Die Hard 2: A Great Old Movie Before Cellphones and Airport Security

Bruce Willis in Die Hard 15 cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

My wife and I watched the film Die Hard 2 on TV last night. This is the 1990 Bruce Willis movie where he single-handedly tracks down a group of terrorists who have taken over the Air Traffic Control system at busy Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

It’s late on a dark evening in December. A snowstorm rages. During the film, Willis is beaten up during one gunfight, thrown off an overhead baggage conveyor belt during another gunfight (this time with machine guns), climbs through the airport terminal heating vents and tunnels and, sitting on the snow-covered runway at one point, is almost run over by a landing plane.

In the final scene, he has a fistfight with a musclebound bad guy (humorless, blond crewcut, high cheekbones, Aryan) on the wing of a moving 747 taxiing down a runway and accelerating to takeoff with all the victorious bad guys celebrating inside. Willis loses the fight, is kicked in the head and, while falling off the wing into the snow, grabs onto one of the airplane gas caps, causing airplane fuel to start pouring out of the plane to make a trail of leaking gasoline in the snow.

Noticing that this trail begins where he is now sitting on the runway, he struggles to get out his lighter, then lights the tail of the wet gasoline, creating a fuse—a quickly moving flicker of flame that shoots down the snow and up to the plane, which, leaping into the air, explodes.

“Yippee ki yay, motherf__ker,” he says.

Because the movie is 30 years old, it’s dated and makes such a contrast with where we are today, I thought it worth writing about.

The terrorists have shut down all the runway lights. The pilots, overhead, await their repair. Onboard, the passengers patiently wait in their nice large seats with all the legroom. A stewardess politely tells one, “We know you missed your connection, but we’ve made reservations for you on a later flight.” An elderly woman, talking to a passenger sitting next to her, says, “I used to carry mace, but now I have THIS.” She takes a cattle prod out of her purse, presses a button, and for an instant an electric current buzzes between the two prods. “They make them small enough to fit in a bag now,” she concludes.

Payphones are everywhere in the airport, and with the delays people are pushing and shoving each other in line to use them. Everybody needs quarters.

A completely inept airport police chief seizes Bruce Willis after he has this lengthy but inconclusive gunfight in the terminal’s baggage section and orders his police officers to frog-walk Willis out of the airport. “Somebody’s stealing luggage and you get into a gunfight with them? You’re outta here,” the chief says, then mumbles, “Hope the higher-ups don’t hear about this.”

Willis, as in all the Die Hard films, is an off-duty Los Angeles police officer with a pistol and a badge on his belt, here at the airport in street clothes to greet his wife, returning from Los Angeles aboard one of the airliners circling overhead.

TV crews are also at the airport. They are given special courtesy because they are there to cover the arrival of a South American drug lord who, in handcuffs, is on an incoming military plane, coming to stand trial in America. (Movies made in the decades before 1990 invariably involved America versus Communist Terrorists. After 2001, the terrorists are Islamic Fundamentalists. In the interval, Hollywood conjured up vicious drug lords as terrorists.)

The newscasters at the airport waiting for the drug lord are bothersome and inept. A reporter interviews a passenger after the traffic control is shut down and asks, “Do you know what is going on?” The passenger says, “I have no idea. I’m not from here.” “That’s the latest,” the reporter tells her TV camera. She tries to interview the police chief. She goes up to the tower to interview the traffic controllers. There’s a crisis here, they tell her. Go away. Behold the woeful media.

Meanwhile, aboard one of the circling airliners, a passenger who happens to be a famous TV newsman enamored with himself figures out a way to link up to his network while locking himself in the bathroom. He runs down the aisle with his microphone, pursued by a stewardess who wants him to get back to his seat. She gives up when the door locks. This newsman’s account—he’s learned of the terror in spite of the airport’s efforts to keep it under wraps so as to avoid a panic—causes a panic. The terminal becomes a stampede of fleeing people.

And people swear like sailors throughout the movie. In the 1970s and 1980s, films like these were big on swear words to make up for the straight-laced 1950s and early 1960s, when filmmakers could not even say “damn.”

We liked re-watching Die Hard 2.

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