Throughout the year I’ve been celebrating 30 years since the original Die Hard was released. I’ve covered a non-existent plot-hole, taken a look at some Die Hard trivia, compared the film to the novel it was based on, looked at every Die Hard game released as well as some Die Hard rip-off movies and I have even offered my opinion on the age old query as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not. Plus I have had a few nods and references to Die Hard in numerous other articles I’ve written through 2018. Yet as this year draws to a close, there is one thing I have not yet done. I’ve not done a retrospective on the films themselves.
Well with 2018 in it’s last few days and 2019 just around the corner. I can’t really end this year long celebration of 30 years since the first film was released without taking in all the films can I? I took part in my annual tradition of watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve with a glass (or three) of Jack Daniels and I’ve watched the rest of the films between then and now to make my way through the entire franchise. So here it is, my Die Hard movie retrospective. So, come read my blog, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…
Released in mid July of 1988, directed by John McTiernan and written by Steven E. de Souza & Jeb Stuart. The film that catapulted the then relatively unknown Bruce Willis into super stardom and cemented him as one of the most recognisable action stars ever.
Die Hard tells the story of John McClane (Bruce Willis) who is an everyday cop from New York. McClane is in L.A. to meet up with his estranged wife Holly Gennero (Bonnie Bedelia) at a Christmas party held at her place of work, Nakatomi Plaza. McClane is very much a fish out of water and doesn’t mix too well with the suits of Holly’s workplace. After asking for a place to clean up, terrorists seize control of Nakatomi Plaza taking all party goers hostage along the way, all except McClane who manages to sneak away unnoticed.
The terrorists are lead by the charismatic Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who makes the police and FBI run through the rule book – only his intentions are not exactly what the police are anticipating. As Gruber and his men unleash their plan, McClane finds himself fighting against the odds to save to hostages, his wife and even himself as all hell breaks loose.
Die Hard is an all time classic. It is a Christmas film? Yes, for me it is… but it’s also just a great picture regardless – Christmas or not. Bruce Willis is brilliant in the role and really shut a lot of naysayers up who doubted his ability to hold a film like this back in 1988 as a leading action star. John McClane became a genuine action icon after this film and went on to appear in all the sequels too. Bonnie Bedelia playing Holly is also a joy to watch, she’s a ballsy character who takes no shit from anyone, including the leader of the terrorists himself, Hans Gruber.
Speaking of which, Gruber is quite possibly one of the greatest on screen villains ever… if not THE greatest. Alan Rickman’s performance is nothing short of pure fried gold. Gruber is charming, smart and charismatic… but then he’s also ruthless and will let nothing get in the way of his plan. He’d be just as conformable talking to you about designer suits and articles from Forbes magazine as much as he would putting a bullet between your eyes. You’re not supposed to like bad guys in films, they are called bad guys for a reason. Yet, with Gruber, you can’t help but fall in love with him a bit. This was Rickman’s first movie roll after moving to America from England and I personally do not think he ever bettered it. This is Alan Rickman at his finest on screen.
Back in 88, Die Hard blew people away. You have to bear in mind that the 80s was a decade when action films were very cookie cutter, each one being hard to distinguish from the other. You had the big, muscle bound action hero who would take on an army of bad guys with a gun that never needed reloading while the hero would emerge from the battle with nothing more than a smudge of dirt on their face. McClane was nothing like that, he was just a guy and one who had to use his brain as much as his gun – a gun that would run out of bullets. The plot of Die Hard is easy to explain and yet it’s not exactly straight forward either. There are twists and turns as McClane learns why the terrorists have crashed the Christmas party. Even when you know what is going on, there are still little bumps and surprises along the way that make you try to second guess both McClane and Gruber’s next move in this dangerous game of cat & mouse.
Die Hard – Best Scene
Die Hard is a movie chock-full of action set pieces, to pick one great action scene from several great action scenes is not easy… so my favourite scene isn’t an action one at all. Mine is one much more grounded.
It’s after McClane and Gruber meet face to face for the first time, after Rickman does his best American accent to pass himself off as a Nakatomi Plaza employee, after the whole “shoot the glass” bit that leaves the barefoot McClane running over broken glass in an attempt to escape. When McClane is sitting there in the bathroom pulling shards of glass from his bloody feet. He gets on the walkie-talkie to Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) who has been supporting McClane since the shit hit the fan. McClane comes to a realisation, that there’s a good chance he’s not going to make it out of this alive. So he asks Powell to find his wife (“don’t ask me how by then you’ll know how.”) and he tells Powell, to relay a message to Holly… “Tell her that, um, she’s the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me. She’s heard me say “I love you” a thousand times. She never heard me say “I’m sorry.” I want you to tell her that, Al. Tell her that John said that he was sorry.”.
That scene is heartbreaking and for an action film, you just don’t see the hero break down like that. The hero in an 80s action film never doubted he would survive, he never asks someone to find his wife to tell her he said he’s sorry in the midst of the action. This is one of the major elements I love about the film – these human moments that show McClane as an everyday guy. The acting from Willis is top-notch too. Brilliant scene.
