“Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.” Although it’s only been about two years since we last saw Die Hard, The Flower opined upon leaving the first showing that she could turn right around and watch it again. Even so, it’s been a fatiguing season for her, and she was seriously thinking about not going to this, the TCM presents of the 30th anniversary. (It’s also the 30th anniversary of MST3K, shockingly enough, though that goes back to its local Minnesota UHF TV days.)
Despite the running time and the lateness of the hour—all the hours feel late when it’s winter and DST has ended—all of us (including The Boy and His Girl) agreed that this is a movie that rewards you for watching it multiple times. The attention to detail is tremendous. Ben Mankiewicz said in his intro that director John McTiernan wanted to keep an undercurrent of joy in the proceedings, and that intention is probably the key element behind this film’s success.
The sheer moments of fun—punctuated by Michael Kamen’s little woodwind flourishes—means the movie is never in danger of making serious commentary or bowing to the gods of realism. The references to Roy Rogers movies, like McClane’s vulgar reiteration of “yippe-ki-yay”, assumes the sort of simplified world that makes for fun action movies. The bad guys are bad. They’re somehow worse, perhaps, for being mere thieves (rather than terrorists), because their only motivation is greed. They haven’t even the fig leaf of idealism.
At the same time, they don’t seem like bad guys to hang out with. (Well, the German dudes are a little intense.) This may seem odd, but since you are actually spending over two hours with these guys, you really want to root against them while not being repulsed. The big flaw with Steven Seagal’s Die-Hard-On-A-Boat (aka Under Siege, one of the better DH clones) is that Tommy Lee Jones is so charismatic relative to Seagal, that you end up practically rooting for Jones. And with most other DH clones, the baddies are as interchangeable as Empire storm troopers.
Besides the cornier aspects of the various character arcs, such as Reginald VelJohnson’s hoplophobia and the McClane’s family reunification (nullified by subsequent sequels, starting with 3, I think), McClane’s own character arc is kind of impressive. He begins as a cop (probably a maverick who doesn’t play by the book but gets the job done) with all due restraint on killing the baddies, and by the end he’s yelling at Karl “I’m gonna kill ya! And I’m gonna eat ya!”
The zeitgeist of the time is crystallized in this movie: 77 cent gas. Big hair. Cocaine. Terrorism. Stupid, ambitious newshounds. Glib, self-important FBI agents. Stalwart workaday cops and their clueless bosses. Japanese conglomerates taking over the US. Time magazine. 60 minutes. Stockholm syndrome. Empowered career women. Smarmy business guy. Wealth. Using computers to do…whatever. Ooh, black computer nerds. (That was a big ’80s thing that nobody so much as mentioned, which made it ridiculously better than the virtue signalling that goes on today.)
Maybe the thing here is that it is unselfconsciously itself. It is un-woke, if “woke” means (as it seems to) “introverting on every thing you do or say to make sure nothing ever offends anyone”. “Woke” is the antithesis of joy. And this movie is joyful.
Nobody regretted going to see it again.