That’s right everyone, we’re doing this again! Last year when I decided to find a Christmas-related movie that had been based on a novel to highlight I was absolutely thrilled to discover that Die Hard, one of the greatest action films of all time, was surprisingly based on a novel. It was a fun comparison, and I knew that I was going to have to find something special for this year’s holiday season. And, as luck would have it, Die Hard’s sequel, Die Hard 2, is also based off of a book. A completely unrelated book, but that doesn’t matter, Nothing Lasts Forever barely had anything to do with Die Hard. So, get ready for a disappointing sequel!
When discussing Die Hard last year I felt like it was barely even worth talking about the plot. It’s one of the most beloved film of the modern era, and a perennial classic that’s still watched every year by countless people around this time of year. And yet, I have a strange admission to make. I believe that this was the first time that I’d ever actually seen all of Die Hard 2 in one sitting. I didn’t think that this was the case, but as I sat back and watched Die Hard 2 in order to write this article I was struck with how little seemed familiar to me, to the point that I had to accept that this was the first time I’d ever actually watched the whole film. And, to be quite honest, I don’t really think that I was missing very much. Sequels are often a very difficult thing to get right, especially to films that were kind of flukes. I don’t think that anyone was expected Die Hard to be quite the success it was, but after people fully embraced the first film, it was a matter of time that they’d start bandying about the idea of a sequel. But, as with most sequels, there’s the inclination that the second film needs to be bigger, better, and crazier than the first film. And, when you have an original film that was already bigger, better, and crazier than most other action films ever released, where do you go from there?
Die Hard 2 picks up two years after the events of the first film, also taking place on Christmas Eve. Detective John McClane has patched things up with his wife Holly and is now a police officer in Los Angeles. However, this film takes place in Washington DC where McClane has already arrived to spend Christmas with his in-laws. Holly’s flight is just about to arrive, and he’s there to pick her up from Dulles Airport. However, since this is a story about John McClane, things are about to go terrible wrong. Because it just so happens that a South American drug lord/dictator is being brought to Dulles to be arrested, so everyone is on heightened alert. And this includes a group of disgraced American military officers, led by Colonel William Stuart, who have decided to bring Dulles to its knees in exchange for the General Esperanza. They’ve managed to shut down all the landing lights at the airport, destroy the radar, and sever communications between the control tower at the incoming airliners, making them all blind. This of course throws the whole airport into disarray, and after McClane gets in a fatal fight with some of the terrorists, he’s drawn into the whole event. He meets with the head of airport security Captain Lorenzo and the man in charge of the flight deck, Ed Trudeau. And, as you’d expect, one of the planes that’s now held hostage in the sky is the one that his wife Holly is on. She’s trapped up there with a terrible journalist who made her life harder in the first film, and now their plane is running on fumes.
McClane then gets to work trying to take down these terrorists, much to the chagrin of the people whose jobs it actually is to take down threats to the airport. He spars with a couple members of Colonel Stuart’s men, brutally killing them all while gaining the trust of a janitor named Marvin who helps McClane use the blueprints of the airport to sneak around and take down the criminals as efficiently as possible. However, after Stuart and his men decide to show they aren’t messing around by causing one of the plane’s navigation systems to be incorrect and crash, they have no choice but to call in some more prepared people to help. Thus enters Major Grant and a platoon of US Army Special Forces soldiers. They come to help McClane, especially when General Esperanza’s plane finally lands. The soldiers fights off Stuart’s mercenaries, and arrest Esperanza. But, when McClane then takes the initiative to bring the fight to the terrorist’s base he finds that the guns the soldiers were using just fired blanks. It turns out that Grant and Stuart are in cahoots, and they were working together to save Esperanza from the US Government. They’re all corrupt and they were willing to kill hundreds of people in this airport scam just to get Esperanza free in exchange for a massive amount of money. The huge group of terrorists then board their getaway plane and prepare to flee the scene, letting all of the planes crash and burn, but McClane won’t let that happen. He hitches a ride on a news helicopter and they’re able to fly him above the taxiing plane, letting him leap down onto the wing. McClane tussles with Stuart, only to be tossed off the wing of the plane. But, McClane had the last laugh. He’d opened up the fuel line, leaving a trail of petrol to the plane, which McClane then lights on fire. The flames race up the trail, enter the plane, and blow it up, killing all of the terrorists. This also provides a decent way for the planes above to see the runway, letting them finally land. McClane is then reunited with his wife, ready to spend another Christmas in the emergency room presumably.