“I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way… so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.”
– Hans Gruber
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
The massive success of the first film meant a sequel was a given. And 1990 saw the release of Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Reuniting several of the cast but with new director at the helm with Renny Harlin.
John McClane is back and on Christmas Eve, two years to the day after the Nakatomi Plaza incident, history repeats itself. McClane arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport to pick up Holly who is flying in from L.A. At the very start, McClane’s car gets impounded by the airport police and this is just the start of his troubles. While sitting at bar, he sees two people acting very suspiciously and decides to investigate. After getting involved in a shootout in the baggage area, McClane learns that one of the men he killed is an American soldier who was apparently already killed in action years earlier. Things just do not add up.
McClane soon discovers that ex-U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel William Stuart has taken over control of the airport along with his cohorts. Stuart wants to see the release of General Ramon Esperanza, a well known drug lord and dictator into his care. As Stuart and his henchmen do their best to disrupt the airport, McClane gets to work doing what he does best, taking out the terrorists while trying to save Holly who is still in a plane circling the airport and fast running out of fuel.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a very solid sequel. It’s familiar and yet fresh, it keeps very much to the staples that made the first film so damn good while also mixing thing up a bit along the way. The plot twists as it progresses and things are not as black & white as they first seem. It lacks the originality the first film has… but of course it does, its a sequel – but overall, it’s a damn good watch and for me, the best sequel in the franchise.
The cast, once more are great. Of course Bruce Willis as McClane is a joy to watch as is Bonnie Bedelia as Holly who is just as ballsy as she was in the first film. Then there is William Sadler as the main villain, Colonel Stuart. He’s no Alan Rickman, no Hans Gruber but a very enjoyable performance none the less.
The film kind of lacks that claustrophobic/enclosed setting of the original with McClane having the run of an entire airport – yet things are still restrictive. I mean, it’s not as if McClane could just walk out the front door leaning his wife stranded in the air waiting for the inevitable plane crash.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder – Best Scene
Kind of similar to the first film, my favourite scene is not one of the many action set-pieces. I’ve gone for one of the more human scenes that show McClane as just a guy. It’s after the Windsor flight 144 plane crash caused by Colonel Stuart. After McClane does all he can to try to prevent it, after he walks through the wreckage and sees a child’s stuffed toy. At that moment, he doesn’t know who’s plane it is, could’ve been his wife’s.
It then cuts to McClane sitting there in the control room of the airport a silent, broken man. Just as with the first film, he feels useless. He did all he could and yet an entire plane full of people, including children are dead. There’s no awesome and well written line of dialogue. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and very quiet with hardly a word spoken. It’s just a man realising he is just a man and no matter what he does, it may not be enough.
“Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a fuckin’ Christmas tree, a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this motherfuckin’ tin can.”
– John McClane
Die Hard with a Vengeance
There was a five year gap between sequels this time and 1995 saw the release of the third film in the franchise. Not only did Bruce Willis come back, but director of the original flick, John McTiernan also returned. So did the reunion create a film worthy of the original?
By now McClane and Holly are separated, she’s doing well in L.A. while he is still working as a cop in New York. When we first meet McClane in the film, he’s recovering from a hangover and on suspension from the force. This is a John McClane on the edge with nothing no lose. Enter the mysterious Simon (Jeremy Irons) who blows up a department store in New York and specifically asks for McClane to try to stop him. Simon has McClane jumping through hoops and if he does not comply, Simon will blow up another location. While following Simon’s strict instructions, McClane crosses paths with Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) an the two are dragged into the mad bomber’s dangerous game.
It’s latter revealed that Simon is the brother of Hans Gruber from the first film and it seems he is out for revenge over the death of his sibling who want’s McClane dead… or does he? As McClane and Carver are forced to run around New York stopping/defusing bombs, Gruber’s grand plan is revealed and it seems the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to the Grubers.
Okay, so I have a serious love/hate relationship with Die Hard with a Vengeance. Is it a good picture? Yes, it’s bloody entertaining. The flick literally opens up with an explosion and the action does not let up after that until the credits roll. The story is great and has twists and turns along the way. Is it a good Die Hard film though? Well that’s a more difficult question to answer. It’s got John McClane in it, it connects to the first film with the whole Gruber brother thing… but that’s about it really. They could have released this as a Bruce Willis flick with him playing a generic action hero and it would’ve worked either way.
The film just lacks something and I’m not really sure what that something is. There’s brilliant chemistry between Willis and Jackson, they honestly come across as a great coupling trough the film. The plot does a good job of not being too obvious and has some great twists. Irons is a fantastic bad guy and does feel like Hans Gruber’s brother.
