Whilst visiting your estranged wife for the Christmas holidays you happen to run into a group of terrorists who hijack the building she works in in order to get their mits on the contents of the extravagantly large safe situated deep in the depths of the basement. Typical. Choosing to tackle the problem head-on, you find yourself grappling with some mean-looking suitably foreign-esque imposters resulting in a heady body count, a narked Alan Rickman and an increasingly grubby vest. All this can only mean one thing. You’re John McClane.
The first in the four part (and, if rumours are to be believed, growing) saga, Die Hard was unquestionably made in the heyday of the action movie. Released before the late nineties could flood the genre and the noughtie’s preoccupation with infusing a dizzying amount of CGI into the proceedings, Die Hard captures the thrill, humour and explosiveness that all action movies should aspire to.
Coining his now infamous line (‘yippee-ki-yay motherfucker’ in case you didn’t know, but of course you did, right?), Bruce Willis is so brilliant as McClane that it now seems insane to think that the film’s producers even considered casting anyone else (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were all in the pipeline before Willis finally got the part). His role as the harassed McClane has been immortalised numerous times and has even been paid homage to in The Simpsons through the character of McBain – a genius coupling of Arnie and Bruce (who, coincidently, spar against each other in 2010’s The Expendables). Undoubtedly it is Willis’s mix of wit, humour, action and, ultimately, his likeability that makes him one of the most iconic action figures of our time.
Although such praise is unquestionably due, it is not Willis alone who carries the film. Alan Rickman, as the chief terrorist Gruber, does what he does best in what is, unbelievably, his first feature film. Honing the skills that would culminate in such roles as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Professor Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, he plays a villainous, power-hungry evil-doer who provides a perfect nemesis for Willis’s McClane.
Despite the amount of bloodshed, deaths and explosions, the film is littered with comedic moments from all quarters. The cop (Reginald VelJohnson) who forms an unlikely bond with McClane via walkie talkie offers light relief whilst the film’s cutting to McClane’s naïve chauffer during its most chaotic points heightens the enjoyment to be had.
Although McClane has the Christmas from hell, his Christmas makes for thoroughly entertaining viewing. Willis has unfortunately been somewhat typecast since Die Hard and has appeared in countless films that try, but ultimately fail, to imitate its brilliance of Die Hard. Thankfully Die Hard itself isn’t tainted by such attempts and is still thoroughly enjoyable twenty years on from its release.
Best performance: Willis and Rickman excel.
Best song: Let It Snow neatly jars with the explosive content of the film.