Joe’s $1 a week cinema #4: Die Hard 2 - Die Harder
Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Year: 1990 Spoiler alert: Bruce Willis gets back together with his ex-wife again but it won’t last.
I was something of a late bloomer in my early teens, which is really the only phase of one’s life in which it is important to bloom on time.
When I was 14 years old the most exciting thing to me was the newly constructed Capital Centre in Dandenong, the Melbourne suburb which produced both myself and the highest violent crime rate outside of Johannesburg. For the first time in my whole life Dandenong had a cinema - 10 cinemas in fact - and the possibilities for nightlife were suddenly endless.*
The Capital Centre was plonked on top of an old Safeway supermarket and had a Myer store sticking out of it like a car battery stuffed in a sock, the way shopping centres tend to do.
It was the biggest thing Dandenong had ever seen and upon completion circa 1989 it activated its primary directive to hoover teenagers into its food court and starve every shop on main street out of existence.
We did not know then it was only the temporary precursor to the even bigger Dandenong Plaza and that the main drag would soon be reduced to little more than a two dollar shop and a discount chemist warehouse. And if we had have known we would not have cared.
And so after school each Tuesday I and my limited friends - who ranged from the lowly rank of nerdy right up to the hallowed rank of inconspicuous – would trundle excitedly down to the Village 10, where for $4.50 we could be transported to another world, albeit one that as often as not contained ninja turtles.
It was on one such visit that my friend Nick Munro, a fine young man who always had the decency to stop bashing me up after the crowd left, suggested that we see Die Hard 2.
I was immediately apprehensive.
I had not seen the original Die Hard film, however I knew from the ads that it contained Bruce Willis writing messages in dead bodies with a machine gun, which was the sort of behaviour my mother rarely condoned.
Even my otherwise libertine father, whose sense of discipline did not even extend to wearing pants, disapproved strongly of movie violence.
I remember him refusing to take me to see Rambo: First Blood Part II, although I suspect this had slightly more to do with the film’s overall position on the Vietnam War, which he observed from Canada, than the actual body count per se.
But neither my mother nor my father were in the Capital Centre that day and Nick Munro was. So was Shane Callaghan too I think and possibly Con Kouroupis. These were not young men to be trifled with – with the exception of Con, whose cheeky Greek smile accounted for 60 per cent of his body weight – they were men of action, and when action came they wanted to sit back and watch it.
And watch it they did. Along with Rambo and Terminator 2, “Die Harder” was one of the first big sequels that outshone the original in terms of box office and explosions, only to reflect its light back on the first film and let it bathe in the glow it always deserved.
These were generous films in that regard, but each advancement of special effects seemed to take the place of just a little bit of heart and realism.
Who can forget the immortal scene of Bruce Willis’s New York cop John McClane squishing his toes in the carpet in the first film, only to spend the rest of the movie running around on broken glass?
His awkwardness around the slick LA executives or the coke-snorting suit who kept trying to shag his estranged wife. He was a real man in that one, with real problems. Back then you really worried he might not make it, even though you knew he had to. When he’s flying out the window holding on to a firehose? Whoa.
Two years later and it’s Christmas again and he’s split up with his wife Holly again and a terrorist is holding Washington DC’s Dulles Airport to ransom by threatening to crash land a series of planes, including Holly’s, into the ground.
At one point she asks him: “Why does this keep happening to us?” It’s a fair enough question and probably an indicator as to why the marriage didn’t last. Most relationships can survive one terrorist attack. Few make it through two.
Holly’s presence, as well as that of the much-maligned television reporter Dick Thornberg,+ gives the film a welcome thematic consistency that was absent from the last two and by the time the shooting starts one is warmly absorbed.
The premise, that a group of renegade US soldiers sympathetic to a rogue Latin-American military dictator is able to take complete control of an airport and instruct planes to crash land into the ground, is refreshingly plausible and carries a prescient message about global warming.
Likewise the late twist (TURN AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LOOK AWAY) that the military reinforcements are themselves terrorists, while the small-minded bureaucratic airport cop is not evil but just incompetent, will give comfort to hippies and unionists everywhere – probably one of the few domino effects Bruce Willis did not anticipate.
When the film reaches its inexorable climax – a great pleasure for any pyromaniac – we are rewarded with McClane’s family-friendly catchphrase “Yippy ki yay motherf…er!” and the sudden look of realisation on every bad guy’s face that he is about to perish in flames as a direct result of his prior immoral behaviour. This is an important cathartic reference point for young viewers.
Anyway, John and Holly get back together again – once she has punched out the hard-working journalist of course – and ride off through another police cordon to the refrains of “Let It Snow”, which, being a movie, the weather obediently does.
It is a remnant of a simpler time, when cops were cops, crooks were crooks and divorces weren’t final.
When I got out of the theatre it was only just getting dark, so being the teen rebel I was I left my posse and scampered back home. There I spent the rest of the evening quietly wondering if I was as tough as Bruce Willis, while my mother cooked me dinner and asked about my day.
*Presuming, of course, your imagination extended no further than watching a movie.
+It is worth noting that in each film Thornberg’s only crime was to break an exclusive story about a terrorist attack on a major piece of American infrastructure. Both yarns were easily a splash all day but instead he gets punched in the face. This is a sad indictment on non-journalists everywhere.
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