Die Hard – A Retrospective

Yippie ki yay motherfuckers!

When people think of cinema badasses, there are a few men who come to mind. Guys like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Dolph Lundgren made their mark kicking ass on-screen throughout the 80’s but as the decade was coming to a close, another man helped carve that niche for himself as well. Bruce Willis, who at the time was famous for playing the lead in the widely popular 1980’s television series, “Moonlighting”, tried his hand at action movies and the result was a worldwide phenomenon.  Willis as John McClane personifies an action hero in every sense and for good reason, his performances in the iconic “Die Hard” film series.

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The film, “Die Hard” was directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and released in 1988. It tells the story of John McClane, a New York cop, who flies to Los Angeles during Christmas time to see his estranged wife, Holly. Shortly after arriving at the holiday party at her firm at Nakatomi Plaza, the celebration is crashed by foreign terrorists who seize the building looking for millions of dollars in bearer bonds and it’s up to McClane (who was in the bathroom at the time and thus wasn’t taken hostage) to save the day. When L.A. police give John a hard time, he is aided by fellow cop, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson from TV’s Family Matters). McClane uses evasive tactics and his academy training skills to take down the bad guys one by one eventually bringing down their leader, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and reuniting with Holly. The film was a massive success at the box office grossing over $140 million worldwide and coined the infamous line, “Yippie Ki Yay motherfucker!” which would become a staple in the following films as well as pop culture..

PERSONAL OPINION: The first Die Hard is by far my favorite of the series and one of the best action movies not only of the 80’s but of all time. A trash talking New Yorker who loves shooting guns and raising hell? I can certainly relate! (well maybe not the guns part). In a time when action movie villains were often very one-note and wooden, Alan Rickman proved that theory wrong with a wonderful showing as Hans Gruber. His great chemistry with Willis leaves the audience hoping more and more that McClane blows his head off.

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With one-liners that are still repeated today and great action, Die Hard is essential for anybody looking for a good time.

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Feeding off the success of the first film, a sequel was a no brainer. The second film “Die Hard 2” had the cheesy but appropriate subtitle of “Die Harder”. The 1990 film was directed Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) and featured McClane trying to meet Holly as she lands in Washington D.C once again during Christmas time. Trouble happens once again when terrorists led by the vicious Col. Stuart (William Saddler who you might recognize as Death from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and more recently as the President in Iron Man 3)  take over the airport and its air traffic control system to ensure the safety of an incoming drug lord who is set to stand in trial in the U.S. McClane once again takes matters into his own hands, when the airport’s police shrug him off, to ensure his wife’s plane’s safety.

PERSONAL OPINION: Die Hard 2 is my least favorite of the series (though that opinion might change upon viewing the latest entry). I used to hate it a lot more a few years ago since the first and third films were so much better but upon a recent viewing, I have gained a new found respect for it but still consider if the weakest film for several reasons such as the weird editing and the direction. The direction especially is a huge problem for me as Renny Harlin is a bit of a hack (his 1995 film “Cutthroat Island” is infamously known as one of the biggest commercial failures of all time and helped bankrupt its studio, Carolco Pictures). It is cool though seeing a young Robert Patrick as one of the villains, this was supposedly the role that got him noticed and led him to star in the biggest role of his career, as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”.

Another warning about this one. Never watch it on syndicated cable:

 

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The third film would arrive five years later and would regain McTiernan as director. Originally written as just a standard action vehicle starring Bruce Willis, its script was subsequently re-written and eventually became 1995’s “Die Hard With A Vengeance” in an attempt to rake in more cash from moviegoers. In this one, McClane is back in his home turf of New York City as he attempts to prevent several bombings all over Manhattan by solving a number of riddles bestowed upon him Hans Gruber’s brother, Simon  (Jeremy Irons), who is out for revenge. This time, McClane is joined by a reluctant shop owner named Zeus (played by the always entertaining, Samuel L. Jackson) who assists him on several disturbances throughout the Big Apple. To make matters worse, his marriage with Holly is on the rocks.

PERSONAL OPINION: I’ll rank DHWAV as the second best of the series. Jeremy Irons is really great as the main villain and Sam Jackson holds his own as well as the racist shop owner who never quite trusts McClane who knows he has to rely on him to survive. You can also see how much McTiernan’s direction makes a huge difference as this one is leagues above Die Hard 2 to give it a feel similar to the first film.

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Years would pass and the possibility of a fourth Die Hard film was always rumored but never confirmed. Willis was always game to do another film but was always busy with other projects. In 2004, rumors began getting stronger and Die Hard 4 was confirmed although details weren’t known. The movie would eventually be named “Live Free Or Die Hard” (or Die Hard 4.0 for all you Europeans) and would be directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld). The 2007 film saw McClane now working in Homeland Security and divorced from Holly. He’s instructed to take a young computer hacker, Matt (played by Justin Long) in for questioning when all of a sudden, a fire sale orchestrated by a group of cyber terrorists occurs shutting down Washington D.C.’s, and its’ surrounding areas’ computer systems resulting in the entire east coast going under. Things turn from bad to worse when the baddies kidnap McClane’s now adult daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead who starred in the recent, unnecessary “Thing” remake). With the help of Matt, McClane takes down helicopters, army jets, martial artists, and parkours to restore peace and rescue his daughter.

PERSONAL OPINION: Well no offense to Timothy Olyphant who I’m actually a fan of (“The Safety of Objects” motherfucker! He was good in “Go” as well) but he portrayed by the far the worst villain in the series. So stiff and unmenacing to the point where it’s comical. Having said that, I think LFODH gets a bad reputation. It’s certainly not the best in the series or even close but I think it’s a perfectly acceptable entry that still maintains the feel of a Die Hard movie. Kevin Smith was pretty unnecessary (sorry fanboys) and Long became pretty grating at times (though he tried his best) but the action, while a bit over the top at times (the fighter jet scene, really?), was awesome for the most part. Don’t know why it doesn’t get more love from fans. Third best film in my opinion.

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When LFODH was released, Willis expressed interest in doing yet another Die Hard film joking that the premise should be him saving the world. After quite a few years of speculation, they confirmed a director in John Moore (Max Payne, The Omen remake) and a script soon followed. Fans anticipated what a fifth Die Hard film would be like and since the last film concentrated on his daughter, naturally, they would bring another member of his creed into the fold. The series’ fifth film, “A Good Day To Die Hard” was released earlier this year to mostly negative reviews. In this installment, McClane fights terrorists in Russia alongside his estranged son, Jack (whom we briefly met in the close-up of the McClane family photo in the first film) who is stalked by villainous henchmen after he escapes from triall. Judging by the trailer, it retains the humor and ridiculous action that suspends belief, but unfortunately, critics and fans though otherwise. The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray recently.

PERSONAL OPINION: There is not much to say here. I actually have yet to see this one. The reviews have been overwhelmingly negative but as a huge fan of the series, I intend to view this one very shortly and honestly, as bad as it might be, I’ll probably still enjoy it thoroughly.

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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