Is there a more enjoyable action film than Die Hard ?
It’s seriously hard to think of any other film which has managed to so perfectly blend together explosive action, taut suspense and genuine humour. All of which is held together by an action hero as likeably down in his luck as cop John McLane – portrayed with a sublime mix of blue-collar normality and wise cracking heroism by Bruce Willis.
Pitting the New York cop against a gang of elite European terrorists, Die Hard’s simple but effective plot is propelled by the claustrophobic setting of the Nakatomi Plaza and the tight direction by John McTiernan (Predator). Willis doesn’t have Arnie’s bulging Pecs, Seagal’s martial arts skils or even Chuck Norris’ grizzled features. Instead, Die Hard gives us a hero whom we can all relate to – often realistically complaining about the dire situation at hand, showing signs of pain and emotional heartache, and yes, being a bit of a wiseass.
You can’t help but root for McLane as he fights his way through the many floors of the Nakatomi Plaza, attempting to thwart the plans of evil terrorist leader Hans Gruber – portrayed in an equally memorable performance by the wonderful Alan Rickman. Calm and collected but also quietly sadistic, Rickman paved the way for the obligatory euro-baddie – in the same way that Willis changed the action hero forever.
It’s also the original Die Hard which remains the highlight of this new Blu-ray box set – still as exiting a two hours of cinema that you’ll ever see. Few action films are as rewatchable, well acted and as groundbreaking as Die Hard. It pretty much single-handedly set the template for the slew of one man against the odds films that followed throughout the ‘90s.
Die Hard is even now considered a classic Christmas movie – recently being voted in a poll of top holiday movies alongside such films as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Muppet Christmas Carol. Let’s face it, Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without the sound of Vaughn Monroe singing Let it Snow after two action-packed hours of festive carnage and muddy funsters.
Die Hard 2 followed a mere two years later, and sadly can’t help but suffer from difficult second album syndrome. It spends most of its running time shamelessly retreading the first film, while even McLane himself can’t help but moan about the ‘same guy, same shit’ routine which Die Hard 2 pedals through. The filmmakers should also take note that if you want your villain to be fearsome, don’t introduce him in a scene where he’s doing funny exercises in the nude.
It’s also somewhat problematic that the claustrophobic Nakatomi Plaza is replaced with a massive airport, while Renny Harlin‘s (Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) workmanlike direction leaves the film struggling to equal the sheer tension of McTiernan‘s original. It’s certainly an entertaining way to spend two hours, but Die Hard 2 is probably the weakest of the four films, lacking its own identity and simply trying too hard to match the thrills of the original, beat for beat.
Thankfully, John McTiernan returned to the series in 1995, giving us the true sequel which Die Hard deserved – Die Hard with a Vengeance. Rather than making the same mistake that Harlin made, McTiernan rejuvenates the series with a completely different style, giving us a wild buddy comedy which sees McLane and Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus breathlessly zigzagging their way around New York – defusing bombs and solving riddles.
You’ve even got a scenery chewing Jeremy Irons, playing Hans Gruber’s vengeful stuttering brother Simon – at one point delivering one of the worst American accents ever heard on film. While it’s a vast improvement on Die Hard 2, With a Vengeance still has some of its own problems which keep it from quite reaching the highs of Die Hard, but it moves along at such a breakneck pace you’ll hardly notice. The interaction between Willis and Jackson is effortlessly fun to watch, and the film features some of the funniest dialogue of the entire series.
Finally, there’s Die Hard 4.0 (also known in the US as Live Free or Die Hard) which is surprisingly more enjoyable than it probably aught to be. Pairing up an aging McClane with Justin Long’s young cyber hacker, Die Hard 4.0 earns points for ingeniously keeping John McLane as a Credence loving old-skool hero, while the world around him continues to evolve.
There was some minor controversy over the decision to tone down the hard edges of the series for softer PG-13 rating, but in all honesty, Die Hard 4 comes through as a fairly enjoyable – if uninspired – entry in the series. Timothy Olyphant’s villain might be entirely forgettable, and the action is often ridiculous (plane surfing!?) but Die Hard 4.0 is a perfectly serviceable romp, pushed along by Bruce Willis’ return to the role which defined his career.
While the first Die Hard might be the only film in the set which truly deserves to be considered a masterpiece, you’ll be hard pressed to find a collection of four films which offer as many high-octane thrills as those featured here. Let’s just hope that the forthcoming ‘A Good Day To Die Hard’ doesn’t drop the ball.
Die Hard Rating:
Die Hard 2: Die Harder Rating:
Die Hard with a Vengance Rating:
Die Hard 4.0 Rating:
Only Die Hard and its first sequel Die Hard 2 were allocated to us for review, but on the basis of these two disks, the transfers here are pretty decent. The images are crisp and clear – with Die Hard showcasing Gordon Willis’ musky and glowing cinematography and Die Hard 2’s clean and crisp image complimenting the snowy exteriors of Dulles Airport. While we can’t say for sure, it’s a safe bet that Die Hard 4.0 is the most impressive of the set due to its recent age.
Sadly there’s nothing on these disks which hasn’t already been included on previous releases of the four movies. You’ve got the usual batch of commentaries, trailers and making-ofs, while Die Hard 4.0 also gets an enjoyable interview between Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith – which is especially interesting following the recent public feud between the two during the production of Cop-Out.
While there’s plenty here for fans to enjoy – if they’ve not already seen it all – it’s a real shame that there’s nothing new. Furthermore, some previous features have been mysteriously removed, such as an enjoyably silly ‘interactive scene editing’ feature from Die Hard.
With two bona-fide action classics and another two flawed but perfectly enjoyable entries, the Die Hard Quadrilogy box set brings the franchise to Blu-ray with solid presentation and a decent – if rather underwhelming – smattering of bonus content.
Welcome to the party, pal.
The Die Hard Quadrilogy is available now on Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment.