claim to fame is a penchant for engaging in chunky slow motion at the merest sniff of action. The picture is actually light on preamble, kicking into motion in the first few minutes, and McClane with it, but that’s a false dawn if you’re expecting a consistent follow through. There’s an early fight involving the baggage handling area, with conveyer belts (and slow-mo), and it’s utterly generic, right down to the autopilot Michael Kamen score. You shouldn’t be feeling same-old, same-old, particularly when there’s nothing common about the original; it’s an exceptional action movie.


Harlin doesn’t have story on his side, so it’s mostly his later resumé that confirms he wasn’t just unlucky (although he manages to instil a modicum of laughs and tension into Deep Blue Sea, so he can do it) The locale for Die Harder is simply too expansive, too ill-defined, cursed with vague geography that seems to fluctuate according to the requirements of a scene or plot progression.


As such, while some of the early moments are more in line with the brutal one-on-one antics of the original, albeit much sloppier in execution (the sequence where Bruce shoots the T-1000-to-be through a falling grill is no less clumsy for being in slow motion), it isn’t long before the movie is turning McClane into James Bond, as he leaps on a snow ski for an chase across a frozen lake and gets dropped onto the wing of a plane for the final fight. And, where the violence often had an infectiously grim sense of humour in the original, here it’s just about Harlin’s penchant for the grisly (a stalactite in a bad guy’s eye, the main villain being splatted in a plane’s propeller).


The Ejector seat scene is the sole inspired (set) piece of tension, with grenades plopping into the cockpit around McClane; it presents a great “Now get out of that conundrum”. The actual ejection may be patchy in terms of effects (it’s the series straying into the obviously composited, which was never evident in the first picture, and further underlines the Bond-ian way the series was going), but it’s still a satisfying pay-off.


Barnes: What are you going to do?
John McClane: Whatever I can.

The other scene of note finds McClane revisiting his attempt to save a group of people from certain death at the hands of terrorists; in the original, he saved them from a mined roof. Here, he fails to attract the attention of an incoming plane piloted by Colm Meany (“We’re just like British Rail, love. We may be late, but we get you there” advised a stewardess: terrible last words) and the result is an early example of disaster porn, particularly since there’s no real impact to the passengers’ deaths, other than that Bruce’s ruse is unsuccessful and he feels bad about it. In theory, such a failure on the part of the hero is to the credit of the movie, but it comes wrapped in a strictly functional bow that denies it impact.


One thing I guess this does “successfully” in that sense, is continuing the reconfiguration of the ‘70s disaster movie. But where Die Hard worked with the tropes and infused them with freshness, the stodginess of Die Harder really is a throwback to two decades’ past. As such, while you might argue that the way it structurally isn’t replicating the first is a good thing, what it is doing simply isn’t any good; the goose chase of “Simon Says” and cross-country race of the third and fourth at least involve direction and drive.


Here, we have Bruce meet up with an old-timer (Tom Bower) in one of the endless service tunnels beneath the airport. He isn’t a fun character, and is yet another instance of McClane not finding himself up-against-it; he can just stop off for a natter whenever he feels like it. It saps any vitality from the proceedings. And then there’s the truly terrible, painfully slow scene involving the wonders of fax technology (even if it gives one of Bruce his few sterling lines; “Just the fax, ma’am. Just the fax”), which seems to be entirely there to give a shout out to Al Powell, backhanded as it is.


Grant: No, you were right. I’m just you’re kind of asshole.

The villains are a generic, cruddy bunch too. This time, they really are terrorists, and as mostly dull-witted as that suggests; there are twists and turns (mostly the allegiance of John Amos’ Major Grant) buy they highlight the slipshod plotting rather than flourish impressive sleight of hand (Franco Nero’s Esperanza is required to overpower his captives and land his plane for the plan to work, which isn’t much of a plan). William Sadler, so good as Death in the following year’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, is introduced doing a spot of nude aerobics and has a decent snark at Bruce (“You seemed a bit out of your league on Nightline, I thought”) but apart from that fails to make much impression (undoubtedly why they went back to Brits in Vengeance).


