In times like these, it's fun to revisit classic movies. After all, for filum fans, there's nothing more comforting. This week's opinion aligns with the 25th anniversary of 'Die Hard With a Vengeance' and poses the question, could it be the best of the beloved action series?
The first 'Die Hard' movie quickly inspired a major fandom when it hit cinemas in 1988. After that came four sequels in 1990, 1995, 2007 and 2013 (there was a prequel in the works but it looks like this isn't happening with Fox now under Disney). The quality severely dropped in chapter four 'Live Free or Die Hard' while many pretend the fifth installment, 'A Good Day to Die Hard', just doesn't exist. Still, those numbers impress, as the movies grossed a combined $1.4 billion worldwide.
The film that started it all makes for an effective thriller as well as action movie, building up a sense of tension in the Nakatomi Tower setting to an enticing degree. It's all go go go once the action kicks in. Moreover it is the movie that introduced Bruce Willis to the world and he is both physically perfect as hero John McClain (he also brought a degree of physical vulnerability that hadn't been seen in action heroes before - they were typically depicted as indestructible, but John gets the crap beaten out of him, and keeps going regardless) as well as note perfect as a wise cracking, assertive New York cop.
No one can do villians like Alan Rickman and while 'Harry Potter' and 'Robin Hood' fans may protest, Hans Gruber is probably his most iconic antagonist role. His team of terrorist bad guys were also compelling, their threatening demeanour leaping off the screen. Moreover the late '80s movie had some great cinematic moments, for example, when John leaves the body dressed in a Santa hat with a message for the villains to find; John jumping off the rooftop as it explodes behind him; and that shot with Hans falling from the tower.
'Die Hard 2' (aka 'Die Hard 2: Die Harder') was a solid follow-up. In fact, it's a lot better than people give it credit for. It's so self aware that it ends up being a lot of fun. Its acknowledgement of its sequel status comes out in such lines as "How can the same sh** happen to the same guy twice?" and "Why does this keep happening to us?" The action kicks off even quicker this time. John isn't even out of the building this time before it all goes down.
Having butted heads with the LAPD in its predecessor, John comes up against airport authorities (the FAA) this time around. John talks back and is just as much of a smart ass as ever, irking most of the people he meets. The airport setting makes for a change of pace and the action they come up with for such a backdrop is quite inspired. Mind you, the loss of a plane full of victims is a little too glossed over...
There's a bigger team of bad guys than before and William Sadler is good as the leader, though no Hans. You've also got a more detailed and arguably unnecessarily complex scheme than was in the first film, including a double cross involving Major Grant (John Amos). There are also a ridiculous number of nonsensical explosions (how could John have possible survived that plane explosion, even with the ejector seat? how did the plane go up in flames when it was out of fuel?). In essence, its over the top nature is part of the fun, and though a great piece of entertainment, it's probably the most flawed of the first three 'Die Hard's.
Then we come to 'Die Hard With a Vengeance' and consider whether it's third time lucky (not that they weren't fortunate before). There are a few factors that really make this film holds up, particularly as far as threequels go. Firstly its melding of the buddy comedy and action genres works to a tee. Sure you had Sgt. Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson) helping John out in the first 'Die Hard' but he wasn't forced on the ride like Samuel L. Jackson was. His character Zeus was the perfect partner to McClain, as snappy with his speech, and even more insolent. Zeus impressed the NY cop, as much as he'd be loath to admit it.
You also got the move of the action to John's hometown of New York, the city making for a dramatic, kinetic setting for the action. But even though he's home, John is still at odds with those he's trying to work with. He's on suspension and his colleagues mistrust him.
As for the role of the baddies, you've got this delicious plot twist as it turns out they intended a huge scale Wall Street robbery all along - making the movie a kind of action-buddy comedy-heist movie mash-up - and the use of the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is brilliant. Alan Rickman makes for the best antagonist, but Jeremy Irons has deservedly earned much praise as Hans' brother Simon. And while the ending set in Quebec felt a bit stuck on after the dramatic high of the tanker scene, it's worth noting that the first 'Die Hard' also had two endings (the rooftop explosion and evacuation of the hostages, followed by the final confrontation with Hans). 'Die Hard 2' also had multiple set pieces in its final act until reaching the end credits.
Look, some people are going to say 'Die Hard' is the best, others will say it's 'With a Vengeance'. Heck others may have a soft spot for 'Die Harder' (Christmas movies tend to strike a chord). In any case, there's no denying that so many years on, this remains one of the best action movie trilogies ever produced. Now we just pray that Disney don't attempt to reboot it with Harry Styles or some crap.