Kevin: “Man I can’t believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” That’s the kind of existential question that vexes John McClane in “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” and one Mike, CJ, and I will try to answer today in the second part of our Christmas Round Table. We spent the majority of Part 1 detailing the criminally negligent incompetence of supposed airport “head of security” Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz), and while we could write another 20,000 words analyzing his failings, we should probably move on to our thoughts on returning hero McClane, his newest nemesis Col. Stuart, and some of the most oblivious air travelers in history.
First let me start as the movie does, with McClane attempting to pick up his wife Holly from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport on Christmas Eve. Now in our “Die Hard” Round Table last year we had a lot of questions about the Nakatomi Corp. Christmas party, specifically why they were actually having it on Christmas Eve (I guess tough shit for any employees who wanted to spend that evening with friends and family), and when did it get started considering McClane shows up when it is still daylight and people are already shitfaced and having sex in offices (let’s also not forget the weird red liquid in the plastic cup McClane is offered, which is described as “champagne” even though it is clearly not).
In “Die Hard 2” Holly appears to be looking over a folder with the Nakatomi name on it, so I guess she is still working for them and that they haven’t gotten any less strict about letting their employees off for the holidays, since she is flying cross-country the night before Christmas and for all we know will have to fly back the next night. Maybe she’s working extra hard because the company pushed all of Takagi’s and Ellis’ responsibilities on to her, possibly as punishment for finally revealing that she is married. After all, it is a Japanese company and … actually I’m still not sure what Holly was trying to imply when she explained to John why she wasn’t using her married name.
Either way, we get the first of A LOT of not entirely successful comic relief in the film, as Holly is sitting next to an insane old lady who apparently tortures her dog with a stun gun, which we are supposed to find delightful because she is senile. Also the old bitch just happens to be reading a magazine with a full-page ad for the home video release of “Lethal Weapon 2,” with the tag line “Armed. Dangerous. And all yours.” I found this surprising considering LW2 was made by a different studio, until I remembered that both were Joel Silver pictures back when every movie you loved was probably produced by Joel Silver.
Then when McClane enters the airport he is confused about who could be paging him. Since it is well-established that John hates modern technology, who the fuck would possibly be paging him other than Holly?
Mike: “Honey it’s the ‘90s, remember? Microchips, microwaves, faxes, air phones!” John McClane hears this from Holly and is stunned, as apparently he does not take well to technology. A few minutes later he needs a woman working at the airline to teach him how to use a fax machine. Ten seconds go by and he tells Al Powell to run the terrorist’s fingerprints through state, federal, and Interpol databases. Not much later he’s figured out that the walkie-talkies are all using an encrypted frequency. My guess is that McClane just pretends he doesn’t know anything about technology to make himself more endearing to the ladies, because once the women are gone he turns into Alan Turing, minus the whole you know what.
Kevin: Yeah that chick behind the counter really got off on McClane rudely commandeering her fax machine and ordering her around. Although what do you expect, there is nothing that turns a young woman on more than an older man who doesn’t understand current technology and who makes jokes like “Just the fax ma’am, just the fax.”
And yes there is a lot of talk about how it’s the ‘90s and what an amazing time we are living in (even though John says progress peaked with frozen pizza). Although it was kind of strange in this case considering the ‘90s were barely six months old by the time this movie came out. But if you are not old enough to remember, back in 1989 we all thought the ‘90s would be some magical new time, and we were ready to start talking about it as soon as possible. Although in reality the ‘80s still bled into the ‘90s for a couple of more years, at least until Nirvana came around.
Now let’s take some time to discuss the villains of “Die Hard 2.” When the movie was released, the general consensus was that William Sadler was a pretty weak bad guy compared to Alan Rickman, but I think time has been kind to him as we realized that Rickman set the villain bar too high for anyone else to reach, and that “Die Hard 2” also came out during the golden era of action movie bad guys. Let’s put it this way: considering Steppenwolf is who the Justice League faced off against in their recent eponymous film, I think Col. Stuart would easily be the best villain in either a Marvel or D.C. movie by a long shot.
