Putting it simply: It's one of the greatest action movies ever made!
Yep, it's still THAT good, almost in spite of itself. Let's take a look at the ingredients here: A Television Actor (albeit a good one) stars in an over-the top action flick directed by the guy who wrote Nomads, written by an uncredited co-writer of 48 Hrs. and a credited writer of that same film (who worked on 48 Hrs. while penning scripts to Knight Rider) and based on a novel by a Private Detective whose last filmed work had been released literally twenty full years prior! It might not have screamed "Hit" before release, but it managed to work so well that critics and audiences alike ground this flick up and injected it into their veins over and over again (not even counting the sequels and "unofficial remakes").
If you haven't seen Die Hard, or haven't seen it lately, then... what the hell are you doing surfing the Internet? Go
New York Cop John McClane (Bruce Willis, of course) arrives in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his kids and estranged wife Holly Gennero McClane (Bonnie Bedelia), who is now a big shot executive for the Nakatomi corporation. Everything's rosy, everything's Jake as the Company Christmas party drones on with the usual gang of idiots like the boss (James Shigeta's Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), the obnoxious schmoozer (Hart Bochner's Harry Ellis) and every corollary to your day job (including the naked chick). Everything's cool. The most stressful thing is the "will-they/ won't-they" tension shared by the McClanes as they reunite.
That is, until a gang of international terrorists show up with machine guns and detonators, up to no good. Man, isn't that always the way? I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there hasn't ever been a single Christmas Party that wouldn't be ruined by the appearance by a gang of international terrorists. I don't even think Martha Stewart's prepared for that. Especially these uninvited guests, as led by the West German-born, classically educated and elegantly precise Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman). These guys are nastier than warm gazpacho and almost as tasteful.
Pretty soon the big baddies have taken over the entire building and are holding the partygoers hostage (including the naked chick). They've got the resources, the know-how, the guns, the drive and the aggression to get exactly what they want. All the good guys have... is John McClane: Supercop!
Unfortunately, John doesn't have much aside from a couple of remote partners (like De'voreaux White's Argyle and Reginald VelJohnson's Sgt. Al Powell), one gun and pure adrenalin! And that's it. Seriously. He doesn't even have SHOES!
What follows is an ultra-cool one-by-one elimination round that lasts until Christmas Day with McClane in one corner and a whole tag team of Eurotrash in the other. Along the way we're met with a host of other characters who amount to little more than spectators and plot thickeners, like The Breakfast Club's Paul Gleason as Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (played in that way he does best), William Atherton's Sleazy TV Journalist Richard "Dick" Thornburg and, of course, the Feds, Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush as FBI Special Agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation).
The best part of the whole mix is the cat and mouse game played by McClane and Gruber. Willis and Rickman are both excellent and super-cool in their own way. It's both exciting and funny to witness their exchanges as Willis plays Pacman to the Terrorists' Ghost Monsters all around the Fox Plaza's maze.
The whole amazing shebang works so well (when most films might collapse under the weight that Die Hard thrives under) because of two primary, yet mainly divergent elements. First, this is a wild, over the top and explosive picture, unapologetically packed with incredible situations, super stunts and huge action scenes. While this might usually be a turn off, Die Hard never loses its "brain" in the mix. Director John McTiernan takes the hyperactive script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza (from Roderick Thorp's novel Nothing Lasts Forever) and openly admits that this is popcorn action, never taking the film too terribly seriously, never losing sight of the fun and never trying to make a Hamlet out of a... well, a Die Hard. With every explosion, wise-crack and impossible feat of derring-do, we're in on the joke, and we love it! This leads to the second great way that Die Hard rules. These over the top, explosive situations, packed with super stunts, huge action, wise-cracks, and impossible feats of derring-do are not performed by an explosive, huge, impossible superhero. These are all performed by John McClane. He's an action hero, yes (a great one), but he's also fallible and packed with mistakes. Sure he can get the job done, but he might just as easily screw the pooch and lose the game amid the incredible odds.
In that respect, it's fun to play with McTiernan's theory that Hans is the protagonist of Die Hard, working hard toward his goal while McClane's spoil-sport antics make him Hans' logical antagonist. But as cool as Hans can be, McTiernan never lets us forget that he is the villain and McClane is the hero. Bruce Willis does his best Bruce Willis here, staying incredibly likeable at each stage, with each feat and each quotable wisecrack!
Just shy of twenty years later, it's just great to look back on the Joel Silver and Charles Gordon produced Die Hard and see how so many of these things were not only done first here, but done best here. Even with the many imitators and sequels, the original still feels original! Some of the now-ubiquitous scenes can still make the discerning fan want to cheer out a loud "YES!!!" Man, I tell you, if "Yippee Ki Yay Motherfucker!", "Welcome to the Party, Pal!" and "I'm gonna kill you, I'm gonna fuckin' cook you, and I'm gonna fuckin' eat you!" doesn't get your hackles raised then check your pulse... you may be dead!
If those lines and the great moments here don't get you, the winning music by Michael Kamen (with a healthy sprinkling of Beethoven's "Ode To Joy") had better. Matching that classic mix of the realistic and the ridiculous in a warm package of likeability, Kamen's score accents all the right moments in all the right ways.
Just wait till the end when there are no less than four final blasts featuring four different characters, all to Kamen's music that can get you clapping and cheering before those credits roll. Yes, Yes, Yes! It's a little somethin'-somethin' called "Punctuation", folks! Die Hard... it lives up to its name and it lives up to Four and One Half Stars out of Five! It's still the insane action film that you do not have to turn your brain off to have fun with. It's still the competing rush of epinephrine, endorphins and adrenalin. It's still the best of its kind. How long has it been since you last saw Die Hard? Well that's too long!
See you in the next reel! But not before you see Die Hard! Geronimo, motherfucker!
he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.
Weep no more, conquer more reviews by clicking this link! Die Hard!
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