150 Movies in 90 Days: Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance

In general, I'm going to try to start making these reviews separate posts, because there really hasn't been anything "mini" about them. I suppose I could also try not writing 900 words about Die Hard, but a) that's not in my nature, b) this is my blog, damn it, and c) have I mentioned I like making lists?

Alright, on with the show. I've had to pick up the pace (which isn't hard at the pace I was going at) and now I can report back to you about two more cinematic masterpieces: Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance.

June 8: #7, Die Hard 2

"How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"


I don't know that I'm in the Die Hard series' target market anymore.

I mean, I like watching explosions and shootouts as much as anyone, but I doubt many other people were excited to see Die Hard 2 mainly because they wanted to see what happened with McClane and his wife. Therefore, I enjoyed the first ten minutes of the sequel, as I quickly found out that McClane is now an LAPD officer and has reconciled with Holly, who is know sporting a slightly less tragic haircut than the shitty 80s perm she was rocking in the original film.

Really, the first 20 minutes or so of Die Hard 2 is comic gold. Between seeing McClane check his beeper and hearing his wife say to him condescendingly, "It's the 90s, remember? Microchips, microwaves, faxes, air phones...", there are plenty of nostalgic moments to chuckle at if you lived through the 90s and once thought a microwave was amazing technology.

We also meet our villain just minutes into the film, and he's doing naked tai chi, y'all. Nothing says "badass" like doing traditional martial arts forms in the nude in your shitty hotel room. Again...comedy gold.

Unfortunately, they double down on the quips in the early going, and many of them miss the mark. McClane gets an important fax printout from an customer service desk worker, and when she hits on him, he flashes his wedding ring and says, "Just the fax, ma'am. Just the fax." GROOOOOAN.

Oh, and we see McClane's old friend Sgt. Powell again, even though he serves no real purpose in the story. When we join him at his desk, answering McClane's phone call, he's opening five Twinkies at once and eating them like a man possessed- BECAUSE HE'S FAT, GET IT? High-level comedy, right there. Even when McClane mouths off to his superiors (including the insanely annoying Dennis Franz, who really dials it up to 11 here), it isn't quite right. "What sets off the metal detector first? The lead in your ass or the shit in your brains?" McClane says at one point. Well, duh, McClane. Obviously, the lead, unless you've been eating nickels.

Just as with the first Die Hard, they don't fuck around for long here- the first shootout happens about 13 minutes into the movie. And unlike in the first installment, the sequel is much, much better when it's engaged in action. Director Renny Harlin, best known to me for directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and to regular folks for directing Deep Blue Sea, does a great job with the action sequences, particularly a very spectacular plane crash that no, I did not just spoil, because it's a movie about terrorists taking control of an airport. Come on, you knew.

 McClane continues to be a great character, with help from Bruce Willis. In this one, he really steps the emotional vulnerability up a notch, full-on sobbing after the aforementioned plane crash. Of course, he immediately turns his sadness after the crash into the much manlier emotion of pure rage, ensuring that none of the manly men sitting in theaters watching this in 1990 would start to feel uncomfortable.

The primary weakness of this film is the bloated roster of characters. McClane deals with what seems like a dozen different airport officials, policemen, military officers, and so on. Being the blue collar worker's action hero, he also buddies up to a janitor who is nearly as annoying a character as Franz's Captain Carmine Lorenzo. Even the terrorist ends up just being the henchman of another, much less interesting terrorist who likely prefers Dos Equis on the occasions when he does drink beer.

"Stay thirsty, my friends."
This movie still packs enough of the things that make action movies (and specifically, 80s/90s action movies) great to really be enjoyable, though. At one point, the bad guys brags that they have three grenades, but they throw over ten of them at McClane, which then take about 15 seconds to blow up so that he has plenty of time to get out of the area in the most ludicrous way possible. There's a wonderful, nonsensical plot twist. Then there's a moment I will just refer to as the "eye-sicle". It's hard not to love this movie, warts and all. Grade: B.

