Die Hard (1988) Review

Picture this. An everyday guy, trapped in a skyscraper with foreign terrorists, thirty plus hostages (one being his wife), and inept law enforcement making a mess of the place.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s Die Hard!

Even those who haven’t seen the 1988 action classic know the plot, because it’s been replicated time and time again by countless films that only manage to exist in its shadow. Films like Under Siege and White House Down mimic the style and setup of Die Hard but they both that the substance and emotion it brings to the table.

Really, Die Hard is an anomalous movie for me. Outward appearances would chalk it up to be a standard action picture of the 80’s, and not the pinnacle flick of the decade. There’re movies like Aliens, The Terminator and The Empire Strikes Back, yet Die Hard frequently ranks as number one. There’s a reason for that, and I think it starts with the characters.

One thing I’ve always loved about this movie was the villains, mostly because each is unique and memorable despite having minimal screen time and restricted dialogue. There’s the goofy tech guy drilling the vault, the Asian guy who awkwardly grabs the chocolate bar, and the two blonde European brothers with a bloodlust. Where the filmmakers could’ve easily just written in generic bad guys, they instead gave us something a little more.

And who could forget Alan Rickman’s role as Hans Gruber, the charmingly devious mastermind behind the heist. Clad in an expensive suit and tie, Gruber’s a tad cleverer than your average bear. His methodology comes across as sophisticated and complex, and when I first saw Die Hard, I thought his motives would be intricate. Yet, his master plan is quite the contrary, as he’s nothing more than a common thief looking for a big payout. What a villain.

And with that we’re left with John McClane. The badass. The hero. The everyman. There’s no better guy for the job than 1980’s Bruce Willis. With every memorable punch, gun shot, and one liner he makes, I just want to throw my fist in the air and shout machismo nonsense. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, Willis is an emblem of the masculine hero archetype. But more importantly, he represents a flawed but morally just man willing to sidestep corrupt authority figures in the name of justice. Isn’t that something we all could get behind?

I’ve spent so much time writing about the many personalities that inhabit Die Hard that I didn’t even mention the wonderful writing and direction. The film takes all the right twists and turns, with several reveals that continue to up the ante over time.

One unique thing I’ve always noticed about Die Hard is John McClane’s deteriorating condition as the film progresses. He goes from perfect shape to beaten, battered, and bloodied. That’s something you don’t see even modern action flicks doing too often, and it’s interesting seeing the change in McClane over the span of the movie. Again, it calls back to how much work was put into making Bruce Willis’s character a relatable, tangible human.

You know, there’s an age-old debate about whether this is technically a Christmas movie, since it takes place on Christmas but doesn’t have that much to do with the holiday. While I remain on the “Pro-Christmas” side of things, I think the argument itself speaks to the degree at which people hold Die Hard. It’s pretty much universally held as an action masterpiece, and there aren’t many who criticize its status.

Die Hard is a yearly watch for me, and I recommend it become one for you too.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Skyscraper Review: Dwayne Johnson With a Vengeance

Dwayne Johnson’s new action flick Skyscraper is a hard movie to put a finger on. I guess it’s best summed up by the following two words: ridiculous and inconsequential.

As many have pointed out, the plot of Skyscraper mimics the basic formula of Die Hard: action guy (Dwayne Johnson) in tower fights European terrorists in order to save family (his wife being played by Neve Campbell). The plot attempts to get deeper than this, but overall it doesn’t stray from this premise.

Several obvious MacGuffins, Deus ex Machinas, and other overused tropes make Skyscraper a painfully standard action movie. It borrows every last detail from other films that have already done these ideas much better. It’s sterile, Hollywood green screen look is matched only by its lifeless acting and countless inconsequential scenes.

A character will double cross Johnson, only to be killed moments later. Johnson will be seriously wounded and must perform first aid on himself, only to be perfectly fine in the following scene. Someone pivotal to the story will be introduced into the film, only to be forgotten entirely.

In the end it’s all filler gunk that has no real impact on the convoluted and not well-thought-out plot.

As strange as it is, there were multiple instances where the film set itself up for some great foreshadowing. Particularly the opening scene (where Dwayne loses his leg) and the climax (the final showdown with the villain), both of which were formatted similarly. So similar in fact that I hoped they’d make an insightful comparison to the two scenes, maybe about how Dwayne had grown as a person and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But no, they squandered that potential too. They instead try and top the memorable ending to Die Hard by adding in a death scene so corny, so over the top, that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

One of the most astonishing mistakes that Skyscraper flaunts happened whenever Dwayne would leap off a ledge and catch himself safely on the other side. You could actually see his hands completely miss the ledge in the first shot yet cut to him magically catching the ledge in the next. It may sound minor, but this little goof-up is basic editing that the makers of Skyscraper carelessly neglected.

The sloppy editing was incredibly consistent, becoming the biggest nuisances of the film. Action scenes were choppy and often not very satisfying to watch. What’s worse is sometimes the screen would go dark during intense fighting sequences, which coupled with the bad editing made Skyscraper an incoherent mess.

The most enjoyable part of Skyscraper is just accepting the nonsensical nature of the film and watching Johnson live through the impossible. Leaping off exploding buildings, hoisting himself up by thin pieces of rope, defying gravity, Dwayne Johnson is probably the most impermeable action hero I’ve ever seen.

Nevertheless, even this easygoing mindset had its limitations.

Ultimately my feelings towards Skyscraper are ones of confusion and amazement. 125 million dollars spent on a cheap Die Hard knock-off with terrible editing, so-so effects, and a cheesy script. And for what purpose? I refuse to believe for a second they thought this could make its money back. Dwayne Johnson can bring in a lot of money (as we’ve seen with Rampage and Central Intelligence), but there’s no way he can save this film.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint