Die Hard 2
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald Vel Johnson
screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, based on the novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager
directed by Renny Harlin
"Man, I can't believe this. Another basement. Another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"
"We got a new SOP for DOAs from the FAA." -John McClane, Die Hard 2
by Vincent Suarez Everything you need to know about Die Hard 2 can be gleaned from these two lines. In essentially replicating the formula perfected by its predecessor, Die Hard 2 doesn't merely lapse into the self-parody that characterizes (and often weakens) most sequels--it embraces (and is frequently elevated) by it. With a higher body count, quicker pace, and slightly shorter running time than Die Hard, the entire exercise smacks of shorthand, resulting in a breezier, if less substantial and sophisticated, experience. Nonetheless, like John McClane himself, the film packs a smart-alecky wallop.
Bruce Willis returns as John McClane, awaiting, as this film opens, the Christmastime arrival of his wife's flight at Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C., where he's been visiting his in-laws. In the twenty seconds it takes to identify him as such, we're up to speed on what's transpired since the final frame of Die Hard, wherein NYPD Detective McClane was at last embracing his estranged wife. It being Christmas with the McClane family, in no time at all Dulles is at the mercy of a group of black-op soldiers-turned-mercenaries who've stranded incoming flights in midair in order to keep the runways clear for the escape of a deposed foreign drug lord flying in for his trial.
It's significant that Steven E. DeSouza has also returned, again as co-screenwriter. Die Hard's elegant, masterful script was richly textured and deeply layered, providing the model for the genre. Though the sequel is at its worst when trying, in the most banal ways, to be Die Hard (Bonnie Bedelia has a thankless extended cameo as Holly McClane, while the presence of Die Hard characters Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) and Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Vel Johnson) feels extremely forced), the script breathlessly sets up McClane's adventures. In the first film, Willis was upstaged by Alan Rickman's suave, cunning turn as criminal mastermind Hans Gruber. Perhaps more confident in Willis's ability to carry the film after his surprisingly capable initial performance as McClane, producer Joel Silver allows Willis to run the show (William Sadler is a menacing enough villain but he's no Rickman, and Dennis Franz is simply annoying as the chief of Dulles's internal police), and he's up to the task. Willis's comfort with both one-liners and automatic weapons has never been better.
Finnish director Renny Harlin, helming his fourth U.S. feature, may lack Die Hard director John McTiernan's impeccable sense of style, but he sure can put together a set-piece. Most noteworthy are the crashing of a 747 (a moment so stunning in its unexpectedness and severity that it lends the film the kind of genuine impact rare in sequels and absent in Die Hard's many knockoffs) and a James Bondian snowmobile chase, which, in a moment that echoes the original's rigorous construction, weaves a crucial plot point into the rapid-fire action.
Fox has delivered a THX-certified transfer, which though it warrants the same "A" rating conferred upon the Die Hard: Five Star Collection DVD, is clearly superior. On a 16x9 set, this anamorphic widescreen transfer (replacing the now useless, non-enhanced 1999 release) is gorgeous. Often hazardous to reproduce with great stability, the many sequences featuring blinding snow are cool as ice. Likewise, both the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are remarkable, the DTS version even more so for the enhanced bass and slightly wider dynamic range typical of the format. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the crisp "tingling" of shell casings striking the floor during the new terminal ambush sequence emanating from all speakers, an effect I fondly recalled from my theatrical viewing but which had been significantly subdued on both the AC-3 LaserDisc and the earlier DVD.
This double-disc Special Edition does not contain the wealth of supplements that earned the new Die Hard DVD its "Five Star Collection" status, but it's a fairly plentiful offering that mirrors the workmanlike effort put into the film. Renny Harlin's full-length commentary track (produced and edited by supplement savant David Britten Prior) is the sole extra on the first platter, excluding the ubiquitous (and invaluable) THX Optimode audio-visual calibration screens. Harlin's talk is most entertaining, as the filmmaker conveys his passion for the action genre and its conventions, his sensitivity to the film's role as sequel, and the rewardingly collaborative nature of a project of this scale. Like the film, Harlin is warmly self-effacing, as when he admits that the infamous "Pacific Bell" goof--which could have easily been pawned off on a continuity person--was due to his lack of understanding that Pac Bell does not provide phone service nationwide. (The Californian company's logo is prominently displayed on a pay phone supposedly residing within the Virginian airport.)
The highlight of the second disc is the 23-minute "The Making of Die Hard 2". A cut above the usual offering of this sort, the focus is on the immensity of shooting an action epic in multiple locations and under difficult, uncooperative weather conditions. A nice bit shows a finished portion of the snowmobile sequence with subtitles revealing each of the seven locations in which its assorted shots were filmed, promoting a real appreciation of the seamlessness with which the task is achieved. A 4-minute version of the program is also included as an item from the film's electronic press kit.
Next in the menu are four wisely-deleted scenes; an interview (7 mins.) with Harlin, for the most part, in which he reveals nothing not already found elsewhere; and an amusing interview with Sadler as part of a "villain profile" (6 mins.). More interestingly, two behind-the-scenes segments look at the stuntwork for the snowmobile (4 mins.) and conveyor belt (8 mins.) sequences, while a nifty section compares the ambush in the new terminal to its storyboards. Completing the package are several revealing looks at some of the film's composite shots (detailing the use of models, blue screen and the like), four theatrical trailers, and a television spot. In all, it's a package for Die Harder that could hardly rock harder. Originally published: July 20, 2001.