Today in unnecessary proclamations: Die Hard is goddamn marvellous. I say this because, having seen it for only the second time, I marvelled throughout at how well composed it was. I wasn’t sober and for some reason this really made me hone in on structure. Die Hard has long been revered as The Best Christmas Movie (a title I’ll argue it shares with Gremlins and, depending on sobriety, Jingle All the Way) with good reason. The film is dynamite to watch, it crackles with personality and wit, has a strong set up and repeated pay-offs.
It’s amazing that Die Hard never feels crushed between the weight of its scale. It takes a while to realise, but there are a ton of characters. The first half hour widely introduces the stage, players and stakes without feeling cumbersome. We’ve got the variety of office staff, McClane and wife Holly, Hans Gruber and his terrorist team, Argyle the limo driver and the various police staff. Characters feel lived in and most of all, fun. Gruber is a fantastic villain. He’s clever and witty. Development and backstory are littered throughout the film. Whether it’s his meticulous note-keeping, awareness and ability to take advantage of John’s barefoot predicament or the neat little character note of his love of taking things apart to better understand every piece. Holly has conviction and wit beyond merely being a damsel in distress. The henchmen all have their own little quirks, whether it’s the blonde dude’s lavish movement or computer dude’s unflappable nature.
It’s rad to see how the film stands as a sign of the times. Action movies now are sleek, stylised and hyper-violent. If a lead character doesn’t know wushu, what the fuck is he doing tangling with henchmen? McClane fights his way through a tower of enemies, but it’s not dismissal with ease. He struggles and scrapes by with a combination of cunning and pure luck. It’s a cat and mouse game with the tables turning over and over. Willis looks baby-faced, but unlike modern heroes he’s not a chiselled tower of muscle. He’s fit, but not excessively so. Permanently cool calm and collected he ain’t. When something unexpected happens he’s momentarily startled or briefly panics. He has great quips, but more accurately he’s Popeye made flesh. Mumbling to himself constantly, throwing out silly one liners left right and centre.
It’s easy to understand why Die Hard has become a holiday tradition, why people watch it year after year as an emblem of the season. In short, classics are classics for a reason and this one is a fucking blast.
Now who wants to watch Jingle All the Way?