Die Hard 2 is not a film that I really enjoyed. It’s fine I suppose, and very emblematic of early nineties action flicks. But, especially when compared to the first film, it’s just kind of a letdown. As happens with so many other sequels to great action films this movie tried to just be even crazier than Die Hard and that just kind of broke the film. One of the main appeals of Die Hard is that John McClane is massively in over his head. He’s competent when it comes to killing terrorists, but he’s just an average cop tossed into an absolutely insane situation, and struggles and scrapes through the plot. But, here we’re given a story where McClane is put in an equally insane situation, but now he has experience with it. He’s certainly behind the eight-ball in this film, but there’s also just a lot of McClane being amazing in it, knowing how to take down all of the terrorists with ease. The film also becomes rather predictable, just taking the same plot twists from the first film and do them kind of differently. You don’t for a second buy that Colonel Stuart and his men are here for some easy to understand mission of justice, because Hans Gruber and his men weren’t actually committing terrorism. There was a deeper meaning in Gruber’s plans, and wouldn’t you know, Colonel Stuart also has a stranger plan afoot. One which doesn’t fully make sense. There’s so many moving parts, so many participants, and all to just rescue a General that will give them money. The action is solid and it’s directed in Renny Harlin’s traditional melodramatic style, but it’s just a film that desperately wants to be as cool as its older brother, and fails on almost every front.
It will never stop entertaining me that so many action films are based on novels. There certainly are some incredibly thriller and action-packed novels, but for the most part it just feels ridiculous to think that some of these films come with literary companions that presumably are just page after page of descriptions of people shooting each other. But, while it was surprising enough last year to learn that Die Hard was loosely based on a novel that was actually pretty fun, this year it blew my mind. Plus, this isn’t a sequel to last year’s novel, Nothing Lasts Forever. That novel was already a sequel to an earlier book anyway, and we didn’t check in on the further adventures of Joe Leland this year, presumably involving airports this time. No, this book is actually a completely unrelated novel, which was just a popular action story at the time. It was funny last year to talk about Nothing Lasts Forever and see that the plot is very similar in the broadest of strokes to Die Hard while the more micro details were different. But that’s not going to be the case this year. Because it really seems like someone involved in Die Hard 2 read 58 Minutes and their biggest takeaway was “terrorists attack planes on Christmas Eve.” Because very little else made the jump into this adaptation
58 Minutes is the story of a New York City police captain named Frank Malone. Malone works for a terrorism taskforce, and he’s reaching JFK airport on Christmas Eve to pick up his daughter who is visiting him for the holidays away from his estranged wife. While he’s at the airport he gets invited to talk to the head of airport security, a man named Benjamin Hamilton to check out the security of the airport in case of possible terrorist activity. And, while doing that he runs into a woman named Annabelle Green who Malone was once in a relationship with, and who is now a widow working in the air traffic control room. It’s all shaping up to be a boring evening until things start to go wrong. Because a terrorist named Willi Staub has accepted a contract from a corrupt Middle Eastern regime to save a man in custody of the FBI. So, Staub devices a plan were a couple of minions of his will set up high-powered radio signals that will cause all incoming flights to be unable to confirm their landings. They also cut the power to the landing-strip, making it so that no flights can land. They then begin being harassed by Staub, who is just calling himself Number One and demands that they free ten different prisoners of the US, give them to him, and let them fly out of the city.
