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Cinevangelism Christmas Special: In Defense of Die Hard (1988)

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
December 22, 2022

Cinevangelism is a column by Senior Journalist Evangeline Robins where she evaluates films in a qualitative, subjective style through anecdotes, recollection, and prosaic narration. With the intention of challenging conventional practices of film studies and criticism through the medium of the personal essay, Evan employs minimal research but an abundance of self-assured egoism. With these weapons at her disposal, Evangeline deftly weaves disparate threads into a tapestral counter-canon to the ideological hegemony of high-art and good taste.

Cinevangelism Christmas Special: In Defense of Die Hard (1988)

Reading the title of this sophomoric column, you may well be asking yourself: 

“Ms. Robins, How can you have a Christmas Special for a series which is yet to even have two instalments?”

To this I say: “Wow, my strawmen are getting really vocal!” Though, to answer the question, dear reader (and to paraphrase Ryo Asuka from the English dub of 1972’s Devilman): I don’t give a shit. Conventions can go fuck themselves.

While I’m at it, Christmas movies can too.

Apart from the usual spectres of past, present, and future which haunt the festive time of winter, one in particular looms large in the cultural consciousness: the Christmas movie. This much-hallowed late-Capitalist institution serves as a thankless reminder of the consumptive rot that baggages this otherwise pleasant time of pageantry. Cards on the table: I am not a Christian. As a matter of fact, I read Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science in the twelfth grade, which is how you know I was fun to hang out with! Any affection for this most expensive of all holidays is more so out of habit than any religious devotion, or fondness for the Coca-Cola company’s corporate rebranding thereof. Maybe I’m just a bad Celt for not properly celebrating Alban Arthan, or else partaking in the Mari Lwyd like a real Welsh woman. However, the Big Other is a cruel mistress and I remain much-beholden to her whims. Prefixes and disclaimers thus made, I’m more than willing to suspend my morals for a paycheck in this particular instance, especially if it means getting a few good shots in at Christmas movies on the way. 

Most of these films are admittedly shit anyway — the cinematic equivalent of the frivolous licensed shovelware which plagued video game consoles of the early noughties. In strikingly similar fashion to the B-movies and slasher flicks for which I profess admiration, Christmas movies rarely seem held to any sincere metric of quality, the only difference being that I personally cannot fucking stand them. That said, there certainly are exceptions to this rule. The first film I reviewed in this series was itself a “Christmas” film, despite my reviewing it for reasons altogether divorced from its seasonal setting. Hell, Christmas slashers are themselves a somewhat tasteless variety of schlock in which I obviously take delight, though I can’t in good conscience recommend you watch Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 with your grandmother.

What I mean to say is that “Good Christmas Movies” are not so much good movies as much as they are tolerable in comparison to the abominable standards of their generic contemporaries. The mere inclusion of the most tenuous Christmas connection is itself often enough to excuse threadbare writing, languid performances, and camera work worse than that found in an undergraduate film workshop. Sadly, so long as the tinsel-trimmed money machine keeps printing, they’ll probably keep making ‘em anyways, so I might as well talk about one I like.

Much has been mused by people paid much more than myself about what makes a “good” Christmas movie. Being set at Christmas does certainly seem to help, as does a heartwarming story about family reunion. The presence of Alan Rickman has certainly never been a hindrance to a seasonal outing. The artefact I’m describing is not, however, the utter drivel which is 2003’s repugnant Love Actually. Rather, with these standards in mind, the Defense calls to the stand none other than John McTiernan’s 1988 film, Die Hard

Per the metrics established, Die Hard possesses all the necessary qualities of a good Christmas movie. It is, for all intents and purposes, a film about a man rekindling his relationship with his estranged wife on Christmas Eve, in which Alan Rickman also plays a supporting role. That the principal plot mechanisms in service of this story involve that same man being involuntarily trapped in a terrorist-occupied skyscraper waging a one-man war with only his bare feet and a machine gun only serves as the cherry on top of the proverbial Yuletide cake. 

Die Hard owns. It owns so fucking much. 

