‘Die Hard’ Plot Summary
Die Hard is not the quintessential American Christmas movie. That claim probably more accurately rests with “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” or “A Christmas Story.” And while Die Hard contains some non-traditional Christmas elements like Japanese businessmen, German terrorists, guns, explosions, and fight scenes, Die Hard has, nevertheless, left an indelible mark on holiday-Americana. You see, Die Hard gave us a Christmas greeting that has so permeated American holiday culture that you hear it every time you walk into a department store around the holidays or go to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner or go to Church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve – Yippe kai yay motherfucker.
Die Hard is a story about New York cop John McClane, played by Bruce Willis who, at the time was best known as the wise-cracking private investigator David Addison who played opposite an always glowing Cybill Shepard on television’s Moonlighting. Moonlighting ran for a respectable 66 episodes over five seasons and won Emmy’s and Golden Globes and People’s Choice awards. From this, Willis makes the jump to mega-action star. Today that would be like John Krasinski transitioning from quirky Jim Halpert on the Office to Hollywood shoot-em-up boy.
Die Hard opens with McClane flying cross-country from New York to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife, Holly Gennero McClane, who took a fancy job with a Japanese corporation in LA. Holly has apparently invited McClane out to LA to rub his face in the glory of her success so that he’ll see how wrong he was for forcing her to be the subservient housewife McClane pushed her to be back in New York.
McClane is met at the airport by limo-driver Argyle, who parlayed his success here into a full-time gig as Aristotle on the Howard Hessman led television show, “Head of the Class.” Upon arriving at Holly’s office, the Nakatomi company Christmas party is in full swing, complete with bad hair, bad mustaches, and even worse 80s sweaters. McClane meets Holly’s boss, Mr. Takagi, who takes McClane to Holly’s office to wait for her. There we meet the cocaine-snorting prick Ellis. Why a huge Japanese company like Nakatomi tolerates a prick like Ellis is beyond me. The guy is rude, arrogant, slimy, and fueled solely by glitz and cocaine. No one is sad to see him die later on.
John and Holly find some space for John to clean up, and they jump right back into “let’s argue about our lousy marriage” mode. In the midst of this argument, Holly is taken away to make a speech at the company party. While John continues to clean up, a hoarde of German terrorists with semi-automatic weapons seize control of the party. McClane escapes thanks to the cliché’d appearance of a couple screwing in the office next door, which diverts the terrorists’ attention just enough for him to run to the exit and up the stairs (but before he thinks to grab his shoes).
We learn soon thereafter that in this pre-internet era, a terrorist can learn everything about a person except what he looks like. Thank god for pictures on the internet now. The leader of the terrorists is the very-well-dressed Severus Snape. Instead of whipping out his wand and conjuring up some imperius charm on Takagi to get the codes to the on-site vault to steal $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds, he asks Takagi to reveal the codes. When Takagi can’t give the codes to open the vault, Snape shoots him in the head, and the nerdy black guy sidekick has to use his adept computer skills to crack the code. Why Snape didn’t just blast open the vault with a reducto spell is beyond me.
McClane meanwhile is running around without his shoes causing trouble. He has occasional run-ins with terrorists, kills some, steals their “det-tonators” and in general disrupts what would have otherwise been a very smooth plan (aside from the fact that the plan all along involved blowing up the roof of a building).
The first policeman to arrive on scene is Urkel’s next-door-neighbor, Carl Winslow (but for some reason goes by Sgt Al Powell here). Powell and McClane form a CB-radio bond, talking about their problems, their fears, their past tragedies. They basically ignore the fact that anyone with a radio tuned to that same channel could be listening in, eavesdropping on this blossoming friendship. But they don’t care. Their bromance is forming, and here, now, tonight, that’s all that matters.
More cops arrive on scene, and the teacher in charge of Saturday detention from the Breakfast Club, played by Paul Gleason, is the cop-in-charge. Much like his character from the Breakfast Club, his purpose here is to look stupid so that other characters can look clever, or smart, or more all-together with it.
After some failed attempts by the LA cops to enter the building, the FBI finally arrives on scene, just as Snape wants it. He sends them on a wild goose chase, asking for the freedom of his imprisoned brothers-in-arms from Azkaban prison. He also asks for a helicopter to fly away with the hostages. The tricky FBI, however, plans to double-cross the terrorists by shooting them all to hell, just like in Saigon. Unbeknownst to the FBI, however, the terrorists plan to double-double cross them by not even being on the roof when it is shot to hell like Saigon. Instead, the terrorists plan to detonate the roof with the oft-referred to det-tonators and a load of C4.
While McClane continues to cause trouble for the terrorists, and while the nerdy black guy continues to work on the vault, Snape makes his way to the roof to check on the C4 wiring. When there, he runs into barefoot McClane. Faking an American accent, Snape claims to be “Bill Clay” and boasts of adeptness at paintball – a trait that will most certainly come in handy fighting German terrorist wizards. McClane gives Snape/Clay a gun and the two go off together. Snape then snaps back to terrorist mode, revealing his trickery and tries to shoot McClane. But McClane for the win! The gun he gave Snape didn’t have any bullets. But instead of just shooting him dead right there, McClane somehow botches that, and barely escapes himself without getting killed, though his bare feet get severely bloodied when Karl “shoots the glass.”
Snape doesn’t much care, however, because he has his det-tonators back. They wire the roof to blow, and plan their escape in an ambulance parked in the garage. McClane and Karl get into a no-holds-barred fight, with McClane eventually killing Karl by hanging him on some conveniently placed chain. McClane goes to the roof and directs all of the hostages back downstairs just as the FBI helicopter swoops in. Snape blows the roof, and McClane escapes in the nick of time thanks to a fire hose. The FBI guys perish in the blast, however, a lot like Saigon.
McClane makes his way back to the 30th floor where he hears Snape and Holly arguing. McClane is almost out of bullets, is bloodied, sweaty, and hurting. But damn does he look good. Meanwhile, down in the garage, Argyle takes out the nerdy black dude with the worst knock-out punch in the history of movie making. Flash back upstairs, and we see McClane confronting Snape, who is holding a gun to Holly’s head. McClane drops his own machine gun, and Snape repeats the Christmas greeting back to McClane (though in a really bad accent this time – yippy kai yay motherfuckkkkerrrr.). McClane pulls the gun he has taped to his back, shoots Snape and the other terrorist, and saves the day. Snape falls out of a window in slow motion (probably thanks to his wizarding skills), and McClane and Holly embrace, revealing their true love for one another as Holly doesn’t even seem to care that McClane is bloody and sweaty, and probably really stinky at this point. If that ain’t true love, I don’t know what is.
Downstairs, Urkel’s neighbor has one last act of heroism left in the movie as he kills the terrorist Karl who, despite being strangled by McClane earlier and despite being hung around his neck by a chain 20 feet off the ground, and despite being a few feet from the roof when it blew up, somehow makes his way downstairs, intent on avenging the death of his brother. Urkel’s neighbor shows the true meaning of Christmas, redeeming himself for killing that kid all those years ago. See, if you kill a terrorist who is about to kill your bromance, it makes up for killing an unarmed kid in the dark, and that is the true meaning of Christmas. The movie ends with Holly cold-cocking the reporter Dick Thornton as McClane and Holly retreat into the limo and kiss as Argyle drives them away to the sounds of Let It Snow (ignoring the fact that is Los Angeles). Yippy Kay Yay Motherfucker to all and to all a good night!
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