Malone then works with the staff of the airport, trying to figure out how to save all of the people up in the air, including his daughter. We check in on all sorts of people up in the sky, such as a British scholar and his love-struck assistant, a Saudi prince, a nun who is smuggling state secrets to the US, a doctor transporting a kidney for emergency surgery, and an old lady being reunited with her family for a publicity stunt. But, none of that really matters. What does matter is that Staub has thrown the airport into disarray, and he’s gleefully wandering around the airport in a priest costume so that he can keep an eye on the opposition. However, Malone and crew quickly start getting a hold of the situation. Due to his expertise with terrorism Malone is able to figure out that he’s dealing with Staub, and calls in some help from the FBI. Meanwhile, some Coast Guard members who have been trying to help finally come across the source of Staub’s signal, so Malone, Hamilton, and the Port Authority’s SWAT force storm the base, killing the single terrorist inside and taking down the signal. They then use the helicopter to chase down the secondary signal, and Malone kills that terrorist by blasting him repeatedly with a flare gun, causing the truck that contains the signal to crash. So, just like that, the planes can start to land, and Malone returns to the airport to personally kill Staub. He’s reunited with his daughter, makes a date with Annabelle, and heads off to enjoy Christmas.
This novel was fine. As a espionage-adjacent thriller it was an effective story, but it certainly got dragged down in some rambling and unnecessary side-stories. Malone really doesn’t do much until the last act, spending most of the story just standing around with in the air traffic control center, calling other people and having them do work for him because he’s a terrorism expert and knows who to call. When the action finally arrives it’s pretty fun, but it’s a little too late at that point. So, without much for Malone to do in the story were given a smorgasbord of ultimately pointless plot elements, such as learning far too much about all the various people trapped up in the sky. We also spend a lot of time with Staub, just wandering around the airport, including an extended sequence where he kills a real priest in a bathroom, and then gets trapped in the stall with the corpse while two gay men come into the bathroom and make out. And it goes on forever! Frank Malone was a decent character, there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of plot for this novel, and it had a tendency to just run in circles, hoping to land on something interesting.
So, as you can probably tell, Die Hard 2 is not a great adaptation of 58 Minutes. It really does seem like they found a book that was about a cop killing terrorists, and decided that that was enough qualifications to create a Die Hard sequel. They found the the novel featured terrorists holding an airport hostage by making it so planes can’t land, and really ditched the rest of the plot. Other than Christmas I suppose. We have completely different characters, motivations, and plots, other than these very broad strokes. And, I’m left with the difficult question of which story I preferred. Because, honestly, I wasn’t a particularly big fan of either of these stories. They’re both just kind of fine. Nothing overly special, and nothing too objectionable. Forgettable is a pretty good word to describe both of these stories. But, I think one of the biggest deciding factors in this fight is the competency of our protagonist. Last year I found it strange that Joe Leland, the protagonist of Nothing Lasts Forever was an expert in hostage negotiation and terrorism, making him an incredibly capable for against his batch of terrorists, while John McClane’s defining feature was how in over his head he was. And, oddly enough, this competition has that same issue going on. Frank Malone is an absurdly competent character, knowing the phone numbers for various anti-terrorism taskforces by heart, whereas John McClane is still just flying by the seat of his pants in Die Hard 2. And, I think I still kind of prefer that McClane desperation. It’s not by much, but I think I did prefer Die Hard 2 to 58 Minutes. But, when it gets right down to it, I don’t really recommend either of these stories. So, this Christmas just pop in Die Hard again and enjoy yourself while forgetting both of these stories.
Now, unfortunately this will be the end of this yearly tradition, because Die Hard with a Vengeance is a) not a Christmas story, and b) not based on a book that takes place at Christmas, so this will be our last rodeo with John McClane. And, sadly, Lethal Weapon isn’t based on a novel. So, by next year I’ll hopefully find some other insane and unexpected film that was based on a novel to share with you. Happy Holidays!
58 Minutes was written by Walter Wagner and published by Graymalkin Media, 1987.
Die Hard 2 was written by Steven E de Souza and Doug Richardson, directed by Renny Harlin, and released by 20th Century Fox, 1990.
Categories: Film Library