Thursday, February 7, 2013

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 2 (1990).

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard.  As such, the second film on the list is obviously Die Hard 2: Die Harder.  For what it's worth, I like the film a bit more than Brandon does, although I can't disagree with many of the points he makes below.  In my favor is the fact that Roger Ebert gave it a rave review and considers it the best of the franchise.  To my discredit is the fact that my wife, devoted fan of Batman & Robin and White Chicks, also considers it the best film of the franchise.  And yes, I did actually watch this film on an airplane two years ago.  That was pretty amazing and a sign of how weird our technology has become...  Anyway, I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Bruce Willis, William Sadler, Dennis Franz, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Fred Thompson, Franco Nero, John Amos, Art Evans
Rated R

Oh man, I can't fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?
                        ~John McClane

John McClane’s second adventure is a fun, but soulless action romp that feels more like a Die Hard knock off than a piece of the series of which it is a part of.  John McClane and the roped in characters from the first film are the things barely keeping it from being just another Die Hard rip off.  The film lacks the direction, heart and game-changing attributes the kept the first one fresh exciting and fun to revisit.  The second Die Hard bets on your nostalgic feelings of the first film with characters and sticking with a formula and beats that made the first film so great.  Just because the location has upped the ante, doesn't mean the film is breaking new ground or advancing.  Instead of advancing, it feels like running in place but with less passion and creativity than the first one.

Here’s one thing I want to get off my chest.  This film is called DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (correct me if I’m wrong, I think a lot of places and formats even dropped the Die Hard 2 and just called it Die Harder).  Yes, its silly, but this is the title it was released as, and the title it was first released on home video with.  I don’t care what IMDB and Wikipedia are trying to tell you, that IS the title.  It’s like going back and saying “nope, its Star Wars 2, not The Empire Strikes Back”.  I dunno who’s up in arms or embarrassed about it, but the title is bad, but its funny.  I always took the intention to be going for the ridiculous.

John McTiernan wanted to do the second Die Hard, but was previously obligated to direct The Hunt for the Red October.  Like always, the studio didn't want to wait on that.  And for directing, the went to hottest new face, director of A Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master – Renny Harlin.  Elm St opened huge and, while lacking substance and being all flash (when I do my Elm St series someday, I’ll discuss my unpopular opinion of thinking Dream Child is slightly better than Dream Master), was a special effects spectacle.  Harlin also brought some European flare, which could bring about some of that “freshness”. 

I don’t want to bag on Renny Harlin too much here.  This was only his second American film and his first with a big budget and going for the summer blockbuster fanfare.  His aesthetic for the film brings about that “smokey room” type look that kind of plagued the early 90's (only Terry Gilliam was truly able to do it successfully, and who I think may have been who was being imitated with this look).  Its kind of an ugly looking, dated picture.  Harlin also isn't able to convey his geography very well either.  While the Nakatomi plaza seemed easy to navigate.  Dulles Airport seems like the maze in The Shining in comparison.  Harlin's action beats also feel like guns firing, just to be firing.  Hell, there’s even the church shootout where this is purely the case.  Bad guys and good guys get killed, but none of it seems to matter and is of no consequence.  It's just bloodshed because that’s what action movies do.  Guns fire, people get hit, blood spurts.  Harlin doesn't even really make any death look too painful.  Or if it is, its something we've seen in another film before and knowledge of said event takes away any sort of wowing impact.

Bruce Willis returns and is fine.  He feels very John McClane.  But it almost feels like Bruce is playing John McClane as opposed to being John.  They've also added the dimension to the character that he’s a recognizable face to the public.  But this only happens when the film finds it necessary.  No random people at the airport recognize him.  There’s a lot of added one liners and “hey remember Die Hard?” lines throughout the film.  There’s also unnecessary and out of place weird one-liners ADR'd in at odd places throughout the film that render unfunny and distracting.  Luckily the charismatic Willis pulls through the film and we enjoy watching this man “do action” so it works.  Pretty much every survivor of the first film minus Argyle (and I’m shocked they didn't find a way to bring him back) return.  Most of it is very shoe-horned and forced in.  This movie would work and feel a bit more natural without them too.  And poor Bonnie Bedelia, she pretty much sits in a window seat the entire duration of the film.  Must have been more boring for her than it was me watching her. 

There’s nothing much in the way of new characters.  The bad guys are all nothing interesting.  Franco Nero is a great screen presence, but is given a whole lot of nothing to do (he’s pretty much this films bonds).  And good god is Dennis Franz annoying and obnoxious.  He’s the prototypical standing in the way, power abusing, “always wrong” guy.  And his shit goes on until we turn the corner til act three.  No matter how much evidence, how much the case gets in his face, he doesn't care for McClane and isn't going to let him do anything regardless.  Makes you really want to pull your hair out that he is kicked off the case or that something doesn't happen sooner.  It wears you out, because it hinders the progress of not only the main character, but the film itself.

Not having McTiernan I think is the biggest key to Die Hard 2: Die Harder not recapturing the magic of the first film.  The feels like someone who saw Die Hard and made a sequel as opposed to people involved continuing their journey through John McClane’s life.  Its got a lot of “remember this?” moments and “that was awesome, lets do it again” type sequences.  Anything that is new isn't that interesting.  And its “shooting blanks” twist seems overly blatant and completely obvious for today’s film going audience.  As a kid, it got me, but watching it now I keep thinking “how the hell did I not think something was amiss?”

Having just seemed to have trashed this movie the whole way, its not that bad.  In the series pantheon and following the vastly superior first film (and what is now the flagship film of an entire genre) it’s a little bit of a letdown.  For this movie to be “just all right” is a disappointment following McTiernan’s masterpiece.  But on its own, as just a regular action movie, its not bad.  You could do far worse, considering most of the movies that ripped off the first Die Hard.  Without the name brand this is very close to one of those.  But its still got some good suspense at times and stuff blowz up.  Willis is likable.  Its got enough going for it to be better than just “watchable” and to be a little bit of fun on its own right.

So when I was little, it felt like forever that this was going to be it.  Just two Die Hard films.  And both I saw on home video (VHS kiddies).  It was five years before McClane returned to theaters.  Would it be worth my wait?

Next Up: Die Hard: With a Vengeance

A Snidely Whiplash approved mustache, Scar and his hyenas, 4 gallons, “I Hate a word used a gazillion times in Django Unchained”, Zeus…like I said, really cool stuff!

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