Miscellaneous Post: A Comparison of Die Hards

I’ve seen the Die Hard movies numerous times, and McClane McCLane is my hero, so why not compare and contrast all five movies?

I’m analyzing/comparing the films based on the following categories:

Who is McClane McClane?
What is at stake for him?
What’s up with the villain?
Who’s McClane’s side kick?
What’s up with the government?
What’s the action like?
Final thoughts.

Die Hard

Who is McClane McClane?

McClane is a 30-something (33 or so) New York City cop of 11 years visiting his wife in Los Angeles. They are separated enough that McClane doesn’t seem to expect to stay with her, and Holly has her housekeeper set up the guest bedroom. His fight against the terrorists is to save the hostages, including Holly. He’s clever, witty, and mildly annoying to the terrorists until he really makes Hans angry. He expresses a fondness for Roy Rogers. He’s afraid to fly. He smokes.

What is at stake for him?

His opinion of himself, sure. But mainly Holly. Clearly there are issues between the two of them (her using her maiden name, and putting his picture facedown), but his main focus once he takes out a couple of terrorists is to save Holly.

What’s up with the villain?

Hans Gruber is an exceptional thief using the hostages as a way to hide his actual purpose, stealing millions of dollars from the vault. He’s suave, well dressed, and actually extremely likable because he’s so well put together. I also really like listening to his accent. He and McClane have a lot of good chemistry together, even though they’re only in a couple of scenes together.

Who’s McClane’s sidekick?

McClane’s main assistant in this film is Al Powell, LAPD desk jockey who was on his way home when the call came in to check out Nakatomi Plaza. He and McClane communicate entirely by radio, and Al doesn’t even know McClane’s name until Hans says it. The moment when they finally meet is usually the one where if you’re going to get teary-eyed, it’s here. There’s mutual respect and admiration, Al towards McClane because he just saved 30 hostages and took out a terrorist group, and McClane towards Al because Al believed McClane when no one else would and gave him moral support.

You can also count Argyle here, as I did in my complete Die Hard entry. Argyle does help McClane in the beginning, and knocks out Theo the terrorist. McClane later keeps Argyle from being shot when he bursts out of the parking garage.

What’s up with the government?

Every law enforcement person other than Al Powell is depicted as a complete moron. Dwayne Robinson is a jerk. Agents McClaneson and McClaneson of the FBI are useless. One Fed is seen pricking himself on some thorns. The Feds do everything by the book which is what the problem is the whole time, because Hans expects them to run “the terrorist handbook step by step,” thus leading to them cutting the power and releasing the locks on the vault. To quote one of the most fantastic lines in the movie, Hans explains “You want a miracle, Theo? I give you the FBI.”

What’s the action like?

Pretty much non-stop from the second Hans takes over. McClane gets involved in a lot of one-on-one and one-on-two scuffles. There are various explosions, including the one when McClane throws the C4 down the elevator shaft, and then the end when the roof explodes. There’s a lot of gun work as McClane kills all the terrorists one by one.

Final thoughts.

Classic film, of course. It doesn’t get much better than this. The acting is great, the effects are great, the pacing is great. I love it. Tainted a wee bit by the ‘80s (77 cents for gas? McClane wears his gun holster on the airplane?) but it still stands up.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Who is McClane McClane?

McClane is a New York City cop currently transplanted to Los Angeles to live with Holly. To celebrate the holidays he’s in DC a day ahead of her, with her parents and his kids. He seems to be generally upbeat though cynical like he was in the previous film. He still smokes, though comments that he needs to quit. Comments “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Both Holly and Al imply McClane and technology don’t mix, and he struggles with a fax machine. He’s afraid of flying.

What is at stake for him?

Again, McClane’s main focus here, above the airport, is to save Holly, who is on one of the circling airplanes. Through a phone call, his general concern, and their connection at the end, it is clear that at least tonight they are very much in love.

What’s up with the villain?

Honestly, one of the reasons I think I’ve not liked this movie as much as the others is that I don’t care what’s up with him. Anyway, his name is General Stewart, and he’s hijacked the airport to set free the cocaine dealer Esperanza. The only interesting thing about either character to me is the way Stewart is introduced, doing tai chi while buck naked. Neither villain is particularly memorable, which to me is the main failing of this movie.

Of course there’s also Major Grant, who of course we don’t know is bad until he slits that poor young guy’s throat. He’s the most compelling bad guy, I think because of this twist, and also he and McClane also interact in person, first not liking each other, then Grant stands up for McClane (“I’m an asshole, I’m just your kind of asshole.”).

