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(1988) received good notices upon its original release, but it's now regarded as something of a flawless pop classic—a perfectly crafted, mass-appeal genre movie like Back to the Future
or Raiders of the Lost Ark
. While the original film is very good, and notable for all manner of ways "they" neglect to make "them" like that these days—a slow rollout with ample character development; clean, easy-to-follow, but still tense action sequences that flow through the story rather than showy set pieces that screech it to a halt—I'm not sure if it quite deserves its rep. If you revel in clichés, you can probably get past or even love the way Paul Gleason's deputy chief of police character functions as the proverbial crusty old dean at every turn: he exists only to provide bluster and antagonism, and to be absolutely wrong about everything (this was a focal point of Roger Ebert's too-harsh but vaguely understandable thumbs-down review back in 88). For a lean, efficient action movie, Die Hard
has a lot of superfluous and underwritten characters that no one really considers when fondly recalling Bruce Willis becoming a movie star, Alan Rickman playing his first great bad guy role, and the dad from Family Matters
buddying up with McClane over the walkie-talkie. Die Hard
served as a template for future action movies, but while it still plays great after 25 years, it also feels of a template itself, while fellow pure-pleasure classics like Back to the Future
have the additional energy of originality. Still, the movie is great fun, very rewatchable, and fascinating as a document of Willis's transition from actor to movie star, paralleling McClane's stepping up from fish-out-of-water cop to action hero.