Kevin: We spent Part 1 of our holiday “Die Hard” Round Table analyzing in great detail the Sodom and Gomorrah-level debauchery better known as the Nakatomi Christmas Party, our confusion about what exactly Argyle had going on Christmas Eve if he wasn’t trapped in the garage, and celebrated Ellis’ best-loved as well as more underrated moments.
As we kick off Part 2, I’d like to first mention why I think “Die Hard” has endured in the pop culture consciousness over many other well-loved movies from that period, action or otherwise. At the screenings I have been to in the last few years I’ve noticed a lot of people who look well into their sixties and seventies attending, which seems odd to me until I remember that they were around my age now when they first saw it. Can you think of any action movies you’ve seen recently that you’ve loved so much you can envision getting excited about watching them in a theater 30 years from now, other than “Suicide Squad” of course?
I also notice many people my age bringing their children with them as a way to introduce the next generation to Bruce’s ass-kicking, smart-alecky greatness, and if “Die Hard” serves as a gateway drug for them into “Predator,” “Commando,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Rambo” etc., then I feel a lot better about the future of this country. With that out of the way, what are some other aspects about “Die Hard” you want to highlight before we all go back to unwrapping presents?
CJ: Something that is sometimes overlooked when people talk about “Die Hard” is the comedy. A lot of movies really force their jokes and comic relief, practically making characters hold their dialogue for an extra second so we can all laugh. “Die Hard” just throws out the jokes and keeps going, but they are all pretty solid jokes. Think about it:
- Al Leong grabbing the Crunch bar after they set up for a SWAT attack.
- The newscaster proudly saying that Helsinki is in Sweden, immediately being corrected that it’s in Finland, and then just hanging his head in shame.
- Agents Johnson and Johnson: “Just like fucking Saigon, eh slick?” “I was in junior high dickhead.”
- Everything Ellis does and says.
- The most underrated joke of the movie, after the giant explosion on top of Nakatomi Plaza: “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys I guess.”
Kevin: I’ll add that when Takagi is refusing to give up the codes and Theo says, “I told you,” and Karl responds, “It’s not over,” I had no idea what they were talking about for like first 118 times I saw this. It was only until I saw it again on the big screen that I noticed them exchanging money after Takagi is dead, indicating they had placed a bet off screen about whether or not Takagi would break. Talk about subtle; if Roland Emmerich had directed this I’m sure he would have done an extreme zoom in on the money exchanging hands just to make sure we didn’t miss it.
CJ: Let’s also talk about the bad guys, since they are the other side of the coin that makes this movie so good. When it comes to Hans, one thing no one points out is just how professional he is. He really only kills when needed, he didn’t let his Ace of Base posse go on a raping spree, and he is actually pretty decent to the pregnant lady and the people who needed to pee. I once worked at a Manhattan office where we went a week straight in August with broken AC during a 100-degree heat wave. When we asked our boss if we could leave early once our work was done, we were told that they had no sympathy for us because sweatshop workers don’t get AC. I never thought I’d see the day where I went, “I’ll take the sociopathic German!” when it comes to ideal employers.
I also like when McClane notes that, “These guys are mostly European judged by their clothing.” The only thing that would have made that better would have been if Hans had on a neon green tracksuit with a 10-foot-high flag sticking out of his backpack that said “Terrorist Group” with a little skull-and-bones logo. If any of our new European readers are looking at this, I am NOT talking about you. Looking good buddy!
Mike: “Hans and Co.,” as I like to call them, are introduced in such tremendous fashion. They cruise into Nakatomi Plaza in a box truck, and if you watch carefully as Hans gets off you can see every item they utilize throughout the movie come off the truck in the background. Crates of missiles, gear, men, etc. … all as one cohesive unit full of joy and determination. While this is happening Argyle is chilling on the other side of the garage, apparently ready and willing to sit in that limousine and wait for McClane all night long if necessary even though it’s Christmas Eve. That’s a friend right there. Good luck finding an Uber driver who’s willing to give that level of customer service. By the way, kudos to Argyle for being the only person in “Die Hard” history to refer to John McClane as “Mac.”
Hans and his men then strong arm the Nakatomi building security and completely take over. Just as quickly, McClane escapes into one of the upper levels and starts taking names. The first name he takes is Karl’s brother Tony, a man who absolutely loves to be in his workout clothes no matter what the job. I have to say it never sat right with me why Tony was wearing an entire sweatsuit. How is that tactical? He doesn’t even have pockets! He looked like my gym teacher from middle school, only with pants on.
