First on this tape, Die Hard 2. I won’t be doing with any of that ‘Die Harder’ nonsense – the on-screen title is Die Hard 2 so that’s what it is.
Do customer service people at a busy airport really have time to have the news on? And could it possibly be that this news report about the extradition of a deposed dictator be significant to the plot of the movie?
Cut to William Sadler doing his exercises in the nude, which immediately marks him out as dangerous. He even switches off his TV aggressively.
So much of the plot of this film revolves around early 90s telecommunications – the film seems fascinated by all of it. McClane has a pager. His wife is using an airphone.
It’s nice to have Bonnie Bedelia back for this one – later installments really missed her.
Talking of new technology, the woman Holly’s sitting next to, apropos of almost nothing at all, shows her the taser she’s carrying. Ah, the simplicity of the 90s, that happier time when you could carry a taser onto a flight in your hand luggage.
The story about the deposed dictator is the only story being reported on by every television we see, and everyone we see watching television is watching the news, including an old bloke looking after an old church.
He’s taken in by the classic distraction burglary scam as two blokes in orange hard hats ask to check on the conduit line in the back garden. He’s even nice enough to explain to them why the church isn’t being used as a church any more, in case that thought might have niggled viewers as the film progresses. He doesn’t last long, as the man in the orange hard hat is not a good guy.
Talking of 90s telecommunications, the bad guys in the airport are keeping in contact with walkie talkies, so to be unobtrusive they have to use them inside payphone booths. We’ve got so used now to the cliche of in-ear earphones and jawbone mics that our characters can have perfect conversations no matter where they are, but in 1990 this was what they had to work with.
The excuse the film gives for McClane initially tackling the bad guys on his own is that the first policeman he finds to tell them about the bad guys is the one who towed his car away right at the start (the excellent Robert Costanzo).
The first action setpiece is a good use of the luggage transportation area behind the scenes of the airport. Lots of restricted spaces and multiple levels. Director Renny Harlin is good at this kind of thing.
Back on Holly’s aeroplane, her old nemesis William Atherton, the slimy TV reporter from the first film, is shunted into coach class from first class because the flight is overbooked. I don’t quite understand why this is happening when the flight is well underway, except to withhold his introduction until now. Still, it’s nice to see him back, even if it does stretch coincidence to the absolute brink of breaking point. I love the fact that he’s got a restraining order against Holly for punching him live on air. The cabin crew, already not fans because of his previous work ‘Flying Junkyards’ and ‘Bimbos of the skies’ are delighted to hear of Holly’s past, and she gets champagne.
Willis is horrified that airport police don’t shut down the area as a crime scene. In charge of the airport police is Dennis Franz, who doesn’t want to shut the airport down to dust for prints. He’s amazingly sweary (as is the film as a whole). That’s another thing I don’t think would play today – they’d be keen to get a lower certificate.
Next, we’re introduced to the famous deposed dictator, General Esperanza (which means ‘hope’ in Spanish). He’s played by Franco Nero, and we know he’s evil because the first thing we see him do is kill the young soldier guarding him.
Then we get the last returning character from the first film, Al Powell, who’s back in LA, and once more we’re fascinated by the workings of a fax machine.
Sgt Powell, by the way, literally spends the bulk of this scene with a twinkie in his mouth because, obviously, that’s his thing.
We’re not done with introducing major characters yet. Next we’re off to the control tower, and Fred Dalton Thompson (who later became a US Senator) runs the control tower.
Art Evans plays Leslie Barnes, who seems to be the airport’s technical guru.
The weather is getting worse, so planes are starting to stack up on approach to the airport. Just the right time for the bad guys to put their plan into action. There’s John Leguiziamo in a very small part as they fire up their replacement air traffic control center in their churchy hideout, and they take over control from the airport air traffic control.
Thompson gets to say his big line at this point, “Stack ’em, Pack ’em and rack ’em”. I wonder if this was a genuine saying that ATC people gave the writers or whether it was just a cool phrase.
Talking of cool phrases, once he’s ejected from the control centre, Willis has to climb out of the elevator (because, again, that’s his thing) and find his way to the basement. “Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” It’s a great line, and a brilliant example of lampshading, the idea that if you’re doing something that stretches credulity in your story, deliberately drawing attention to it like this defuses the audience’s sense of “really?”.
And you might not know this, but the line was originally used in a specially shot teaser trailer for the movie that was released quite a while before the movie was finished. Willis’ costume isn’t even the same one he’s wearing in the movie. I love this teaser, as it sets up the premise of the film, while also delivering tension, crescendo, and ending on a brilliant reveal of Willis as McClane. I saw it when it was originally shown in the cinema, and it was fantastic – the long recitation of airport facts making you wonder what on earth this is, ending with the lights, smoke and HOLY COW IT’S BRUCE WILLIS. Just wonderful.
Incidentally, if I could be just a bit pedantic for a moment, “Another basement, another elevator”? At no point in the original movie was Willis in a basement. Everything took place above the 30th floor. And this is the first time that thought has occurred to me.
Willis is looking for the annex skywalk, where Art Evans and his crew are headed to try and set up an alternative communications method. He meets the janitor, Marvin, yet another new character. Not quite as interesting a character as Argyle the limo driver from the first film, but clearly his surrogate. he has plans for the airport, and Willis finds the skywalk, realising it’s a bottleneck, and assuming Evans will be in danger.
Sure enough, he and his SWAT team guard are ambushed, by Robert Patrick and friends dressed as painters. Another shooty action scene, with smart use of a moving walkway to resolve the action.
Back to Holly’s plane, and William Atherton is looking out of the window at all the other planes flying around. I’m not sure planes would actually be flying quite that close, but I’m no expert. “That’s my gift. I notice things.” He’s The Noticer.
Now Sadler is cross that Willis killed his team, so as punishment he decides to take out a plane, Who does he choose? Windsor flight 144. Not the Brits! Look there’s Captain Colm Meany.
And Amanda Hillwood is part of the cabin crew. “Just like British Rail. We may be late but we’ll get you there.” A very English line from an American written movie.
The effects work here is excellent, Industrial Light and Magic not stinting on the explosions.
It’s surely time to introduce yet another major character. And here’s the great John Amos as special forces badass Major Grant, who served with Sadler’s Col Stuart, taught him everything he knows, so is the ideal man to take him down.
At this point we discover that Traffic Control are still brainstorming ideas. They’ve been able to contact some of the planes with airphones, to warn them not to listen to an Air Traffic Control broadcasts from now on, but not all planes have them (this was a potential plot hole I’d thought about myself, so it’s nice they’re at least explaining it)
Bruce talks to the soldier trying to break the encryption on the walkie talkies. He happens to say he’s just been assigned to Grant’s team, a strange piece of information to impart.
But janitor Marvin has found a walkie talkie with the code already punched in. “How about you give me twenty bucks for it?” “How about I let you live?” What? Did our hero just threaten to kill a janitor?
Esperanza is landing at the airport, so McClane goes to meet him – another tense action scene as McClane struggles to get out of an underground vent as the plane’s wheels approach. I like the greeting Esperanza gets as he opens the plane door. “Freedom!” he says just before getting punched by McClane. “Not yet” says McClane.
This leads to the movie’s most ridiculous, and yet most iconic effects, as McClane is trapped in the plane’s cockpit, and the bad guys toss in a dozen hand grenades. Those grenades have very slow fuses – McClane has time to clock the grenades, scan the cockpit, then strap into the pilot’s seat and pull the ejector seat. One question: Do cargo planes like that even have ejector seats? Oh who cares, it looks brilliant.
Willis and Evans work out the bad guys must be nearby, and identify the neighbourhood where they’re likeliest to be hiding out. When we return to them, they’ve looked at twelve houses already. How did those conversations go? “Excuse me, is your house being used as the headquarters of a military operation and a makeshift air traffic control centre? No? Sorry to have bothered you.”
And once more, 90s telecommunications come into play, as Holly chooses that time to phone John’s pager service, tipping off the sentry he’s about to tackle.
Back at the airport police station, Evans calls Franz to tell them where they are. Amos grabs the note Franz is writing, tells his men they’ve got positive identification, and they all tool up and leave. This is a bit of a clue that Amos knows more than he’s saying.
