Sadly, I never see anyone show any Christmas love for Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which may be one of the two best films of director Renny Harlin’s career and is set entirely on Christmas Eve. Sure, its older brother hogs all the glory as the Greatest Action Film of All Time according to me and occasionally polls, but if you watch too closely and never mind the unfair comparisons to the One That Started It All, you’ll notice it has all the necessary elements of a basic Christmas movie, not to mention a few reminders of Christmas with your own family.
Where’s the Christmas in Die Hard 2? Count the ways:
* Snow! Die Hard had no snow. None. Not a flake. It was set in L.A., which has no snow because it hates Christmas. Die Hard 2 is set in Washington D.C., where snow is everywhere, even though most of it is fake movie snow that would make decent pillow stuffing. Even fake snow has more of a right to be in a Christmas movie than palm trees do.
* Holiday travel! John McClane’s primary motivation: a safe flight for his wife Holly so they can spend Christmas together like any happy couple. They’re surrounded by thousands of other holiday travelers, all fighting for the same thing…until things get rough, they all stampede out the doors, and everyone wishes they’d never come in the first place. Who among us hasn’t had a Christmas turn sour like that?
* Old friends you haven’t seen in a while! Sure enough, John and Holly return, as do his Twinkie-grubbing sidekick Sergeant Al Powell, powerless newsman nemesis Richard Thornburg, and returning screenwriter Steven E. de Souza. You may not hang out with them all the time, but you remember the wild stories from the last time this gang got together. And how about those other familiar faces? There’s John Amos from TV’s Good Times; Dennis Franz from Hill Street Blues; and Tom Bower, Mary Ellen’s husband from The Waltons. What a party, right?
* New faces that you feel kind of awkward around! The hardest part of any gathering is meeting all the new plus-ones, welcoming them to the mess that is your family, and gently hazing them. Watching this again twenty-three years after the fact, I recognized William Sadler from Iron Man 3 and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, among countless other things; Robert “T-1000” Patrick; Franco Nero, a.k.a. the original Django; Law & Order MVP Fred Dalton Thompson; Vondie Curtis-Hall from Chicago Hope; comedian John Leguizamo, in a rare silent-killer-henchman role; and Colm Meaney, a.k.a. Star Trek engineer extraordinaire Miles O’Brien, as a doomed pilot with a stately accent that sounds really wrong for him. But that’s another Christmas tradition for you right there: people putting on uncomfortable facades.
* New gadgets and gizmos! Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year for early adopters to receive their new technology right off the assembly line…or for older relatives to be stumped and aggravated when well-meaning, younger relatives give them new machines to replace their own obsolete devices. Watch McClane cope with newfangled toys that frighten and confuse him, such as pagers, fax machines, walkie-talkies with passcode security, Glock 7 pistols, and phones on airplanes! Scoff when he asks Al Powell for his “fax machine telephone number”! Marvel as Dick Thornberg uses his cameraman’s gear to broadcast from an airplane restroom, presaging today’s world in which the most mundane non-events are live-tweeted from everywhere anytime! Furrow your brow in wonder at an elderly lady who’s allowed to bring a stun-gun on an airplane!
* Off-putting bad habits! Sooner or later you begin to remember why you don’t hang out with these people more often. McClane smokes with impunity while walking through the airport. Dennis Franz’ airport security chief bullies anyone beneath him and kisses up to anyone above him. Thornburg is intrusive and self-centered as usual. Nearly everyone curses like a sailor, even Good Times Dad. Worst offenders: the visual effects crew and their obsession with fake-looking blue-screen shots. Bluray is useless against them.
* A very special light saves the day! In many Christmas tales, the heroes are usually delivered from evil or otherwise have their lives changed forever by the Northern Star, heavenly light from above, a well-timed sighting of a keenly decorated tree, or whatever. In this case, the light is below rather than above: McClane’s dumb resourcefulness turns an exploded aircraft full of villains into a makeshift landing light, thus saving the lives of thousands of other airplane passengers. It’s not exactly a Light of Revelation, but still. Bright lights go great with Christmas.
* Tender, tearful reunion! Behold John and Holly as the happy loving couple at the end. If you don’t have one of those, then your Christmas movie is terrible and deserves an even worse modern remake.
* Christmas music! There’s no scene after the Die Hard 2 end credits, but you’re treated to a reprise of the same recording of Vaughn Monroe’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” that kicked off the first film’s end credits, as well as an (uncredited) instrumental version of the hymn “Be Still, My Soul”. It’s no “Christmas in Hollis”, but it’ll do.
See what I mean? Christmas is everywhere in Die Hard 2 if you know where to look for it and overtax your imagination looking for tenuous connections. Such a shame that’s it’s so often overlooked just because it has a “2” in the title. And an unflattering subtitle. And no Santa, Rudolph, or animated segments. And the Christmas trees only cameo in the early airport scenes. And no one learns a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas, unless you count the part at the end where Dennis Franz tears up McClane’s parking ticket, because Christmas.