Despite Die Hard 2’s overwhelming mediocrity, the film does an admirable job identifying what made the original Die Hard great and attempts to build off those cornerstones. The problem isn’t in the ideas, it’s in the execution. While Die Hard certainly had its share of silliness, there was enough gravitas and sincerity to it to allow for a dramatic and emotional payoff on top of the action. In contrast the sequel opts to employ self-aware humor as a sort of distancing effect, aware of how absurd it is for a similar situation to happen to the same man.
Yes, the original did have some great one-liners, but Die Hard 2 tries to up this by going for quantity over quality. Almost every exchange had to have multiple one-liners and sometimes entire scenes attempt to make every last line a joke. Most of the jokes don’t hit, and the ones that do are funnier because of how awful and pun-tastic they are. “Just the fax, mam” might be the most egregious example.
The film does do a good job of maintaining a consistent space of action. Yes, the film does branch out a bit from the airport setting, but an overwhelming majority of the film is set in the airport. The broader location allows for the film to play a bit more with certain sections of the building, which lead to some memorable, albeit ridiculous, action sequences.
The action also suffers from poor direction from Renny Harlin. The scenes scenes are shot and put together with enough corners cut that they fail to consistently set up a decent sense of space. This leads to a lot of unnecessary disorientation. Also, the frequent use of slow motion makes a lot of the action comes across as a lot cornier than it actually is. It’s almost as if Harlin wants to make every death yet another pun in the film.
Also, the film comes across more like a holdover from the hard body action film era. While the first film did have John McClane (Bruce Willis) take down professionals while in his bare feet, in this film, he survives multiple explosions, falls and a number of ridiculous stunts that would require an improbable amount of luck to survive. By the end, McClane is a walking pulp, barely able to shuffle, let alone take on government trained rogue military personnel.
Where the film is unequivocally a huge step down is the villain. Besides his cheesy into, he fails to leave much of an impression. Also, his plan and motivation doesn’t make any sense. While Hans Gruber is memorable for his use of intellect and patience, as well as his hidden base motivation, this villain never comes across as quite as meticulous and thoughtful as Hans Gruber, in part because the logistics of his plan are a bit too convoluted for the film’s own good.
Die Hard 2 reminds me why I love Die Hard, but fails to do anything better or more interesting than the first film. After seeing the original numerous times, it might be worth seeing just to see an attempt to do a variant on the first film, but every way in which the film diverges from the original is a way in which the film suffers from the original. In other words, watch Die Hard again instead.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing