Judge Jim Thomas thinks the 2013 sequel should be titled Just Die Already.
"McClane, you're the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong
Christmas Eve finds Lt. John McClane (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) at Washington-Dulles International Airport, waiting for his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, Presumed Innocent) to land. All hell promptly breaks loose as a group of mercenaries led by renegade Colonel Stuart (William Sadler, The Shawshank Redemption) somehow takes control of the airport control system, leaving jets stranded in their holding patterns. Stuart is out to rescue General Esperanza (Franco Nero, Force 10 From Navarone), the leader of a Latin American nation who has fought against communism, but is now charged with being an international drug lord (imagine Manuel Noriega as the leader of 1980s Nicaragua).
Once again, McClane is forced to piss off police, airport administrators, and the military, because Holly's plane is low on fuel and there aren't many gas stations at 10,000 feet.
Where the movie works: adrenaline-pumping action sequences. Director Renny Harlin really worked on getting the most out of the various action set pieces, and they are all solid, from the relatively small scale stuff, such as McClane going one-on-one against a terrorist in a snow bank, to the medium, such as a pitched gun battle in an airport concourse, to the really big stuff, like hand-to-hand combat on the wing of a moving 747.
What doesn't work: The sequel is a much darker movie than the original. Die Hard, between the banter with Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson, who makes a brief appearance here), to the radio sparring between Hans Gruber and McClane, to "Ode to Joy," had a slightly playful feel to it. Here, though, a grim tone is set from the beginning, with Col. Stuart exercising in his hotel room, nude, totally focused, ruthless enough to destroy an airliner and all aboard merely to prove a point. A side effect of the grimness is that humor is harder to pull off; aside from McClane's one-liners, the bulk of the humor is offloaded to the Holly and Richard Thornburgh (William Atherton, Ghostbusters) storyline. Interestingly enough, John McTiernan changed the bad guys from terrorists to thieves specifically to avoid such a grim tone; tellingly, the sense of playfulness returned along with McTiernan in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Another weakness of the sequel is that the film's implausibilities pile up like the drifting snow, as McClane starts to drift away from being an everyman figure to a superman who cannot be defeated. It's the curse of the sequel, really, and there's not a good way around it, unless you do something to take the character in a new direction. While these are weaknesses, the pumped-up action never gives you much of a chance to dwell on it, and so the movie works.
The AVC-encoded video is good, but not great. Grain is evident, and there are noticeable compression artifacts in some of the explosions. The original stereo sound was remastered to 5.1 for the DVD release, and shifted to DTS-HD for Blu-Ray, and it pretty much sounds like an indifferently mastered surround track; the rear channels are used inconsistently, and simple sound effects such as footsteps aren't adequately blended into the soundscape. It gets the job done, though.
The extras are brought over from the 2001 Die Hard 2: Special Edition. The commentary track with Harlin is fairly engaging, though Harlin seems to take credit for everything. The featurettes are pretty routine, though they do offer a closer look at what had to be a production designer's nightmare. The visual effects breakdown is perfunctory, though the dual angles of the fight on the 747's wing are kind of neat.
Trivia: There are several now-famous names making early film appearances in Col Stuart's roster: Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Law & Order: SVU), and John Leguizamo (Carlito's Way); in addition, a pre-NYPD Blue Dennis Franz annoys McClane as the head of airport security.
Trivia: William Sadler does a very good Renny Harlin impression.
Listening to Harlin's commentary track, it's clear that he fully understands that various tropes that make up the terrorist action movie, and he makes sure he hits every genre mark. That's really a hint as to why this sequel doesn't quite measure up to the sequel. Harlin takes a bigger is better approach (whether it's bloodshed, bodies, or explosions), but he doesn't bring anything new to the table. The first movie was rightly called a game changer because it changed the rules; the sequel doesn't change any rules, but instead validates them. Compare that to Alien, which changed one set of rules, and Aliens, which changed a completely different set of rules.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Blu-Ray) is a solid sequel on a decent but hardly overwhelming disc.
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