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Face-Off: Invasion U.S.A. vs. Die Hard 2

Most of the movies I watch during the month of December tend to be set during the Christmas season, and I watch Christmas-themed movies of all genres, from animated family favorites to blood-soaked horror. There are plenty of action classics to revisit during this time of year, including DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON, FIRST BLOOD, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, and the two we're focusing on with this Face-Off: FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER director Joseph Zito's 1985 Chuck Norris vehicle INVASION U.S.A. and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER director Renny Harlin's 1990 blockbuster sequel DIE HARD 2. Both of these films are set during the holidays and center on one man's quest to bring down a bunch of terrorists in a variety of violent ways. So which one brings more bone-crunching joy? Let's see how this goes:

WORSE THAN SCROOGE

Richard Lynch plays the primary villain in INVASION U.S.A., a Soviet operative named Mikhail Rostov, who leads a small army of Latin American guerillas in an assault on cities throughout the continental United States. Rostov is a chillingly evil man who thinks nothing about killing anyone who crosses his path, even making sure a little girl goes inside her home before he blasts that home with a rocket launcher. He doesn't display much depth of character, but he does have one major weakness: he is extremely afraid of the CIA agent who thwarted him in a different mission sometime earlier. His obsession with that CIA agent ends up being his downfall.

Special Forces leader Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) is so dedicated to fighting Communism that he's willing to kill innocent people to rescue dictator Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero). The U.S. supported Esperanza's fight against Communism in South America up to a point, but when they pulled funding he supported himself through cocaine smuggling. Now he's being extradited to the U.S. to face drug charges, and Stuart and his team are out to free him. These guys think they're honorable, but they're disturbingly cold-blooded and do some horrific things. Their mission would have been successful if it weren't for one person at the airport where Esperanza's flight will be landing.

HOLIDAY HERO

Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris, who also co-wrote the screenplay) has retired from the CIA and has moved into a shack in the Everglades, where he spends his time wrestling alligators, caring for an armadillo, and eating frogs. His peace is disrupted when Rostov shows up to kill him, believing he is the only thing standing in the way of pulling off a successful invasion of the U.S. Hunter didn't want to get involved, but once he has been attacked he sets out to prove Rostov correct. He proceeds to kill a whole lot of terrorists, always coming off as being a capable badass while talking as little as possible and never displaying any sort of emotion or personality.

You remember John McClane (Bruce Willis). He was the New York cop who thwarted the thieves that took people hostage at the Nakatomi tower. Now he's an L.A. cop visiting his in-laws and waiting for his wife's delayed plane to arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport. Again, this beleaguered everyman finds himself in over his head when he notices suspicious behavior that turns out to be the beginning of another, even bigger hostage situation. Later sequels may have tried to tarnish McClane's reputation, but in his earlier days he was one of our greatest action heroes. He has charisma and personality, and can overcome deadly odds through sheer determination. 

CHRISTMAS CHEER

INVASION U.S.A. takes place during the Christmas season, but there's not much celebrating going on. The holiday setting is most noticeable during two terrorist attacks. One occurs in a suburban neighborhood where houses are lit up with Christmas lights and a family is seen decorating a tree. Homes and families then get blown to pieces with rockets. Later, terrorists set off a bomb in a mall that's all done up for the holidays. The Christmas decorations add to these sequences, but are barely there for the rest of the movie.

DIE HARD 2 is one of those sequels that tries to replicate too many elements from its predecessor, so much that McClane has déjà vu. This includes a too-coincidental Christmas setting, but since this film is set out east instead of in L.A. it can take the Christmas atmosphere even further. Locations decorated for the holidays are coated in snow, and more snow is falling from the sky throughout the film. The holiday is mentioned in the dialogue several times, and we get a reprise of the Vaughn Monroe tune "Let It Snow!"

WRECK THE HALLS

There is an incredible amount of destruction in this film, building up to an all-out war between terrorists and the National Guard in the streets of Atlanta. Many rounds of ammunition are fired, multiple structures explode, around 150 people are killed. A neighborhood is destroyed, locations are shot up, a shopping mall receives a ton of damage. Vehicles are smashed up during a chase sequence. Chuck Norris does some kicking and punching, as you expect him to, but in this movie he'd much rather just shoot people. And he does a lot of that.

Incidents start out relatively small, a couple shootouts in isolated areas of the airport, but then Stuart causes a plane carrying more than 200 people to come crashing down on the runway. After that McClane's encounters with these highly trained terrorists come more frequently, involving more shootouts, physical altercations, a snowmobile chase, and lots of explosions. Exploding objects, vehicles, and people. For a movie set within one small area, DIE HARD 2 manages to rack up a high body count and cause a lot of property damage.

DECORATIONS OF RED

There is some nasty violence in this film, starting from the opening scene when a boatload of Cuban refugees are mercilessly gunned down. That's just the first group of unlucky people to get murdered by the terrorists in the various shootings and bombings. Despite the dozens of shootings on display, including a moment where a couple is gunned down on a beach and then trampled by the invaders, the most memorable kill comes when Rostov slams a woman's face down while she's snorting coke, getting her coke straw lodged in her nostril, then lets her scream in pain and shock while he kills some other people. When he's done, he tosses the woman through a window.

Most people killed in this film perish in massive fireballs, the crash of the passenger plane being a very tragic moment. The other explosions are less tragic. If you prefer more direct, one-on-one violence, DIE HARD 2 still has you covered, as it's packed with gunfights that leave a lot more people dead, there's a bloody throat slitting, and McClane has to get physical with several of his enemies, most of whom end up being killed with the nearest object. One gets his head crushed in a roller, another is smashed under a scaffold, a major villain gets diced up in a plane engine, and the most popular kill in the movie comes when McClane jams an icicle through an opponent's eyeball.

DIE HARD 2

When INVASION U.S.A. was released in 1985, it pulled in $17 million at the domestic box office. When DIE HARD 2 followed five years later, it made $117 million domestic. The two films had a more fair fight in this Face-Off, but in the end we get the same result: DIE HARD 2 comes out on top. While INVASION U.S.A. is an enjoyable action flick, the DIE HARD sequel has better characters, more satisfying violence, and feels a lot more like a Christmas movie.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think Chuck Norris should always win? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. Suggestions for future Face-Off articles can be sent to me at [email protected].

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