Once McClane kills him, he’s quick to do what we’d all do in a situation where we’re outnumbered and outgunned. He mutilates the corpse and immediately sends it back to his criminal buddies! That’s why he’s John McClane and I’m just some guy writing in his pajamas. (Kevin – Those pajamas would still be more appropriate attire for a $600 million heist than what Tony is wearing)
Fast forward through many deaths later, a manhunt is now officially underway as McClane hides throughout the building picking off bad guys, foiling plans, and stopping for an untold number of cigarette breaks. I’m no military genius, and while I’ll be the first to admit cigarettes are pretty damn cool, I wouldn’t be smoking them while I’m trying to hide, unless of course I was hiding in a bar any time prior to 1999. “Could McClane be in here?” “Nah, all I smell is brand new computer equipment, sawdust, cigarette smoke, and floor wax. Let’s keep moving.”
Kevin: Something I just realized about McClane is that we know very little about his background apart from the fact that he’s been a New York cop for 11 years. Every other action movie of this time would stop cold so that a couple of pencil-pushers could get briefed on what a supreme badass the hero is and why they should just get out of his damn way. As we noted in the “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” Round Table, the gold standard for this kind of speech will always and forever be “On Deadly Ground”:
Yet there is no equivalent scene here where someone goes, “Chief we just pulled this McClane guy’s file. Listen to this: Apparently he’s the fastest rookie to ever move up to Detective, he’s been credited with over 11,365 arrests, most of them of the right people, he saved the Pope’s life during an assassination attempt in Times Square, and he’s placed first in the NYPD’s “Blowing Shit Up with C-4 and a Computer Monitor” contest the last 5 years.”
CJ: One thing that’s always bothered me is when McClane has to give a fake name over the walkie talkies and chooses the name “Roy.” Roy is that guy in the office who keeps breaking the copier while everyone mutters “Ugh, goddamnit Roy.” No one likes Roy. This would have been a great chance for McClane to strike some real fear into Hans’ heart by saying his name was something like “Competent Lover” or “Magnum Triumph.” Hell, just tell him he fucked his wife.
I also find it odd that Holly freely admits to Hans that everyone is now looking to her, implying she’s in charge. Does she not remember what JUST happened to Takagi and Ellis? When Hans asked why she was up his ass, she should have responded with, “Probably cause they all know I’m a Nazi sympathizer,” and give him a knowing nod.
She also finds it a little too comical that McClane is pissing everyone off given the situation she’s in. Several co-workers have been murdered, they are under siege by terrorists, guns are constantly going off, and they’re, you know, GERMAN. But here’s Holly all: “John’s really giving it to them. Remember when he killed Karl’s brother and wrote a message on his shirt in his own dead blood? Heh heh.”
Kevin: I’m using the fact that you said the words “Under Siege” in the last paragraph to post this photo of Erika Eleniak to break up this sausage-fest:
Mike: Let’s talk about the two FBI agents, Johnson and Johnson, and how amazing they are as just the most loveable pair of sociopaths that somehow found each other and became partners. They act like young brash dudes who are totally cool getting innocent people killed, almost like they’re trying to do it! The older Johnson even recalls his days fighting in Saigon fondly as he gears up to hose Nakatomi with a belt-fed machine gun. From the moment they are introduced they bully everyone in sight and then proceed to disregard any and all regulations and are both killed almost instantly. These two join the ranks of supporting actors that need to have their own movies, in their case a prequel. The last scene of that imaginary movie could be the two of them drunk inside a strip club when they get the call that Nakatomi Plaza has been taken over by terrorists; they will of course finish their drinks and get one last lap dance before departing. (Kevin – This would officially be the “Rogue One” of sleazy action movie prequels)
CJ: One thing I noticed is that right after Robert Davi tells Hans the choppers are on their way, he talks about how before they know it they’ll kill the bad guys; at the same time, Hans is talking about how they’ll be on the beach earning 20% while the FBI is sifting through rubble. I would never stop laughing if right then they both realized they could hear each other through their walkie talkies.
Other random thoughts:
- You know what always troubled me about Hans saying “Shoot the glass!”? Hans and Karl are German, so why would speaking in their second language be clearer?
- McClane on Holly: “She’s the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me.” THEN WHY DID SHE MARRY PETER DELLAPLANE?????
- Random weird moment after McClane is thwarted by Karl from warning them about the bombs on the roof:
Police Chief Robinson: “What did he say?”
Cop next to him: “I dunno, something about a double cross” (shrugs)
Me: Why did you dismiss this????
- I do like how, while fighting Karl, John makes fun of killing his brother. Haha, Johnny! This really is an exceptional fight, complete with some great trash talk: “I’m gonna cook ya, and then I’m gonna eat ya.” That’s some messed up shit, but I’m saying that the next time I quit a job.
- A really great moment when McClane fully solidifies himself as a badass (as if he hadn’t done that already) is when he comes looking for Hans after the explosion, and appears in front of smokey backlighting while screaming “Haaaaaans!” like a crazed murderer. Completely turns the tables on them all, and you know McClane is now in charge.
- Did you notice the music swells more loudly and romantically for John finally locking eyes with Al than when he gets Holly back?
- Random weird moment #2:
Argyle after he closes the limo door for John and Holly: “If this is your idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s.”
Me: Who the hell are you talking to Argyle?
Kevin: Should we consider that maybe Argyle is bipolar or has multiple personalities? Think about it, he seems to manically commit himself to multiple courses of action without thinking them through or regard for the consequences, like pledging his loyalty all evening if needed to someone he just met, while at the same time blowing off an assignment in Vegas, which will likely get him fired, and promising his lady that “of course” he will be seeing her later even though he can’t possibly know that. He also immediately gives up on driving through the gate and doesn’t even think to actually get out of the limo and try to escape on foot. Is there absolutely no way a person as skinny as Argyle could find some opening in the parking garage to sneak out of?
And as Mike said in Part 1, his initial instinct on seeing the ambulance is to ram it with his car and then violently knock out the driver, who looked the least like a bad guy of anyone on Hans’ crew. Forget about talking to himself at the end, are we even sure there actually was another person on the other end of the phone Argyle was speaking to in the limo all this time?
Also, did Argyle tell anyone about the ambulance driver he knocked out before he drove off with a severely bleeding John McClane in the back?
Mike: A couple of more favorite moments before I forget. In a movie filled with iconic lines, I’ve always liked the one said by Al Powell after McClane blows up a substantial portion of the Nakatomi building by dropping C-4 down an elevator shaft:
McClane: “Is the building on fire?”
Powell: “No, but it’s gonna need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors.”
Finally, I think it’s pretty ballsy for a screenwriter to have Al Powell bemoan a sad story about accidentally shooting a child, and then go on to have that character regain his confidence by blowing away a bad guy. “Thank you John McClane, I can kill again!”
Kevin: I have to say I find it weird that outside of his cameo in the second one that we never see Al Powell again. If they were going to start giving McClane a sidekick by the third one – something I’ve never approved of, but whatever – I would think an obvious storyline would involved Powell visiting New York and staying with his good buddy John McClane, and violence and hilarity ensues! Of course I’m also the one who thinks that if they make a sixth “Die Hard” that it should just be a stealth remake of “The Hard Way” with Channing Tatum as a cocky young actor who is following around John McClane as preparation for actually playing McClane in a movie about what happened at Nakatomi, and violence and hilarity ensues!
Speaking of sequels, let’s take this opportunity to discuss our feelings on the various other “Die Hards” and where we would rank them from best to worst. Here’s my list:
1) “Die Hard 2”:
A popular movie at the time whose reputation seems to have diminished since then. It’s still my favorite of the sequels due the fact that it feels the most like a “Die Hard” movie due to the one-location/Christmas Eve formula, it has some hilariously gruesome violence (the icicle through the guy’s eyeball for instance), and the twist of John Amos being a bad guy was especially shocking coming right after “Coming to America.” McClane also has his most baffling insult in any of the movies to Dennis Franz: “What sets off the metal detectors first, the lead in your ass or the shit in your brains.” Why would shit set off a metal detector?
I also love how easily people who are unknowingly about to die set up their killers for a kiss-off line before they pull the trigger:
Old guy in church: “It kind of feels like a piece of me is dying along with this place.”
Terrorist: “Oh you’re right about that.”
(Old guy gets riddled with bullets.)
SWAT leader who should have been a little more suspicious about guys painting that area on Christmas Eve night: “Hey buddy, what do I look like to you?”
Terrorist played by pre-“Terminator 2” Robert Patrick: “A sitting duck!”
(SWAT team gets massacred.)
I also admire how realistic the final showdown between McClane and William Sadler’s Col. Stuart is at the end. Stuart is shown to be a highly trained Special Forces warrior and martial arts expert who McClane is clearly not a match for. But while most action movies would have the hero magically get some good shots in, McClane basically gets his ass handed to him and only defeats Stuart through pure luck.
