3.5 stars out of 4. Underrated fun night out at the movies.
Typically seen as the lowest point in the the Die Hard series, Die Harder is little more than a carbon copy of the original film. All of the elements that were seen as successful with audiences are reprised with very little new material. So that should be it right? There can’t be anything else to say about a lower grade action flick from the midpoint of the 80’s to 90’s period action crossover…or can there?
Let me go ahead and get this out there: I really enjoy Die Harder for what it is-an action film. In fact, on the sheer amount of glee and action alone, I rate it equally with the original film and in most cases actually prefer it. (Yes, I know, this is blasphemy to most.) This is one of those Temple of Doom-esque moments where the much maligned sequel is darker and heavier on the action but still holds up to the original.
It’s a year after the Nakatomi incident. John McClane is waiting in Dulles International Airport for his wife’s plane to land so then they can go spend a not so wonderful Christmas with her in-laws. Needless to say, McClane is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as terrorists seize control of the airport’s control and hold the incoming planes hostage in exchange for an arriving drug lord.
McClane is thrust into it all over again, and no one wants him there, least of all himself. This leads to my favorite line in the entire series: “Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Then begins an elaborate series of action sequences that seem to have been designed to top the previous sequence and keep the audience in constant enthrallment more so than the first Die Hard.
Many have criticized the one note dimension of the villains and the lack of plot detail given. If you really get nitpicky, this is true just as the idea of the planes continuing to circle above Dulles instead of diverting to another airport is plain stupid. Putting McClane’s wife on one of the plane’s gives John his primary motivation, but placing the annoying reporter Thorburg from the first film on the exact same plane by sheer coincidence is a bit much. The leader of this treacherous band of ex-army operatives is Col. Stuart who is wonderfully direct and evil, but lacks any of the sly foxiness of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. This is much more of a villain you want to see get his just desserts if only for the evil deeds he performs-because we never really get told why these former soldiers want to rescue this South American drug kingpin in the first place.
The directing reins are handed over to Renny Harlin, who ramps up the action scenes to a feverish pace. The original film featured many breather bits where McClane would gather his thoughts and try to prepare for the next onslaught of enemy waves and thankfully these are maintained. But for sheer amount of action, very few films can claim to be in the same league. What is not lost is the same overall style and tone of the original film. This is still a gritty world, where McClane hates every single minute of what he is doing. He bleeds, curses, gets beaten up and barely survives most every encounter. God, this is fun. Die Harder is really the last in the series that feels like a Die Hard film. The later two sequels feel quite removed from the established universe and more like standalone everyday action potboilers.
There is a workprint version of Die Harder floating around that gives a glimpse at a few dropped scenes, dialogue bits and alternate action shots that are in fact even harder. It’s a interesting curio to finally see, but the quality is awful and the WP seems to have been sourced from a degraded bootleg VHS tape.
It’s a 2 hour action ride, don’t question it and you’ll get the best yippie-ki-yay scene in the series. What’s not to like?
And yes…I like the exploding plane shot.
EDITIONS: Die Harder shares roughly the same fate on home video as it’s predecessor: weak washed out video with older grade audio with both being limited by the production values of their time. That being said, both seem slightly stronger on the sequel simply due to everything being two years newer.
The first DVD was fine, but simply a Laserdisc port and not much to write home about. The Special Edition gave a whole second disc of bonus features but most importantly a cleaned 16:9 anamorphic transfer with 5.1 remixes in both Dolby and DTS. And for once they actually included the original Dolby Surround 2.0!
The Blu-ray release still has these issues, but since they can be attributed to the production and not transfer meddling I think this is about as good as we can ever get for a 1990 film. Detail is nice, grain is present, and the DTS HD-ma mix is representative of the original track. Still, I wish they could have just added the 2.0 surround in a lossless track. They just can’t ever be complete can they?