Geoff Manaugh at Bldgblog argues that Die Hard is “one of the best architectural films of the past 25 years.” After a short but revealing look at the urban tactics of Israeli soldiers, he lays out his case:
Die Hard asks naive but powerful questions: If you have to get from A to B—that is, from the 31st floor to the lobby, or from the 26th floor to the roof—why not blast, carve, shoot, lockpick, and climb your way there, hitchhiking rides atop elevator cars and meandering through the labyrinthine, previously unexposed back-corridors of the built environment?
Why not personally infest the spaces around you?
The only problem, Manaugh notes, is that Die Hard‘s sequels didn’t live up to the promise of the original — not just as a well-played action movie, but in continuing this exploration of urban space. “An alternative-history plot for a much better Die Hard 2 could thus perhaps include a scene in which the rescuing squad of John McClane-led police officers does not even know what building they are in, a suitably bewildering encapsulation of this method of moving undetected through the city… ‘Walking through walls’ thus becomes a kind of militarized parkour.”
I think Manaugh (like most fans) is a little too hard on the Die Hard franchise here, particularly Die Hard: With A Vengeance, which actually did try to make the McClane magic work across NYC. What’s motoring across Central Park (sending picnicers scrambling) or driving along the NYC aqueduct other than extending this “move at at all costs” to the city? That movie’s fine; people just didn’t like the title.
Manaugh points out a number of other action films — say, The Bourne Ultimatum — pick up this challenge. But in a way, the real sequel to Die Hard was The Fugitive. I caught The Fugitive on cable recently, and was surprised how enjoyable it is. Watch that movie again, and watch how Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble pulls every McClane trick and uses the entire city of Chicago in the second half of the film — hospitals, jails, underpasses, elevated trains, parades — impersonating one character after another at the margins of the city’s infrastructure, simultaneously fleeing capture and performing his own investigation. It’s even more impressive, in some ways, because Kimble almost never has a gun, and can’t pull off the same physical acrobatics as an NYC cop who’s probably 10-15 years younger.
It’s actually really good. And Chicago looks great in that movie; totally like itself.