My biggest gripe about the movie though is the fact that it was advertised and sold as “Die Hard” in an airport, when in reality the bad guys actually just take over one crappy old church. Also, a plane crashes right near the airport and none of the travelers who are waiting for their delayed flights inside apparently notices or cares.
2) “Live Free or Die Hard”:
Yeah I know this gets dismissed as the one where McClane is an indestructible superhero, but while he does battle a Harrier jet I don’t think he takes nearly as much damage as in the first and third especially. Yes it’s PG-13, the normally awesome Timothy Olyphant is a surprisingly weak villain, McClane somehow knows how to fly a helicopter, it’s one of those movies where you know a virus is being uploaded because a “Virus Uploaded” screen appears, and it put Bruce and Kevin Smith together, a moment both would come to regret. But Justin Long was surprisingly likable as the sidekick, the action scenes are really impressive and clearly staged, and while McClane is now older and balder, Bruce still brings the right amount of wiseass attitude that just almost crosses the line into dickitude that McClane needs.
3) “Die Hard With a Vengeance”:
The opposite of “Die Hard 2,” in that it is a sequel that I remember most people at the time being kind of disappointed with, but which now seems to be widely considered the best of the sequels. I’ve never been much of a fan because it doesn’t feel like a “Die Hard” movie to me but rather what it was, a spec script that they just took and reverse-engineered into a “Die Hard.” I don’t care about seeing McClane figuring out brain teasers involving water displacement or even want to see him in a car chase, I like my John McClane filling bad guys with lead, which is why the only memorable action moment for me is the brief and brutal shootout in the elevator.
Even though McTiernan came back to direct, this does not feel like the same guy who did the first. Compare the fight between McClane and Karl in the original and McClane and the big German guy in the container terminal in this, as the latter is so confusingly edited that it’s really unclear how McClane gets the upper hand. The whole “Hans Gruber’s brother wants revenge” feels like a cheap callback, and the climax in Canada was clearly a last-minute reshoot. Finally, the whole racial tension angle is still kind of uncomfortable now, much less when I saw it in 1995 when a certain trial was going on. Even though they are friends at the end, for much of the movie it feels like an action movie where Mark Fuhrman and Johnnie Cochran are forced to team up. In the pro column, I respect any action movie where the hero spends most of the running time hung over.
4) “A Good Day to Die Hard”:
Pros: It’s R-rated, not that it really takes advantage of it. It gets much better in the last 20 minutes or so. It gives an admirably gory death to the bad guy, one that also shares some similarities to Milo in “Last Boy Scout.” Umm …. let me get back to you.
Cons: It commits the absolute worst sin a “Die Hard” sequel could do: It makes John McClane look like a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing. For most of the movie he’s just following around his CIA agent son like some fuddy duddy dad with early onset dementia, and he ends up causing more problems than he solves by getting into situations when he doesn’t know what’s going on. The last thing any of us want is to see John McClane be condescended to by Jai Courtney for fuck’s sake. The bad guys are unmemorable Eurotrash, and setting it in Russia gives it that same cheap, ugly, and overcast look as the average direct-to-video Steven Seagal picture filmed in Bulgaria.
Pros Again: I forgot, for the first time in a movie, McClane gives the finger to a bad guy before their death, in this instance as he’s jumping out a window. On that note, I can’t help but be amused that McClane and Son’s solution to every problem in this movie is to jump out of a high-story window and assume some scaffolding or a swimming pool will be there to save them. Spoiler: They’re always right!
CJ: My order would be:
1) “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”: I’m with you Kevin, I think people sleep on this movie. Great bad guy, great setting (we all hate airports so it makes us angry already!), ugly Christmas sweater, and Dennis Franz!
2) “Die Hard with a Vengeance”: I like this movie, and frankly, enjoyed the puzzles. I always forget how to do the water displacement and feel like an idiot each time I have to Google it. And yeah, he’s hungover, that guy just never wants to do anything!
3) “Live Free or Die Hard”: I like that they kept John McClane super annoyed the whole time. Justin Long can be obnoxious, but was actually okay in this except for when he uses a Sidekick to hack a satellite (I think?). I also enjoyed the weird pleasure McClane took in fighting Maggie Q.