Either way, for a movie that has about a million callbacks to the original, I like that they didn’t just try to make the bad guy in “Die Hard 2” Hans Gruber 2.0. In fact he is pretty much the opposite of Hans, in that there is nothing charming or charismatic about him. But I think his complete lack of personality or empathy was an intentional choice rather than bad writing. They did give him an admirably bizarre introduction doing naked tae kwon do, followed up by the most intense turning off of the TV with a remote control that I’ve ever seen.
That’s followed by Col. Stuart and his men exiting their various Airport Ramada Inn rooms in an insanely well-synchronized and choreographed fashion. I feel like half the preparation for the mission was just to get that right. Couldn’t they have just all met in the lobby around the same time after enjoying the free continental breakfast?
Then at the airport McClane bumps right into Col. Stuart and says he looks familiar. Col. Stuart responds, “I’ve been on TV,” to which McClane says, “Me too,” and neither of them apparently finds the other’s response unusual enough for a follow-up. Although seriously, I know I mentioned this in Part 1, but why was Col. Stuart at the airport anyway? There was no reason for him to be there! One of those Justice Department guys he walked right past could have easily been like, “Hey it’s Col. Stuart, someone get him!”
While this is going on, a couple of Stuart’s men kill the old guy at the church and start setting up their equipment. I’m sure that one mercenary couldn’t believe his luck when the old guy said, “I kinda feel like a piece of me is dying along with this church” right before he shot him. I’m also sure he was annoying everyone later, being all, “So after he said that, I responded ‘Oh you’re right about that’ and then shot the guy. C’mon, that was pretty clever right?”
Mike: I’ll just say I like movies that don’t waste a lot of time. I’m not sure when that stopped. Less than 10 minutes into “Die Hard 2” they have clearly established who the bad guys are, what they’re after, and have also entertained us with a delightful church murder. Nowadays it takes well over an hour just to get to a point in a movie that resembles the formation of a plot.
Kevin: By the way, when he is observing a few of Stuart’s men acting suspicious in the airport bar, did you notice McClane was on his second Scotch-on-the-rocks?
And Stuart’s men had like seven beers in front of them?
I gotta say, I like an action movie where both the good guys and bad guys are either drunk or at least slightly buzzed while they are shooting at each other.
Also, right at the 9:49 mark in the movie when Lorenzo’s brother and his partner get coffee at that same bar, there is a guy to their left in a Redskins cap who looks like some central casting idea of what a stereotypical ‘80s nerd would look like. Seriously, go back and watch because it is bizarre, it’s like this guy was supposed to be an extra in “Revenge of the Nerds 3” but they just threw him into this shot instead.
Then when McClane follows Stuart’s men into the luggage-sorting area, there’s like random steam going off and yellow lights flashing; it looks more like that spot Ridley and Newt had to escape from at the end of “Aliens” than a modern international travel hub.
Mike: Yeah why is every single area of this airport a dimly lit Willy Wonka-type setup, with conveyor belts and pipes that belch out steam intermittently? There are also absolutely no airport employees anywhere! There’s only one baggage-handler in the entire joint, and old honky McClane flashes his badge and basically commits a civil rights violation just to force him into opening a door!
Kevin: I should note that when Stuart’s men are hacking into that one fuse box in the luggage area that apparently can bring the entire airport to its knees, they are loudly talking and laughing with each other. Way to keep a low profile guys! Also, did anyone in an action movie from roughly 1985-1993 ever ask someone to show them some I.D., and that person DIDN’T respond by pulling out a gun?
