Die Hard (1988) is the start of a huge series and one of the best action movies ever.
John McClane travels to the Nakatomi Corporation Christmas party in L.A. to be with his estranged wife. Unfortunately terrorists have set their sights on the building and quickly take it over. Now John McClane must save as many people as he can while taking out the terrorists with almost no help from the outside.
I know some of you are thinking "That's not a Christmas movie!" Watch it again. This movie relies on Christmas for a lot of its jokes as well as a good deal of its suspense. Both of which combine to create both a great action movie, but a hilarious Christmas one. This is all while being neck deep in eighties government incompetence, Japanese financial dominance and of course European terrorism.
John McClane is a wise cracking hero with a heart. He's been having some friction with his wife since she moved to L.A. to become a high powered executive. This action hero has a family and some issues with his job are hinted at. These struggles are balanced with his humorous attitude. He is alone and isolated and the film perfectly portrays him using humor to comfort himself and deal with the isolation and mounting odds.
Holly Generro McClane is John's wife and eighties power woman. She clearly cares for John, but some very mundane human issues come between them. The handling of her character is brilliant. She is a powerful career woman with a tremendous amount of courage. There's also the will they, won't they suspense game as to when Hans will discover why John is at Nakatomi.
Al is a desk bound police officer on his way home for Christmas when he gets the call to head over to the Plaza. He becomes the voice of the auidence as the movie continues, but has his own small arc that is a bit tacked on. I think I'm just glad that this movie bothers to build characters. By the time anyone is in jeopardy, the audience has some attachment to several of the characters which the film quickly lets you know can die.
Hans Gruber and his crew are our villains, but their motives aren't clear until the end. They are ruthlessly smart and keep cool even as John hacks at their number. Hans himself is a great villain and I believe still ranks on some great movie villains lists. Most of his henchmen are even given some personality and grow a rivalry with John as the movie goes on. Dear modern action movies, henchmen with character are a great thing!
Eighties L.A. Atmosphere
As I mentioned at the top this film is firmly rooted in 80s culture. A hip hop loving limo driver features as a minor character. The 'advanced' computer systems being touch screens and automated directories. John carries his gun on an airplane. Everybody smokes everywhere. Not only that: this is an L.A. movie that, despite limited locations, manages to give a good look at the city.
In the End
Shoot Outs! Holiday Cheer! Explosions! Honestly it isn't the most original ending, but it sure is satisfying like all good holiday flicks.
Tomorrow, I dive into why I don't watch the sequels when I Die Harder.