Who’s McClane’s sidekick?

McClane works most closely with Marv, the seemingly mentally challenged janitor who lives in the basement, and Barnes, one of the higher-ups at the airport. They’re both okay, but McClane winds up doing a lot of stuff on his own like he did in the first movie. It’s just weird when McClane gets an idea, has them give him something, then runs off and does his idea by himself when they could probably help (Marv might have had the key for the lock on the runway grate, and Barnes could have joined McClane when trying to save the London plane).

McClane briefly uses Al Powell again, which was nice to see. Perhaps they work together a lot on LA. They had some good chemistry together on the phone.

What’s up with the government?

Well. Colonel Stewart: bad. Major Grant: bad. And I’m going to include Airport Police captain Carmine Lorenzo here, because he’s an incompetent jerk for the entire movie until the last minute, maybe minute and a half.

What’s the action like?

More than I remember there being, having not watched it in a while. There’s the gun fight in the luggage room, a plane crash, the gunfight in the Annex Skywalk, the gunfight at the church, and then the absolutely fantastic climax scene, where McClane fights Stewart and Grant on the wing of the plane, then he blows it up! Okay, so, yeah, apparently it’s physically impossible for this scene to happen for like five different reasons, but unless you research it, you don’t really know it doesn’t work, so it’s just awesome.

Final thoughts.

This movie gets ragged on a lot for being terrible, but having watched it twice in three days, it’s a lot more enjoyable than I remember it being. The story is tight, the action is good, the good guys are good. The failings are that McClane doesn’t have chemistry with anyone but Holly, who’s on a plane most of the movie, and the villains are almost entirely uninteresting and unmemorable. I really think the lack of a compelling villain is the main problem with this movie.

Also, the film is also tainted a bit by the ‘80s, such as with people smoking in airplanes, faxes being new, phone booths… It’s like another world.

Die Hard With a Vengeance

Who is McClane McClane?

At the start of this movie McClane is a wreck. So much of a wreck, in fact, that he’s not in the first scene the way he is in the first two films. He’s back in New York City, divorced, hung over, suffering from a headache, and “two steps shy of becoming a full blown alcoholic.” He still smokes, but not in a chain like in the previous films. But that might be because he’s literally running around the whole time. He hasn’t been with a woman since he and Holly split. He calls Holly towards the end, but lets her go. He doesn’t seem to have a problem flying in the helicopter at the end.

What is at stake for him?

Nothing personal seems to be at stake for him. It of course finally comes down to him being the terrorist’s target because he killed his brother, so it’s more about saving face than saving someone/thing personal to him yet external to him.

What’s up with the villain?

Simon (Peter Simon Gruber) is Hans Gruber’s brother. At one point McClane says Simon is older, and there were a number of threads on the imdb asking how he knows this, and of course he most likely read their files and saw their birthdates. Simon creates an elaborate game designed to scare, weaken, challenge, and ultimately kill McClane in retaliation for Hans. Simon is clever, doesn’t like to be pushed, and suffers from migraines. We hear him from the first scene, yet don’t see him until 47 minutes into the film. Even with that, he’s so charismatic and has such a sexy accent it’s upsetting to see him die.

Who’s McClane’s sidekick?

Zeus Carver is a Good Samaritan who got caught up in McClane’s “wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He doesn’t trust white people. His motivation for saving McClane wasn’t to save McClane, it was to keep white cops out of Harlem. I think one reason this film is so appealing is because of the chemistry between McClane and Zeus. They argue, they don’t like each other, yet they work well together. McClane clearly cannot work without Zeus, as Zeus solves the puzzles Simon comes up with. Zeus even offers to give up his life to save McClane’s, to which McClane replies that he can’t live with that on his conscience. Zeus even convinces McClane to call Holly again.

What’s up with the government?

Actually, the government isn’t totally inept here. There aren’t any Feds, just McClane’s cop coworkers. And Simon does a good job of distracting all of them. Of course, in the alternate ending that didn’t make it to screen (see here) it’s postulated that the Feds thought McClane had something to do with the robbery and get McClane fired.

What’s the action like?

There are numerous bombs, and some gun fire, but compared to the first two, there isn’t that much going on action-wise. My favorite sequence is the race to get from the first pay phone (St. Ives riddle) to the Wall Street subway station. McClane and Zeus driving in the car is hilarious and tense and awesome. From there there’s a lot of time spent talking and on the school thing and watching the terrorists talk a lot. Then the final helicopter battle, which is pretty interesting yet a little short.