I have watched Die Hard every single year on Christmas Eve for as many years as I can recollect, and it still kicks a metric truck-full of ass upon each rewatch. No movie (save Mad Max: Fury Road) can squeeze as much dopamine out of my wrinkly little brain with just a Notes App’s worth of dialogue and a cornucopia of practical explosions as this subject of my annual hyperfixation. That literally the least online person you know can likely recall John McClane (Bruce Willis)’s immortal “yippee ki-yay” quip is testimony to the film’s imminent quotability. Each word that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) utters in this film is delivered with tenfold the finesse that Will Ferrel has managed to muster over his entire career. Should you be so unlucky as to find yourself in my kitchen at any point during the month of December, there’s a considerable chance I will wax prosaic about Die Hard (at length) joining the myriad family members, roommates, close friends, and now-ex girlfriends who’ve been subjected to the one and only seasonal outing I actually enjoy.

Die Hard is first and foremost a compelling watch because of all the incredible craft which went into its construction. Any weirdo you hang out with who likes to talk about lenses, dollies, or practical effects will certainly have a field day with this film. Everything that blows up in this film they actually blew up with actual explosives, and boy does that turn me on! For God’s sake, Die Hard’s Director of Photography, Jan de Bont made Speed (itself the best Die Hard sequel), Twister, and what I assume would have been the best American Godzilla movie, had Sony given him the budget to do so! People love to claim in Mad-Libs fashion that such-and-such a movie about a tough guy trapped in a cramped space is just “Die Hard in/on/at [noun],” though in doing so they highlight one of this movie’s greatest assets: Die Hard possesses the superb spatial geometry of a video game. So meticulous is the shot continuity in this film that you can follow our protagonist in Metal Gear-esque fashion as he Solid Snakes his way throughout the Nakatomi Tower. So possessing of a Killzone-like, Call of Duty level geometry is McTiernan’s masterpiece (then again, most of his films are) that they LITERALLY PUT IT IN CALL OF DUTY.

Perhaps part of this fondness which I profess for an admittedly stupid movie is the fact that it actually feels like a movie — the fact is, so many Christmas movies simply don’t. Despite the reputed nostalgic qualities of the Rankin/Bass Christmas catalogue (and my own love of all forms of animation), Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer feels like an aimless exercise in venerating the idea of Christmas, a thematic motif that recurs across most every Holiday outing to this day (yes, including Elf). Even Doctor Who fans can admit that the Christmas Specials are, without fail, the worst episode of any given season (though the surprisingly horrific “Last Christmas” is really, very good); the best thing Chris Chibnall ever did for the show was axing them outright. By comparison, having even the most thread-bare of all Intro-to-English-Lit plot structures that does not wholly hinge upon “the spirit of Christmas,” qualifies Die Hard as “an actual movie,” a quality which you might be surprised to hear that I deign to seek in my televisual entertainment. 

These days it sometimes feels as though our brains have been so thoroughly kneaded like yule logs that we forget we should expect quality from our entertainment. Perhaps we are just so used to eating saccharine yuletide garbage from this waste receptacle named ideology that we are beginning to think we like it! Regardless, my more obnoxious and abrasive inclinations will never let you forget that I have an opinion, and you deserve to hear it.

Hi, I’m Evangeline Robins. Did you know you have the right to good movies? The Criterion Collection says you do, and so do I! I believe that until exposed to a Marvel Studios film, every man, lesbian, and film student in this country deserves entertainment which doesn’t suck!

In a 2021 Letterboxd review, I called myself a “Die Hard agnostic.” Today I rectify that. Die Hard is not only an excellent Christmas movie, it is also the only good Christmas movie at all. Yes, it’s stupid, but unless you’re a freak like me who uses the month of December to subject her father to all manner of psychologically damaging horror fare, it’ll probably be the best thing you watch all month. At the very least, Die Hard is a movie you can have fun with. Considering December’s tendency for immiserating weather and family gatherings you wish you didn’t have to take part in, that can hardly be a bad thing. If nothing else, this movie whose script I have altogether memorized proves a pleasantly familiar (bordering on religious) ritual. Isn’t that just what Christmas is all about?

With little in the way of competition, Die Hard retains its crown; unimpeachably the best Christmas-adjacent film of all time — until Metal Gear Solid VI: Snakedozer (or whatever the fuck Hideo Kojima inevitably calls it) lets me fly a helicopter across the Siberian tundra blasting “Carol of the Bells,” over the PA, that is.

The Defense rests.

BREAKING ARTHUR EXCLUSIVE: Hideo Kojima offers a sneak preview of the upcoming sixth Metal Gear Solid game, Snakedozer, to me and me alone!
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