A Good Day to Read 'Die Hard' Criticism

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by Matt Singer
February 12, 2013 3:04 PM
2 Comments
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"Die Hard With a Vengeance."

Last week, we held a contest on Criticwire to win a copy of the new "Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection" Blu-ray. To enter our random drawing you only had to do one thing: email me your favorite piece of film criticism about the "Die Hard" franchise. Today as I selected our winner (who we'll be getting in touch with shortly), I got to look at all the responses; dozens of different articles, video essays, and podcasts about the world of John McClane. It was fantastic.

And so was the criticism you guys sent in. I've selected ten of our favorites to share -- the ones I loved the best, and the ones you guys clearly loved too, since you sent them to me as many as a dozen times -- like Robert Brockaway's very clever and very popular argument in favor of "Die Hard" as the ultimate Christmas movie. Below you'll also find a link to "Siskel & Ebert"'s original review of "Die Hard" -- SPOILER ALERT: one of them didn't recognize its greatness the first time around.

Of course, there are more great reviews and critiques out there on the Internet, and I encourage you to share them in the comments section. But for now, here is:

Great Film Criticism About the 'Die Hard' Franchise, As Selected by the Readers of Criticwire:

Aaron Aradillas on "Die Hard" as a movie of the action-loving 1980s:

"'Die Hard' was something new, an over-the-top blowout its director made personal by injecting humor and humanity into its incredible action set-pieces. Director John McTiernan staged the action with a you-are-there immediacy that was different from most other action movies. Your perspective was constantly shifting along with the hero’s, as if you yourself were always under the threat of attack. 'Die Hard' was a ‘70s disaster movie crossed with a ‘80s one-man action vehicle, but it played like a witty character study."

Robert Brockway on why "Die Hard" is the greatest Christmas movie ever made:

"Both 'It's A Wonderful Life' and 'Die Hard' espouse the same philosophy, that you shouldn't take things -- yourself, your value to the community, shoes -- for granted, it's just that 'Die Hard' does it in a much more effective way: With extravagant torture!"

Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen look back at "Die Hard" as a "sacred cow:"

"Look at how it's handling masculinity. Hans Gruber: classic screen villain. He's hardly a manly physical presence here, yet he carries weight and authority in his mannerism. The tough guys in this movie are always the fools: the FBI agents who come in with their choppers blazing, the barking police chief, these guys are shown to be fools."

Geoff Manaugh on "Die Hard" as a movie about architecture:

"Over the course of the film, McClane blows up whole sections of the building; he stops elevators between floors; and he otherwise explores the internal spaces of Nakatomi Plaza in acts of virtuoso navigation that were neither imagined nor physically planned for by the architects. His is an infrastructure of nearly uninhibited movement within the material structure of the building. The film could perhaps have been subtitled 'lessons in the inappropriate use of architecture,' were that not deliberately pretentious."

Elvis Mitchell on Bruce Willis' star persona:

"That may be Mr. Willis's biggest asset: his ability to find the contradictions in a working class man's sense of self and to wrestle with his own vulnerability. In the first 'Die Hard,' in 1988, John McClane is not a supercop with Teflon-coated nerves. (Such action-hero corniness becomes his stock in trade in the two sequels, which made them increasingly more irrelevant.) In fact he's bewildered, and the comedy comes out of the fact that he can't believe what's happening to him. The movie relies on his regular-guy expressiveness, right down to his desire to apologize to his wife. His needs are a touch of sanity that somehow makes the ridiculous proceedings seem real. Mr. Willis's melancholy flipped the script, humanizing a genre that had atrophied into, at best, a home for archetype. Imagine 'Die Hard' with the Zen placidity of Richard Gere, who turned down the role, and you get an idea of what it could have been."

Kim Newman on the formula of a "Die Hard" movie:

"An imperilled relation (here, McClane's college-age daughter, played by young slasher-film vet Mary Elizabeth Winstead); a semi-unwilling sidekick (Justin Long of 'Jeepers Creepers' cast as a sort of Jimmy Olsen tagalong); a suavely sinister mastermind at the end of a telephone (though Timothy Olyphant's humorless creep Gabriel never shows the acid edge that Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons had in previous installments); an array of unhelpful or impotent superior officers and experts, who always get in the way of the lone, street-level hero or show up just after he's done the job; a devious scheme that seems like terrorism but is actually pure larceny (ie: none of the controversy raised by the likes of 'True Lies' or 'Executive Decision' with their fictional jihads)."

Carson Reeves on "Die Hard 2"'s problematic script:

"Probably the single biggest failure of this screenplay is that John McClane isn’t needed. The great thing about the first 'Die Hard' is that they had no choice but to deal with McClane. That was the beauty of it. They were stuck with this two-bit wild card New York cop who they felt was doing more harm than good. But they couldn’t stop him because he was inside the building. Here, they don’t need McClane at all, yet he still finds his way into every major meeting and conversation. It’s totally convoluted, feels false, and defies all believability."

Brian Salisbury on "Unbreakable" as a "secret metal sequel" to "Die Hard:"

"What we have here is a man coming to grips with the possibility that he may be indestructible — an utterly fantastical revelation played with somber realism. What we’re actually watching is John McClane grappling with the fact that, though many a terrorist has tried, he simply cannot be killed. He has been shot, pummeled by henchmen and had his feet slashed by shards of glass, but where a normal man would have perished by Die Harder at best, McClane abides."

Yvonne Tasker on "Die Hard"'s depiction of modern masculinity:

"Whilst 'Die Hard' gives us Bruce Willis as action hero pin-up, his persona is very much defined through the voice, more wise-guy than tough-guy. Willis scored a huge success, for example, as the voice of baby Mikey in 'Look Who's Talking' (1989). Indeed the particular type of masculine identity that Willis enacts as John McClane in these films has something childlike about it, a trait shared with his role in 'Moonlighting.' A perpetual adolescent, even if a knowing one, there is a sense in which he seems to be playing games (cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians). 'Die Hard' has Willis/McClane cracking jokes to himself along with a facial expression which carries a sense of surprise and confusion that these explosive events are happening to him."

Vern on John McClane as "the working man's James Bond:"

"Bond has a team of experts at his disposal, but McClane just has the fax number for Reginald VelJohnson who can run fingerprints for him. Bond has this Q dude who lives in a secret lab, makes fancy gadgets for him and helps him out. McClane has a crazy janitor named Marvin who lives in a basement and finds the bad guy’s gadgets laying around and tries to sell them to McClane. Bond has the greatest possible technology at his disposal, McClane has to make a torch or tie a fire hose around his waist if he wants to get fancy... In short, fuck James Bond. John McClane is the type of hero we can admire. to be frankly honest James Bond is a fucking baby he needs all that shit to stop the bad guys. Give me a fucking break rich boy."

BONUS: "Siskel & Ebert"'s original review of "Die Hard." It was reviewed fifth on that week's show, after "The Dead Pool," "Phantasm II," "Midnight Run," and Boyfriends and Girlfriends." You can watch the entire episode HERE.

Got a favorite piece of "Die Hard" criticism we overlooked? Written a passionate defense of "Live Free or Die Hard?" Share it with us in the comments section below.

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2 Comments

  • Mike R | February 12, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    The James Bond shakedown at the end is amazing.

  • Kenji Fujishima | February 12, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    As a rebuttal to that one piece trashing Die Hard 2, allow me to submit my own defense of it, one which pairs it with another much-maligned action sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: http://mylife24fps.blogspot.com/2009/12/john-mcclane-and-engine-of-doom.html.

    Oh, and I did write this appreciation of the original years before that.

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