Now let’s discuss another returning character, this time asshole reporter Richard Thornberg. Not only is he rather improbably on the same plane with Holly McClane, but apparently Holly knocked out two of his teeth. But if you go back and re-watch the punch she gave him at the end of the original “Die Hard,” she maybe gave him a bloody nose that lasted like a minute at best. So either they are seriously exaggerating here, or between the events of “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2” she assaulted Thornberg even more severely, indicating that Holly has extreme violent tendencies that perhaps contributed as much to the end of their marriage than anything John did.
Also, I know we are supposed to hate Thornberg, but he may be the smartest person in the film since he is circling in a plane the entire time and still figures out what is going on, while ace reporter Samantha Coleman – who we discussed in Part 1 – is actually in Dulles and just somehow assumes every weird thing that happens is completely isolated from everything else.
And remember how that one mercenary Miller who got away from McClane after their gun battle gets back to the church, and when he tells the guy who greets him that Cochrane didn’t make it, his buddy goes “Aww man,” with about as much enthusiasm as you would while barely consoling a friend after finding out his favorite NFL team lost a first-round playoff game? He didn’t even ask what happened. I’m pretty sure Stuart didn’t expect to lose any of his men in the luggage area, so if it was me I’d be a little more interested in getting the scoop.
Mike: Yeah and Miller doesn’t seem too broken up over this news either. This all occurs during a part of the “mission” where everyone is very much supposed to make it. They weren’t even doing anything dangerous yet! “He didn’t make it” is not something to indicate that things are going particularly well. Although Miller was smart enough not to mention that he and Cochrane were downing a few drinks at the airport lounge before he was killed by McClane, which could have affected his operational efficiency.
Let’s recreate this interaction, but in a scenario that is more likely for those of us at Tough Guy Digest:
CJ: “Hey Kevin, did you and Anthony get those pizzas? Wait … where is Anthony?”
Kevin: “He didn’t make it.”
CJ: “Aww man! Anyway, pass me the pepperoni.”
Kevin: Then when Stuart takes over control of Dulles’ operations, we get the really convoluted explanation for why the planes had to keep circling and potentially run out of fuel. If you wondered why the planes that couldn’t divert to airports outside D.C. couldn’t just land at Reagan National Airport, well according to former Senator/future presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson, that airport is “totally iced” and sending its planes to Dulles. Okay, but once it’s discovered that Dulles has been compromised by terrorists and that pretty soon planes are “gonna be dropping on the White House lawn,” maybe approve some overtime and start de-icing that shit!
Either way, we get the scene where Lorenzo’s totally incompetent SWAT team is taken out by Stuart’s men, forcing McClane once again to kill everyone himself, including with some scaffolding in one of my favorite deaths in the franchise. Although right before this happens, we see the last remaining mercenary put a fresh clip in his machine gun, but then when McClane is briefly incapacitated the dude is somehow out of bullets even though he never fired again. Also, I know I brought this up in Part 1, but I again have to ask how many clips did McClane feel like he needed to bring just to pick up his wife from the airport? I know parts of D.C. can be sketchy, but c’mon!
Now let’s talk about the sequence where they crash the plane full of limeys, which is as cruel as it is pointless. Seriously, there is no reason for this scene except to make us hate the bad guy more, but we already want to see him lose. It would be like if Hans Gruber spent 10 minutes in the original “Die Hard” tossing some orphans off the Nakatomi Plaza roof. Hell, even his own brother Simon in “Die Hard with a Vengeance” admitted that he was bluffing about blowing up a school because “I’m not a monster.”
(I did enjoy when the otherwise emotionless Col. Stuart turns into a Second City-level improviser when impersonating a Southern redneck air traffic controller: “Hey there good buddy this is Dulles Control Tower, don’t worry we’ll have ya’ll on the ground faster than possums eat squirrel shit and you’ll be sippin’ tea like it was 1775 Boston yee haw!”)