McClane’s fight with the sentry ends in grisly fashion, as he plunges an icicle into the man’s eye.
Then there’s an all out assault on the church – during which we notice both the special forces and Sadler’s men switching machine gun magazines from those with red tape around them to ones with blue tape. No explanation is given until later.
There’s a big firefight between Amos’ forces and Sadler’s until Sadler leaves the area on snowmobiles. Willis pursues, but they swap their magazines, and start shooting, blowing up his snowmobile. Would snowmobiles blow up like that?
Willis twigs that they were previously shooting blanks, puts two and two together, and returns to the airport to tell Franz, who obviously doesn’t believe him, so to demonstrate, he fires the machine gun straight at Franz. In a packed police station filled with armed officers. And yet not one of them tries to shoot him, which is lucky.
So Amos is on Sadler’s side all along, and is heading over to Sadler’s waiting plane to take off for freedom.
Meanwhile on the plane, Atherton has listened in on the cockpit frequency and heard the message to the planes from the ground explaining the terrorist situation, so he does what any concerned citizen would do and does a live TV broadcast from the toilet, spilling the beans and causing a panic at the airport. Atherton’s really good here, so pompous, even staring admiringly at his reflection in the toilet mirror as he’s giving his report.
But Holly has got her seatmate’s taser, and stuns him into paralysis.
The most amusing thing is that the library photo the news station use of him for his broadcast looks like it was taken just after Holly punched him.
Willis commandeers the helicopter of reporter Sheila McCarthy (another major character I haven’t even mentioned yet) to get him to the plane and stop them. He lands on the wing, clogs up the ailerons with his coat, so Amos has to come and deal with him. But when Amos gets sucked into one of the jet turbines and turned into raspberry jam (at no noticeable cost to the integrity of the engine) Sadler himself has to finish him off, but even he only manages to knock him off the plane, and not before Willis pulls the fuel release. Then, the third ridiculous thing in the movie, as Willis lights the trail of fuel, and it travels all the way up to the engine, igniting the fuel in the wings and blowing up the plane. I’m definitely going out on a limb here, and saying this is unlikely. But it looks spectacular, so who cares.
Then, all the waiting planes can use the burning jet fuel to guide them into landing.
Incidentally, if you’re watching this on BluRay on a big TV, take a look at the paint on Holly’s aeroplane after it’s landed. It looks like it’s starting to run a bit, suggesting the paint the set decorators used was slightly washable – very likely given they’d probably have to give back the plane after filming is finished.
If you’re wondering about the classical music used periodically during the movie and over the end credits, it’s Finlandia by Sibelius, presumably selected because director Harlin comes from Finland, and because classical music over the credits is a ‘Die Hard thing’ that’s what they plumped for.
Another piece of trivia is that the screenplay for this movie was originally nothing to do with Die Hard at all, based as it is on an unrelated book called ’58 Minutes’ by Walter Wager. It’s quite a different story, although the central idea of terrorists taking over air traffic control is the same. But the end resolution was slightly more high-tech than using burning jet fuel as landing lights, and wouldn’t really have worked in this movie, as the main character in the book was an air transportation safety investigator (if memory serves) and he gets the circling planes down by bringing in a mobile ATC rig – something that John McClane was unlikely to be able to do, although Art Evans’ character might.
The source novel for Die Hard is also worth a read, although it’s got a more downbeat ending, and the villain is far less interesting than Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.
I like Die Hard 2, but I do think it’s a pale reflection of the original, and a lot of that is because Sadler’s Col Stuart is a very dull villain. Alan Rickman is an incredibly hard act to follow.
After this, recording continues with the start of a John Travolta undercover cop drama Chains of Gold. It’s presented by the Management Company Entertainment Group, perhaps the least inspiring name for a movie company you could possibly think of. The film is co-written by John Travolta, by the way.
- trail: Chains of Gold
- Salon Selectives
- Oil of Ulay
- Post Office
- trail: Dark Angel
- trail: Blue Steel
- Oscar Nomination: Robert De Niro – Cape Fear
- trail: Sky Movies
- UK Top Ten
- trail: Robocop 2
- trail: Death Warrant
- trail: Cricket
- trail: Assault of the Killer Bimbos
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- trail: Projector
- trail: Lisa