Almost Super: Die Hard
Almost Super: Die Hard 1988
I was never a big fan of the huge action movie franchises when I was younger. I think out of all the well known movies by the big action stars of the 80’s and 90’s, I had only seen Total Recall and Last Action Hero. It was only a couple years ago when I finally saw Die Hard back to back with the first Lethal Weapon after watching Live Free or Die Hard, mainly because I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan and try to watch almost everything he’s been involved with. That reason was also what made me watch Roadhouse – in the special edition DVD, he and Scott Mosier do a really fun commentary track for it. I never did go on to watch any of the sequels, but of the four films, the original Die Hard was head and shoulders above the other three in terms of quality. There’s a reason that for years and years after this movie came out, action movies like Speed were referred to “Die Hard on a Bus”. It was the benchmark of a great action film, and over twenty years later, it still holds up as a great flick. It is well crafted twists and turns with just the right amount of comic relief without being too silly. And John McClane himself is practically a superhero in his own right, taking on an entire pseudo-terrorist-cell all by himself.
The basic premise is that NYC cop John McClane is flown out to LA to visit his wife, with whom he’s been separated, and children. He meets up with her at a Christmas party held at the high tech high rise, the Nakatomi building where she works. And while he is off by himself trying to relax after his stressful flight and not entirely successful first talk with his wife, the building gets invaded by a group of criminals posing as terrorists while their true objective is millions of dollars in bearer bonds in the building’s high security vault. McClane immediately goes into police/Batman mode and starts investigating, neglecting to put back on his shoes. This is an important point during the movie. The most important thing is it immediately puts him at a disadvantage, however slight. This adds to his reputation in the movie as an underdog. Not only is it one guy going up against a dozen, but he’s doing it barefoot!
McClane initially uses the fact that none of the thieves know he’s there to help with his divide and conquer tactics as he begins to pick off members of the squad one by one, and with each one he gains more and more information about how the group works, and he gains one of their weapons: a large amount of explosives, and one of their CB radios. This is another important detail because this is when he is then able to both contact outside help, as well as to begin to communicate with Hans Gruber himself. One of the best things about this movie is the back and forth taunting between McClane and Gruber, including the famous line “yippie ki yay motherfucker” which comes out during Gruber’s initial prodding towards McClane’s real identity. Instead of revealing who he is, he merely references famous movie cowboy Roy Rogers. In fact, he even goes by the name Roy when talking to the first police detective on the scene, played by Reginald VelJohnson who’s probably best known as the father in Family Matters.
This movie has a great cat and mouse aspect to it between Gruber, McClane, as well as the police force. While McClane has to stay one step ahead of the thieves, Gruber is staying one step ahead of the police, anticipates their tactics and already has a plan in place for them. At one point, even counting on them to cut the power, while the clueless police force outside jokes about how he’s likely squirming and will likely break soon. In fact, that’s really the biggest downside to this movie; the police force outside of Sergeant Al all come of as complete morons, distrustful of McClane, and overconfident about their tactics with Gruber.
One of the best things about this movie really is how evenly matched Hans Gruber and John McClane are. He makes an excellent villain to McClane’s hero. They are practically two sides of the same coin. They’re both smart, determined, and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. This is especially true during their one scene together showing how quickly both of them think on their feet. McClane catches Gruber unarmed, and instead of trying to fight his way out, he instead plays it off that he is actually an escaped hostage and tries to gain McClane’s trust, and that scene is milked for all the suspense it’s worth, in a good way. There are also scenes where McClane does the necessary thing which might not be the the purely heroic thing to do, like when an overconfident hostage gets killed on his watch, and when he has to scare the hostages to get them off of the roof. Not only that, but by the end of the movie, John McClane isn’t completely unscathed as would be the case for many action heroes of this time, but instead he is a complete wreck, and near the point of exhaustion. He’s not riding his high horse out of the building with his head held high, he’s limping out with help. It has set the standard for a good action movie, and it still rests near the top of the list. It’s spawned three, soon to be four sequels and countless imitators. He is arguably one of the greatest action heroes of all time, and even came out a year before Tim Burton’s Batman movie which really kicked off the first real wave of superhero movies, and that makes him almost super in my book. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.