The sequence would only serve a purpose if McClane succeeded in keeping them from crashing, but he fails at that as well. And I’m still confused, even when the pilots see they are heading toward the ground they pull up and the plane ends up skidding along the runway, which somehow causes it to explode in a fucking fireball even though apparently they were running on fumes. It’s like if Tom Hanks landed the plane on the Hudson River in “Sully” and 10 minutes into the evacuation the plane just randomly exploded. Col. Stuart or not, based on how easily this plane blew up I have a feeling Windsor Air had a lot of other problems with its fleet:
Although what was up with that stewardess comforting the old woman and saying, “No worries luv, we’re like British Rail, we may be late, but we’ll get you there.” Holy shit, I hope that’s not their official motto, but if it is I think Bill DeBlasio is stealing it for the next New York City subway campaign. She also tells a couple that they’ve made arrangements for their next flight, so they won’t miss it. How the fuck is that possible when every other flight is also delayed?
Either way, I think the plane crash and later when McClane stabs the dude in the eye with an icicle is why some people don’t like “Die Hard 2,” because they are turned off by what they see as more of a mean streak in it than the others. Maybe this is from Renny Harlin coming from a horror background, but my main issue with the icicle death is that it is so awesomely gruesome it should have been used for a worthier villain than just some low-level henchman. For instance, Milo being turned into Hamburger Helper by the helicopter rotor in “The Last Boy Scout” was fantastic because he was such an awesome opponent. Although if nothing else, maybe this led Harlin to try and top himself, which led to Stallone impaling Leon on the stalactite (or stalagmite?) in “Cliffhanger.”
Also, we get a lot of shots in the airport of people freaking out about delayed flights and intensely watching the news, yet it is unclear if they know or care about the fact that a 737 just burst into flames about 500 feet from the airport Applebee’s near Gate 37.
Mike: Yeah tons of gunfire at the airport, nobody notices. Shit blowing up on the runway, nobody notices. A plane crashes and a few hundred people die instantly, almost nobody notices. A single news report from Thornberg hits the television and the entire airport instantly turns into west Baltimore.
Now are we to believe that part of Esperanza and Col. Stuart’s plan was that Esperanza, despite being in shackles, would overpower the single guard and murder the plane’s pilots? What if there were 10 guards? While we’re at it, if this was supposed to be a prisoner extradition by the United States government, then where were the agents who were supposed to take custody of Esperanza when he landed on U.S. soil? Maybe that was supposed to be Stuart’s men? But if it was supposed to be Stuart’s men, then couldn’t they just have done that and flown away wherever they pleased afterwards? And where are they flying to exactly?! Back to Val Verde? Where Esperanza just came from?!?! My head is going to explode!
Either way, after McClane’s unsuccessful attempt at capturing Esperanza, kudos on Col. Stuart and his men for not only shooting up the cockpit that McClane was trapped inside, but also electing to lob nine grenades inside for good measure. Not one, not two, not three … nine grenades. Of course it probably would have been better just to use one grenade that went off in five seconds, rather than nine that were for some reason set to go off after like three minutes.
CJ: I know we spent a lot of time beating up on Lorenzo in Part 1, and for good reason, but I also want to point out that later at the firefight by the church, about 40 guys dispense with an insane amount of bullets, but not one person gets hurt or dies. None of this concerns Lorenzo though, because when 40 men fire guns at each other from 20 feet apart, it’s pretty common for no one to get hit. In fact, not even the cars or surrounding trees get shot, nor are there bullet marks in the fresh fallen snow. This leads me to believe that had even a half decent cop been in Lorenzo’s position, “Die Hard 2” wouldn’t have even moved past the opening 20 minutes.
Kevin: And again regarding the infrastructure of this supposed high-tech international air hub, what is this area that McClane keeps going back to where Marv the insane janitor apparently lives and probably keeps a few dead bodies? They look like they are in some early 1900’s steel mill, not something I would expect to be under Dulles Airport? Also, I’m assuming this area should be restricted too, so how does McClane keep getting back there so easily? And is Marv the only janitor for the entire airport? Like I could see this guy cleaning up some small-town elementary school by himself, but Dulles International Airport seems like kind of a major gig.