Final thoughts.

This one used to be my favorite Die Hard, which I’m attributing to Zeus and Simon and their individual chemistry and their chemistry with McClane. But the first one really does trump it, considering part of the appeal of Die Hard is its claustrophobic feel and one-against-them-all conflict. However, this third one is extremely entertaining, and I think overall more people enjoy it because it’s got a great cast and great lines.

Live Free Or Die Hard

Who is McClane McClane?

McClane is a 52-year-old senior detective for the NYPD. He lives in Brooklyn and has a mortgage and a 401k. He’s finally bald/shaven, and isn’t seen smoking. He took flying lessons to fight his fear, but skipped some lessons, and he’s still afraid. He’s depicted as completely techno-phobic. He has a poor relationship with his wife and kids, which doesn’t stop him from spying on Lucy. He seems more crazy here; he’s crazy in the other films, but he does that crazy-sounding laugh more, I think.

What is at stake for him?

Nothing personal is at stake for him at all (unless you count his country, which you really can’t) until Gabriel kidnaps Lucy. This puts his personal stakes right in the forefront.

What’s up with the villain?

Thomas Gabriel is a former government employee who “shut down NORAD with a laptop just to prove a point” when they didn’t listen to him. He’s oddly charismatic in a quietly neurotic way. I love the way he stares at people like “How are you really the best I could come up with to help me?” And the way he talks to people cracks me up, like he’s so unable to comprehend what’s wrong with people. “You got her? You sure?” His main helpers are Trey, who I’m pretty sure has a crush on him, based on the way he looks at him, and Mai, his “Asian hooker bitch” as McClane describes her. Trey is part brain and part hands, while Mai is brains and muscle. Oddly, since she’s so small. Like the other villains, he believes he’s infallible, which is of course his downfall.

Who’s McClane’s sidekick?

McClane works closely with Matt Farrell, a computer hacker he’s instructed to bring to Washington, DC. Matt provides the tech know-how that McClane completely lacks. They make a good team, though Matt begins the journey as completely hopeless, but he eventually comes into his own. He and McClane have a touching exchange about heroism and being “that guy.”

Other than Matt, McClane also enlists the help of Matt’s stereotypical computer geek friend, Warlock, and communicates with Agent Bowman of the FBI.

Interestingly enough, Matt is the only main sidekick who’s white, and the only one discounting Marv from Die Harder. I have no idea what this means. Actually, aside from Bowman and Mai, there aren’t any non-whites in this film that I can remember (oh, and Tim Russ playing a Fed briefly—on the commentary Len Wiseman says he’s some sort of Star Wars guy, which made me embarrassed for him, as Russ played Tuvok, a Vulcan on Star Trek: Voyager), while each of the other films has numerous non-white characters (well, in DHWaV, I’m counting Zeus more than I maybe should just because he has such a prominent role in the film).

What’s up with the government?

Well. I’m pretty sure the whole movie is one big PSA for “The American government sucks.” It’s the government’s fault that this all happened, and they do nothing to help. Bowman really just sits around and provides information once in a while, and the other guys don’t do jack except sit around on their hands. If they had spoken up about Woodlawn from the beginning, the whole problem could have been avoided.

What’s the action like?

Though there’s a lot of sitting around/driving, there are also numerous action sequences. There’s the shootout in Matt’s apartment, the helicopter chase scene and tunnel sequence, the fight between McClane and Mai in West Virginia, McClane and the French circus guy in the chilling tower, and then the ludicrous but totally-made-of-win jet/semi sequence at the end.

Final thoughts.

I know people refer to this one as “Die Hard Lite,” but actually, analyzing the action points more toward DHWaV as the lite one, this one just doesn’t have as much profanity. If it had more profanity it wouldn’t be light at all. McClane isn’t as snappy, but he’s also older and tired since he doesn’t sleep for two days. There are a few computer effects in this, but they’re done so well and sparingly that they’re barely noticeable, which is very refreshing in this day and age. The lovely claustrophobic feeling is missing entirely, except for the endless scenes of McClane and Matt driving around.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Who is McClane McClane?

McClane is a cop—he’s seen in street clothes on the shooting range, talking to another cop—who is likely near retirement, or should be soon. He seems tired and somewhat resigned, though whether that’s intentional for the character or a sign of Willis being tired is unknown.