There’s also Dennis Franz as the obstructive head of airport police, who eventually sees the light and gets to utter the immortal “It’s time to kick ass”, which in the trailers was abbreviated to be “ass”-less, kind of embodying how lame this whole thing would be in advance.


Dick Thornberg: See, you’re intrigued. That’s my gift.

Even though Bonnie Bedelia is relegated to imperilment on a plane, and thus gets none of the dramatic meat she did in the original, she makes the most of sitting next to a vicious old bat who tried a stun gun on her dog (are we supposed to think she’s a lovable dear?) And, of course, this is an instance of Chekov’s stun gun, since it having appeared five minutes in, we know it will be used on odious Dick Thornburg, who is coincidentally on the same flight, come the climax. Fair dues to Dick, though, he may be reprehensibly tabloid, but he is actually a decent investigative journalist: astute, deductive, and while it might be claimed his actions louse up an attempt to reach the escape plane, it could equally be said that it’s McClane’s actions that lead directly to the deaths of 230 passengers on the Windsor Air flight.


John McClane: Hey, Carmine, let me ask you something. What sets of the metal detectors first? The lead in your ass or the shit in your brains?

And Bruce? This is around the point when, having finally hit the big time in the movies, he was immediately experiencing the undesirable effect of ill-advised choices, such as Bonfire of the Vanities, and vanity project Hudson Hawk (well, no, not a bad choice, it’s a great movie, but his ego had been let loose). Die Hard 2 finds him going with the flow in a script he has since renounced (but he’d later okay Die Hard 5, so quality control has never been his forte). He’s basically left with no option but to run around caricaturing his persona from the original (“Oh, we are up to our ass again in terrorists, John”; “I’ve gotta quit smoking cigarettes”, “Yeah, story of my life”), or worse, reeling off dreadful lines like the above; it’s the sort of crap George Costanza would think was clever, despite all indications to the contrary.


It leads one to question just who came up with all the great dialogue in the original. Jeb Stuart (who’s absent?) or Steven De Souza (who co-writes with Doug Richardson)? Maybe it was DeSouza, since he also worked on Hawk, but there’s precious little evidence of his wit here. Or it comes down to Willis, who reportedly ad-libbed loads in the original – although, that doesn’t explain all the other characters’ dialogue –  but maybe it had all gone to his head here. Alternatively, there (understandably) just wasn’t the same inspiration.


Holly McClane: They told me there were terrorists at the airport.
John McClane: Yeah, I heard that too.

As with the original, the picture ends with Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow! but that merely serves as a reminder of how we’ve just sat through a pale facsimile of the first picture (whereas, say, Extreme Ways reminded us of just how great Bourne always was, at least until the most recent one). Die Hard 2: Die Harder is bloated; too much continuity, too inelegant a plot, too ungainly a director.  John McTiernan (who apparently had to pass on this due to The Hunt for Red October; it would be nice to think he simply thought the script was awful) would come back on board to invigorate a pared-down third instalment (in terms of revisited characters and elements), but by that point the actual point of the series had unravelled. The first half of Die Hard with a Vengeance has the right look, feel and pace, but just what is McClane’s purpose in these pictures anymore? He’s an identikit hero justified by some tenuous connection to the first (brother of the villain, his daughter, his son), and the emotional through line that was its beating heart is entirely absent. Die Hard should have been one-and-done. It doesn’t take anything away from the original that there are follow-ups, obviously, but it would still be nicer if it was divested of all that subsequent baggage.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

This is no time for puns! Even good ones.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
Perhaps I've done DreamWorks Animation (SKG, Inc., etc.) a slight injustice. The studio has been content to run an assembly line of pop culture raiding, broad-brush properties and so-so sequels almost since its inception, but the cracks in their method have begun to show more overtly in recent years. They’ve been looking tired, and too many of their movies haven’t done the business they would have liked. Yet both their 2014 deliveries, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, take their standard approach but manage to add something more. Dragon 2 has a lot of heart, which one couldn’t really say about Peabody (it’s more sincere elements feel grafted on, and largely unnecessary). Peabody, however, is witty, inventive and pacey, abounding with sight gags and clever asides while offering a time travel plotline that doesn’t talk down to its family audience.

I haven’t seen the The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, from which Mr. Peabody & Sh…