Also, apparently Marv just wandered into the luggage area and helped himself to the one of the dead mercenary’s walkie-talkies, which could have helped them find Col. Stuart a lot earlier if it had been found. Once again, great job Lorenzo! Also, Marv offers to let McClane have it for $20, to which McClane responds by threatening to murder Marv. Not sure if McClane is being a dick or if he really just didn’t have $20.
Either way, let’s talk about “Die Hard 2’s” other surprise villain. The casting of John Amos as the head of the Counter-Terrorism Unit tasked with taking out Stuart was genius. For one thing, Amos was already a national treasure from playing the dad on “Good Times,” while he had just become even more beloved a couple of years earlier as Mr. McDowell in “Coming to America.”
When he shows up in “Die Hard 2” he already has a ton of audience goodwill, and we and McClane like him even more when he tells Lorenzo to shut the fuck up and get out of McClane’s face. That’s why when he slits the throat of his radioman (a last-second replacement for a guy who got an appendicitis apparently), it was seriously one of the biggest shocks I’ve felt in a movie theater outside of maybe “The Departed.” No one saw that coming, and that’s mainly because we could never imagine John Amos as a bad guy.
Even better is that they didn’t exactly hide the twist, which, memo to filmmakers, the more you try to hide something the more obvious it is (see the “shocking” ending to “Alien: Covenant.”). The fact that both Stuart and Grant’s men keep switching out clips with red and blue tape should have been a tip-off, but back in 1990 people didn’t know a lot about guns, plus the more the movie shows that the less we think it is suspicious.
I also like how certain scenes change in retrospect. For instance, when Grant gets on the public comms system to tell Col. Stuart he’s not gonna get away with this, we see Stuart and a few of his men smiling and quietly laughing to each other. The first time it just seems that they are arrogant that Grant can actually catch them, while knowing that they were all in on it, now it plays like them thinking “Holy shit, I can’t believe these idiots are actually falling for this.”
And even though Grant turns out to be bad, I still kind of liked him, in the same way as when he told McClane that he kind of liked him as well (while he was trying to kill him of course). I actually think in a different circumstance that Grant and McClane could be friends, although I have a feeling Al Powell would start to get pretty jealous. One thing though, when Grant said he taught Stuart everything he knows, I briefly had an unfortunate vision of John Amos doing naked tae kwon do.
CJ: I’ve always wondered what the conversation is like when one guy asks another guy to betray all he believes in for a shot at living in some shithole third-world country. They never show that in movies.
Seriously, what’s the pitch? You’ve known a guy like Grant your whole life, always known him to be above reproach, and a real G.I. Joe, and then you ask him to double back on everything to help some drug lord who has probably killed thousands of innocent people. And then, Grant is just like “Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me to do this!”?
Kevin: Here’s how I picture Col. Stuart initially testing the waters with Grant, probably while they are doing their weekly naked tae kwon do session:
Col. Stuart: “So Larry (for the purposes of this re-enactment, I’m assuming Grant’s first name is Larry), how is your team doing?”
Grant: “Oh you know, loyal as always. Would go along with anything I decided, including abandoning their families to live as wanted fugitives in some Latin American dump. Oh wait, our radioman Alex keeps claiming he has appendicitis, but after we kept calling him a pussy he shut up. I’m sure it’s nothing. Anyway, why do you ask?”
Col. Stuart: “Oh no reason. Hey did you see the news about our old anti-Communist ally Gen. Esperanza being arrested in a coup? Crazy, right?”
Grant: “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. Ran that country Val Verde, where our good friend Dutch’s team got massacred by that nuclear bomb, at least according to the government file we saw. Either way, I liked Ramon, he always had some good cigars.”
Col. Stuart: “Yeah but it’s kind of shitty the way our government is treating him, don’t you think?”