4) “A Good Day to Die Hard”: The finger got a laugh and clapping out of me. Also even though she was introduced in “Live Free,” I had nothing else to say for 5 so here’s a good chance to mention how much I like Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Kevin: Another thing to add about “Die Hard 2”: having watched “Sully” last night I noticed they could almost be the same movie in a lot of ways. In “Die Harder” McClane is a national celebrity after his exploits at Nakatomi – according to Col. Stuart he had a memorable appearance on “Nightline” – and he’s constantly having to deal with unwanted recognition or acclaim for just doing his job. Although whereas Sully deals with his feelings with quiet dignity, McClane sticks an icicle into a guy’s eye socket.
The first sequel also doubles down on the idea begun in the original that McClane is some sort of sex magnet for any woman working in the transportation industry. While “Die Hard” starts with the quick shot of the young attractive stewardess (another sign this was made decades ago) giving John some obvious “fuck me” eyes as he’s walking past with the giant teddy bear, in “Die Harder” he rudely takes over a help desk and orders the woman working there to help him send a fax. Apparently his take-charge demeanor and banter on the phone with Al Powell about dead people’s fingerprints is irresistible, because after just a few minutes she’s practically throwing herself at him. However, the fact that he responds by wiggling his wedding ring and saying, “Just the fax ma’am, just the fax” while holding up a piece of paper that he, yes indeed, just faxed may have cooled her passion a bit.
Before we wrap this up, does anyone have any other observations they’d like to make?
Mike: Let me end with this theory I’ve arrived at: I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think it would be unheard of to suggest that “Die Hard” was a last-ditch effort by the writers to keep our women safe at home and away from the workplace. Holly McClane chooses to abandon her role as a housewife and mother to strike out on her own and make a name for herself in a “man’s world.” As a result, she falls in league with an evil corporation focused on unrelenting greed and vanity. The Nakatomi Christmas party is awash with booze, drugs, and sex. Filled with people who have abandoned their families on one of the most beloved holidays. An organization so deeply invested within its own decadence and depravity that it draws international thieves like flies. Holly chooses this place over her husband and home life, opting for a stranger to raise her now-fatherless children.
It’s ironic that part of her reason for leaving McClane was because she felt his line of work was beneath her, yet at the end of the day it’s her work that proves to be dirty and dangerous. At the finale, as Hans clings for his life the only thing he has left to hold on to is Holly’s Rolex, the very symbol of all that is wrong in this world of greed, but Holly can’t free herself from it. She’s only saved when John unlatches the watch, sending both it and Hans plummeting to hell, thus freeing her from the mistakes that destroyed their marriage. She now has empirical proof that it is her duty to return to her safe place in the home and raise John’s offspring while he deals with the scum of the earth.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you have Hans and his men; they weren’t criminals, they were Indians going on one last buffalo hunt, the big buffalo, the Nakatomi buffalo. And much like the Native Americans, they were put down by manifest destiny in the form of the great John McClane, spreading righteousness and good throughout the land … with bullets and C-4.
Kevin: That’s a very interesting and thought-provoking analysis Mike, I can’t imagine a more eloquent way to conclude our …
CJ: Almost forgot, it would have been great if, after shooting Karl, Al looks over and sees one of his bullets has hit yet another innocent child.
Kevin: Actually even better. But before you go back to unwrapping presents and sipping egg nog, we’ll leave you with a touching little number composed by Anthony that you and your family can sing around the fire tonight. Enjoy:
Ode to Alan Rickman (Sung to the tune of “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot)
My respect for Die Hard grows easily by the day
As I see horrible excuses for action films come my way
The well crafted, inspired, layered tale of yore
Has been replaced by celluloid better left on the floor
2016 has been terrible and I have not been a fan
But then in one swoop it took Gruber, Clay, Rickman … the man
His death was truly a matter of inconvenient timing
Maybe it was the bad sequels or balding or my bad rhyming
Was it double jeopardy where the scores can really change
Or maybe Mr. Rickman just had too much Goddamn range
Maybe he was a fly in the ointment or just a pain in the ass
Or maybe a monkey in the wrench or just the best in the cast
John was a child that saw too many movies as a child
But Hans never thought the cowboy would go so wild
Hans was a master of speech, threw old John for a loop
Came up with a fake accent even after he pooped in his suit
He wasn’t stupid and carried himself with great class
And he even remembered at one point to make them shoot the glass
At the end he fell a long way down from Nakatomi Tower
And we still remember him today, which shows you his power
On his ride to the great beyond standing next to God
I’m sure he said “Nice Suit” and the big man gave him a nod
Your hero is only as good as the obstacles they face
Thank goodness Alan came along and blew up the damn place