By Ty Burr
Updated February 01, 1991 at 05:00 AM EST

Most modern action movies are content to follow Mel/Arnie/Eddie/Sly as they shoot/punch/pose to an MTV beat. The real star of Die Hard 2, however, is its plot. Is this a high concept or what?

The movie adds almost nothing to the character of John McClane, blue-collar action hero, beyond what we learned in Die Hard. It simply assumes, correctly, that we’ll stick with him as he uses street smarts, nerve, and sheer luck to end-run idiot bureaucrats and bring to ruin another absurdly complex terrorist plot. While Bruce Willis usually tilts too easily into smug self-congratulation, the labyrinthine action here doesn’t give him much time to bask. He’s too busy thinking fast to preen excessively.

Everything in Die Hard 2 is bigger than anything in the original. What’s surprising is that this movie is often better. (Since director Renny Harlin also helmed the awful Adventures of Ford Fairlane, does this film’s excellence disprove the auteur theory?) Dulles International Airport is more inherently interesting as a setting than the first film’s Nakatomi skyscraper, perhaps because it avoids the floor-by-floor monotony. Where the first film’s Eurotrash terrorists were campy but one-note, this effort’s villains are a hydra-headed who’s who of right-wing nightmares: An Ollie North-type (Bill Sadler) and his clamp-jawed minions, a Latin American dictator-drug kingpin, and a few other surprise baddies. The supporting cast has ballooned, also, to include cops, janitors, pilots, newshounds — a raft of well-drawn walk-ons that move around like pieces on a hyperactive computer-chess screen.

The explosions are bigger, of course — that’s what modern sequels are for — but it’s worth noting that all the demo-derby action serves the story and not the other way around. In fact, alone out of last summer’s elephantine blockbusters, Die Hard 2 assumes that the viewer may possibly have a brain. You get the big bam-boom you paid your video rental fee for, but it comes as part of a jigsaw-puzzle plot that never once cheats on its audience and that gains from repeat viewings what it loses in visual oomph on the home screen. A-

Die Hard 2

  • Movie
  • R
  • 124 minutes
  • Renny Harlin