What is at stake for him?

McClane heads to Moscow to learn why his son Jack is in jail. He and Jack haven’t seen each other in years, and apparently the last time they did, it didn’t go well at all. For once the threat isn’t in America, and there isn’t an American hostage, so family is the sole focus here. Once he has Jack and they are working together to save their lives, he has to keep Jack safe and also works on repairing their relationship, similar to the way McClane and Lucy are able to patch things up during the Fire Sale.

What’s up with the villain?

Another Die Hard movie where the villain is almost a non-person; I can’t even remember his name. But then, in a spy movie twist, the guy Jack and McClane are trying to protect, Yuri Kamarov, is actually pulling the strings on the “bad guys.” He and his daughter manipulated various parties in order to free him, and now they have weapons-grade uranium. Well, they would if Jack and McClane didn’t kill them both. The problem is that Yuri isn’t interesting, isn’t well-developed, and has zero chemistry with McClane. It’s also strange that their communication and relationship isn’t developed over the radio/phone the way McClane learns about and communicates with the villains in the other films.

Who’s McClane’s side kick?

Jack, obviously. He and McClane are able to put their father-son dysfunction to the side in order to team up and help each other fill in the other’s missing skills. Jack is a spy, and had been on a mission of three years when McClane showed up and screwed everything up.

What’s up with the government?

Because the film takes place in Russia, the American government doesn’t exactly have a presence. However, after McClane delays Jack, the CIA pulls back from the mission, leaving Jack to try to get to the safe house. The safe house itself gets attacked, and Jack’s partner dies. McClane mentions going to the embassy, but Jack points out the safe house was compromised and the same thing would happen at the embassy.

What’s the action like?

For a movie that’s only 98 minutes long, there’s a lot of action. There’s the assault on the courthouse, the interminable and ridiculous car chase through Moscow, the shootout at the safe house, the shootout at the hotel and McClane and Jack’s following escape down the side of the building, and then of course the final Chernobyl scene. The problem with all of big action sequences is that they are completely over the top and unrealistic, which takes away some of the fun. McClane especially is not immortal, and between being flipped in a car, falling down a building, and thrown through a window, he should barely be able to walk if he doesn’t die right there. I love the guy, but even in Die Hard he barely makes it out alive, and that was 25 years ago.

Final thoughts.

Unlike most action films I’ve reviewed for my site, A Good Day to Die Hard is very short, yet has numerous big action scenes. It also manages to squeeze in a pointless scene or two, specifically the scene with McClane chatting up the cab driver. I fully believed that the scene meant McClane would have to work with him later in the movie, but we never see him again. Yes, because of their conversation McClane knew the highway was always busy, so Yuri’s daughter couldn’t have taken the route, meaning she’s lying, but still. There could have been a short exchange to provide McClane with that information. My other main gripe is the endless handheld camera work. I know it’s an effect used to convey tension and immediacy, but it also forces the viewer to constantly adjust himself in space. It’s also easier to get lost in the film when not constantly reminded that you’re watching through a camera that’s bouncing around. So, while A Good Day to Die Hard has some good points, like McClane and Jack working together (Jack overall is very fun to watch) or the return of the R rating, there are some decisions, such as pacing and cinematography, that I think should have gone a different direction. But I do love the helicopter being part of the climax!

I’ll also point out that A Good Day to Die Hard is the only movie that doesn’t end right after the final scene, with McClane in or near an ambulance or having just received treatment. The film ends oddly happily, as McClane is reunited with both of his children. It’s almost possible to imagine this is the beginning of the final chapter for McClane, and that perhaps he’ll retire and spend time with his family. But isn’t there a Die Hard 6 in the works?

Conclusion

So, the Die Hards overall. They’re very enjoyable for a variety of reasons. But what makes a Die Hard? McClane’s quips, improvisation, and attitude. Action. Liberal use of profanity. Chemistry between McClane and his sidekicks. Compelling and even sexy villains that have good chemistry with McClane, which is possibly the most important facet after action. And helicopters!

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About abcsofaction

I'm a girl and a fan of action movies, two things that a lot of people think are mutually exclusive. I assure you there are plenty of us, and that we do know what we're talking about when it comes to what makes a good--or terrible--action flick. My articles will run the gamut from A to Z of action movies, and my goal is to be informative as well as amusing. Enjoy!

Posted on September 28, 2013, in Miscellaneous Posts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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