Grant: “Sure I guess, but it’s not like there’s anything we can do about it.”
Col. Stuart: “Yeah that’s one way of looking at it, although … Anyway, how loyal are you to the United States of America?”
CJ: And what’s the payoff on that? There looked like 20 guys on the plane, all relatively young. They aren’t doing this for 50k a year I’m assuming. They each had to probably demand $25 million, right? And Stuart and Grant have to get at least quadruple that? I think we are looking at a cool $700 million needed for this operation
Kevin: Either way, finally Lorenzo trusts McClane after McClane pretends to machine-gun him to death using the blanks from one of Grant’s guns. As friend of the site Adam reminded us, it’s a little telling how none of Lorenzo’s men open fire on McClane during the seemingly 30 seconds he is unloading on their boss. I foresee an awkward New Year’s party for the Dulles security team, but the important thing is that Lorenzo says it’s time to kick ass. Which means he orders everyone into SWAT gear, and he and McClane take off in a police car, which immediately crashes into a cab. Thanks for the help Lorenzo!
Mike: So another part of the plan was that Esperanza would have to fly his own cargo plane? The man has been in and out of prison, he’s been shot, he’s been through the ringer, but now time for some R&R in the form of a seven-hour plane ride in which he’s the only one who isn’t permitted to sleep.
Kevin: Another thing I liked about Col. Stuart: He totally kicks McClane’s ass at the end! Now mind you I’m not saying that I wanted to see Bruce get his ass kicked, but for once an action movie actually portrays a realistic version of its ridiculous premise. Col. Stuart is a highly trained Special Forces karate expert, while McClane is still a N.Y. cop who does most of his damage with his gun. There is no way he would be an even match against Stuart in hand-to-hand combat, but while most movies would still have McClane magically become a worthy opponent, in “Die Hard 2” he manages to get a few lucky punches in, but otherwise gets the shit kicked out of him.
He defeats Stuart in the end, but mainly by getting lucky, and definitely not through any sort of fighting skills. I especially liked the moment when McClane dodges one of Stuart’s round-house kicks to the face but still gets taken out by a quick follow-up kick to his knees (actually in an era not known for great martial arts in mainstream studio action films, this stands out as a really well-choreographed fight):
Mike: Now while everyone rightly points out how ridiculous the plane explosion was, the movie should have already been over once McClane tossed John Amos off the side of the plane and he’s sucked into the jet engine. This doesn’t seem to affect the engine in any way shape or form, and the pilots don’t seem to mind either, but in real life if a single pigeon gets sucked into that device it’s enough to take the entire plane down, and John Amos is the size of like 136 pigeons.
I’ll just conclude by saying that I love the guys having victory cigars on the airplane just prior to it exploding.
Kevin: What’s important is that McClane and Holly spend another Christmas Eve not going to the hospital even though John has suffered major blood loss and trauma again. But before we wrap up I’ll pose this exit question: Who is the more ungrateful wife in an action franchise, Holly McClane or Famke Janssen from the “Taken” films?
At the beginning of the first “Taken,” Famke is remarried to some rich guy who you know can’t measure up to Liam Neeson because he’s played by Xander Berkley, and he of course turns out to be useless while Liam somehow keeps their daughter from being sold into Middle Eastern sex slavery. But then in the sequel Liam has to still bring her on a trip to Turkey to try and win her back, and even after saving both her and her daughter’s life she gets married again to another rich asshole in “Taken 3,” despite the fact that Liam still pines for her (whereas the number of divorced guys I’ve ever known in real life who want to get back with their exes is still around zero).
Whereas I’d like to picture that every time they are in couples therapy and Holly is complaining that John doesn’t really listen enough to her feelings, McClane should be like, “Hey remember when I saved your life twice, and also moved to Los Angeles for you.” Considering John and that woman who helped him send the fax had a real connection, do you think John ever looks back and regrets what could have been?