But I think my main problem with the film is just how “convenient” everything is. In the first two flicks, you see and feel McClane having to work things out, you see the cogs in his head grind away. In this, things just happen and he just so happens to be in the right place at the right time. Gruber just so happens to plant the bomb in the same school Caver’s nephews attend (despite the fact Carver was never part of Gruber’s initial plan), McClane just so happens to find the most knowledgeable truck driver in the whole of New York who helps him solve a clue, The bit where McClane is shot out of the aqueduct via water pressure from an exploding bomb he couldn’t predict – and just so happens to be randomly shot out at the exact time and the exact place Carver just so happens to be driving past. Or what about the fact McClane’s buddy just so happened to use his badge number as lottery number picks and how one of the bad guys kills said buddy and takes his police badge to wear… then McClane just so happens to notice said police badge while in a tricky situation that clued him into the fact the guys he is with are the bad guys?
They could’ve called this one Die Hard with a Lot of Plot Convenience. There are other moments too where things just happen because the script says so and McClane has things work out very nicely for him along the way. Things like McClane having to be told who Simon really is, when I feel that is something he should have worked out for himself. Plus I feel this film marks the dumbing down, the decline of the franchise – something the next two sequel revel in.
Die Hard with a Vengeance – Best Scene
There is no genuine human moment in this film that shows McClane as the every day guy is. But perhaps my favourite scene is one where McClane is just being McClane.
It’s just after the subway train crash via one of Gruber’s bombs. After Carver has the altercation with the rookie cop (“I have to answer this phone.”). All hell breaks loose as the bomb explodes, the subway train derails and swings out casing untold damage, people run for their lives as the subway car tips over onto it’s side and crashes to a halt and it looks like no one would’ve survived that. Then McClane just pulls himself out of the wreckage laughing to himself in disbelief over he fact he’s still alive. That laugh, that McClane laugh is just perfect and adds a nice light-hearted moment to an otherwise intense scene.
“Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t fuck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?”
– Zeus Carver
Live Free or Die Hard
I was happy with just the three flicks, the previous one was okay and has it’s problems but still served as a satisfying end to the trilogy. But they just couldn’t leave it alone and McClane was brought back in 2007. This time directed by Len Wiseman.
McClane finds himself in Washington, D.C. with expert computer hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) in the midst of a major cyber attack headed up by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and his team of cyber terrorists. Gabriel aims to hack into government and commercial computers all over the U.S. and disable the nation’s infrastructure. Of course McClane and his new sidekick stop the bad guys.
This film has it’s fans… I’m not one of them. It’s just not Die Hard. It’s a very generic action film with none of the heart or charm of the previous ones. The plot is bland, the main villain is forgettable and McClane is just not McClane. He’s no longer the everyday cop fighting against the odds, he’s become an indestructible super hero. I mean going back to my favourite scene of the first film with McClane asking Powell to find his wife and apologise – it’s a fantastic scene that shows just how “human” he is. This film has McClane going up against a F-35B Lightning II fighter jet as a freeway crumbles around him… and winning. It’s just stupid, it’s a stupid film.
I said about Die Hard with a Vengeance that it marked the dumbing down and the decline of the franchise – but this film takes that to a whole new level.
Live Free or Die Hard – Best Scene
The ends credits, I could not wait for this film to end. Lets move on.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse… it does. So he’s back once more, this time directed by John Moore and released in 2013. Oh dear…
So now McClane is in Russia where he meets up with his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney). the father and son team up to and find themselves entangled in a global terrorist plot… and I’m bored already.
The previous film was bad but it’s watchable – just barely. This is fucking atrocious. You can always tell when I really don’t like something as the paragraphs get shorter as I really don’t want to give the film any more attention.
A Good Day to Die Hard – Best Scene
There’s this really amazing scene near the end with McClane driving a truck out of the back of a helicopter. It’s a beautiful designed and shot scene that explores the depth and the McClane character… nah, utter bollocks. The film is shit with no best scene. Even the end credits aren’t worth it.
Well there’s yet more as the sixth film in the franchise is in production as I write this simply called McClane. To be directed by Len Wiseman who also directed Live Free or Die Hard. The plot isn’t fully known right now but it has been said this will be both a sequel and prequel in one film.
There will be present day scenes starring Bruce Willis playing an ageing John McClane, possibly retired? But the film will also flashback to New Year’s Eve 1979 and tell the story of young John McClane as a rookie cop in New York. Details are thin on the ground right now, there are no specific story details or even a release date yet.
To be honest, I’m not at all interested in this one. For me, the franchise died a long time ago. I have little interest in seeing an 60 year old John McClane and I have even less interest in seeing a 20-something version too. I’ll just stick to the first two films and depending on my mood, the third one. If I want to watch a young McClane, I’ll just re-watch Die Hard.
That’s me done for 2018 folks. Just want to say a big thanks to everyone who has been reading my scrawlings over the last 12 months. I do enjoy doing these articles and I hope you enjoy reading them.
Have a great New Years, whatever you get up to.
See you in 2019…maybe…