‘Die Hard’ Remains The ‘Splodiest Christmas Movie Ever
Renny Harlin’s Die Hard, aka “At least 25 Scenes Where Bruce Willis Definitely Shoulda Died,” is just as much fun to watch now as it was in 1988. Sure it’s cheesy, but it’s also pretty much the perfect action movie, with Bruce Willis as the impossible-to-kill cop against a murderous gang of “terrorists” led by Alan Rickman in the role that transformed him from a romantic lead in little English movies into a big-budget chewer of Hollywood scenery. It’s about as testosteroney as an action movie should be. And remember, it’s a Christmas movie: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
So what Makes Die Hard such a fine Christmas movie?
- It’s a story of redemption: Willis’s John McClane realizes, over the course of his ordeal, that it’s OK for his wife to pursue her own career, even if she has to live in fuckin’ California. His wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) realizes that it’s OK to be a strong female character and still use her married name. And Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the schlubby cop who’s the only one on the ground who understands McClane, realizes that it’s OK to shoot people if they truly need to be shot. This really is a story about the redemptive possibilities of superior firepower.
- While it certainly didn’t invent the action-movie quip, it may have perfected it. Of course there’s “Yipee ki-yay, motherfucker,” but there’s also the bit where McClane takes a dead guy’s cigarettes and says “Whoa, these are very bad for you.” And the bit where McClane, crawling through a ventilation duct, mutters “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.” And of course, McClane’s constant little asides to himself: “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
- Alan Rickman (yeah, his character has a name, “Hans Gruber,” but come on) is one of the great movie villains, an avatar of sneering European amorality and superiority to play against Bruce Willis’s self-deprecating all-American underdog. Rickman is educated, appreciates a tailored suit, and has an accent. (And then Rickman took essentially the same character and turned it up to Eleven in that other movie, “The Sheriff Of Nottingham with some guest appearances by Kevin Costner.”)
- Everybody in a position of institutional authority is an idiot, from the deputy police chief (Paul Gleason, who gets some of the movie’s best lines — “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess”) to the cocksure FBI agents, and even to the emergency dispatcher who ignores McClane’s walkie-talkie distress call, telling him to get off the “restricted emergency frequency” and to call 9-1-1. And then there’s the media, endangering McClane by revealing his identity on-air, and chatting with an idiot academic whose psychological insights into terrorists are useless. And of course, there’s the would-be dealmaker, Ellis the sleazy cokehead, who only makes things worse. Only the Regular Guys, McClane and his LAPD buddy Al, have any real understanding of what’s going on. It’s no stretch to say that Die Hard is at heart a Tea Party movie, 20 years ahead of the Tea Party. Don’t trust the “experts,” they’ll just fuck things up.
- Oh, yeah, the Christmas stuff. There’s a lot of tinsel, and a hip-hop Christmas song (This is Christmas music!”), and that great closing shot as Our Heroes ride away from the half-wrecked skyscraper to “Let it Snow,” while millions of dollars worth of McGuffin bonds flutter to the ground. (Strangely, no one is interested in grabbing them.) And of course, it was released in July 1988, so it’s an all-season flick, a summer blockbuster with a Christmas setting.
Die Hard has just the right amount of excess — the sequels went so completely over the top that they make the original seem restrained by comparison. And it has some very important lessons about life, like how you if you love someone, you’ll take out a bunch of terrorists for them, and then they’ll take you back, and also you should never trust anyone in a suit.