June 9: #8, Die Hard With a Vengeance

In case you enjoy a pinch of racism in your summer blockbusters

As the third film in what is now a five-film franchise, Die Hard With a Vengeance remains notable for a number of reasons:

- After the first film gutlessly flirted with the idea of using "Die Hard" to create an awful title, but only included "Die Harder" as a subtitle to the usual "Die Hard 2", the third film doubles down and just goes with it. How about "Die Hard With a Vengeance", some asshole said in a board room, to which some other asshole said, "It sucks! It makes no sense! I love it!" They took 12 years to make the fourth film because they couldn't think of another terrible title, as a matter of fact.

- The movie teaches you that a) black people are inherently dangerous and b) those that aren't dangerous hate you because you're white. It might be the first black guy/white guy buddy cop movie to ever move race relations backward.

However, the most notable thing about Die Hard With a Vengeance is that for the first hour or so, it's not really a Die Hard movie at all. Oh, sure, it's got Bruce Willis, but he's not shooting anyone, he's running around with Samuel L. Jackson solving fucking MATH PROBLEMS for a terrorist voiced by Jeremy Irons. That's right, the villain in Die Hard With a Vengeance is the fucking Riddler, but only if the Riddler sounded like Scar from The Lion King.

So we watch in pretend tension as McClane runs around with his newest interracial tag team partner and solves story problems over a payphone, only to run to another payphone and be directed to a nearby fountain, where he is (no shit, seriously) asked to fill a container with exactly four gallons of water by only utilizing a three- and a five-gallon jug.

"If two planes leave the same airport at 1 PM, how many miles apart will they be at 3 PM if..."
Scar the Math Terrorist even starts off his first phone conversation with police by saying, "I want to play a game," meaning that Saw ripped off Scream which ripped off Die Hard With a Vengeance. And they say that action films are unimaginative. (By the way, the terrorist's name is "Simon". As in "Simon says". And if you think he doesn't use that exact phrase OVER AND OVER AGAIN during the film, you haven't seen enough action movies from the 80s and 90s.)

Suddenly, though, about an hour in, the director, the writers, or fucking Bruce Willis himself seems to say, "Enough of this shit, let's just start shooting each other and blowing shit up!" And that's what happens. The film becomes a full-scale Die Hard film, with a ridiculous body count, McClane buddying up with blue collar workers like he always does (most notably, a dump truck driver), explosions galore, a crazy plot twist that is followed by a much more believable plot twist.

The writers make the strange decision to keep McClane married, even though he has the most troubled, yet mutually apathetic marriage ever. McClane hasn't talked to his wife for a year- they argued and he just never called her back, he says (seems legit)- and they leave the film with a glimmer of hope of the two reconciling again. Why? So the romantics in the theater could say, "Oh, how nice! Their terribly unhealthy non-marriage might continue, after all! Maybe he'll finally see his kids after a year!" You turn McClane into an alcoholic in this one; why not turn him into an unrepentant, tail-chasing poon-hound while you're at it?

The acting, especially by Willis and Jackson, is sturdy and their interactions are entertaining and often funny. Furthermore, while the action sequences are just as ridiculous and expertly done as in the second film, new director John McTiernan shows a flair for composition during the film's many scenes where nothing is blowing up that his predecessor, Renny Harlin, lacked. Exhibit A: the great bird's-eye view we get of cops scrambling around on the streets below to solve Simon's latest riddle, which pans out to give us our first glimpse of Simon himself (47 minutes in!) as he smugly surveys the chaos he's caused.

Die Hard With a Vengeance is in some ways more flawed than Die Hard 2, yet ends up being a more enjoyable experience, nonetheless. Maybe it's because there's finally some tension between McClane and one of his obligatory black sidekicks. Maybe it's because they dialed down the unnecessary subplots with secondary characters, or the number of secondary characters themselves. Or maybe I enjoy story problems more than I care to let on. Grade: B+.

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