MCCLANE: Come out to the coast. We'll get together, have a few laughs… Now I know what a TV dinner looks like.
This is not the first time McClane talks to himself. And it certainly won't be the last. His snarky soliloquies serve two purposes: (1) They highlight his vulnerabilities. He often talks to himself in quiet moments and particularly dire situations, showing just how alone and up you-know-what creek he is. (2) They show us that McClane's sense of identity and self worth come from a rather sarcastic place. When faced with a dicey situation, he wisecracks, rather than despairs. This is not a guy who's in touch with his feelings. This is a guy whose snark helps him survive.
MCCLANE: I figured since I waxed Tony and Marco and his friend here, I figured you, and Karl, and Franco might be a little lonely, so I wanted to give you a call.
In his first conversation with Hans, McClane lays his cards out on the table, in a snarky attempt to shift the power dynamics of their relationship. He uses a slang term for killing—"waxed"—and lets Hans know that he's not sitting as pretty as he thought he was. McClane has managed to shake up Hans's carefully crafted world. And the conversation that ensues after he drops this info is full of masculine posturing. You know, "who's the real man here?" type stuff.
MCCLANE: I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers, actually. I really like those sequined shirts.
GRUBER: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?
MCCLANE: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.
McClane's manliness is also tied to his class. Dude's a down-home cowboy cop, not some fancy criminal in a luxurious suit. He's thoroughly working class, and his tastes make that known. Even while he references a decidedly unmanly outfit—Roy Rogers's sequined shirts—he does so in a way that lets him know he's secure in his own awesomeness. Just to seal the deal, he drops that famous one-liner, calling Gruber a "motherfucker," even as Gruber calls him "mister."
ELLIS: Hans. Bubbe. I'm your white knight.
This is not Ellis's finest moment, but you can bet he thinks it is. Ellis's sense of masculinity is defined by his ability to walk into any situation and wheel and deal. But the problem here is that he's in way over his head.
AGENT JOHNSON: I'm Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation.
CHIEF ROBINSON: I'm, uh, I'm Dwayne Robinson, LAPD. I'm in charge here.
SPECIAL AGENT JOHNSON: Not anymore.
Chief Robinson used to be a big fish in a big pond. He introduces himself earlier on in the movie as Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson, and now he's shortened that a bit. It looks like when the terse, take-charge FBI guys show, his masculinity takes a hit.
MCCLANE: Tell her that, um, she's the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me. She's heard me say "I love you" a thousand times. She never heard me say "I'm sorry." I want you to tell her that, Al. Tell her that John said that he was sorry.
Johnny's feelin' the feels. Part of his character arc in the Die Hard storyline is learning how to get in touch with his feelings so that he can be a better husband to his wife and a better dad to his kids. It's a good thing he's got Al around to help him out.
MCCLANE: Hang on, honey. Hang on, baby.
Even while he's bruised, bloody, and, um, shot, McClane's still the manly hero, coming to rescue his damsel in distress. Which reminds us of another important facet of McClane's masculinity—he's a family man. Sure, he may not be the best family man, but at least he's trying … now.
MCCLANE: Happy trails, Hans.
Just as McClane says this, he blows the smoke away from his spent Beretta like an honest-to-goodness cowboy. With this line, McClane puts the nail in the coffin of Gruber's educated, well-dressed, old-world masculinity. He's proven once and for all that a real man wears sad khakis, smokes like a chimney, and swears every chance he gets.
GRUBER: I wanted this to be professional. Efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life.
Well that's… tacky. Gruber talks about the fact that he blew Takagi away at point-blank range as if the old executive just missed an appointment. The dry, calm, and coy way in which Gruber relays this tells us that this is not a man who cares about how much pain he causes. He's pretty cavalier about the whole "I just killed a guy" thing.
MARCO: You are done. No more table. Where are you going, pal? Next time you have the chance to kill someone, don't hesitate.
MCCLANE: Thanks for the advice.
Wisecracking McClane strikes again. He's just killed a guy, and he's already dropping snarky comments. Does this trivialize the death that's just occurred? Or do we even care, because we're so invested in McClane's survival?
MCCLANE: Hans, you motherfucker, you made your point. Let 'em pull back!
GRUBER: Thank you, Mr. Cowboy, I'll take it under advisement. Hit it again.
McClane follows some resemblance of a code, so he reprimands Hans for his excessive firing and violence. Hans, the macho dude that he is sarcastically responds by calling him, "Mr. Cowboy."
MCCLANE: You shoulda heard your brother squeal when I broke his fucking neck!
As he's beating Karl senseless, having finally gained the upper hand in their brawl, McClane taunts him with this rather crass remark. To be fair, he's pretty angry about the fact that Karl has been trying to kill him for several hours straight. But still, does this line go a bit too far? It's certainly a darker side of McClane, that's for sure.
MCCLANE: Motherfucker, I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna fucking cook you, and I'm gonna fucking eat you!
If you thought McClane was mad earlier in this brawl-with-Karl scene, well, now he's really cooking. Here, McClane gives voice to the many violent impulses that have peppered the movie. The calculated violence of Gruber's group turned to passionate feelings of revenge in Karl, and now that desire for revenge has made its way to McClane, too.
AGENT JOHNSON: What do you figure the breakage?
SPECIAL AGENT JOHNSON: Figure we take out the terrorists, lose 20, 25% of the hostages, tops.
AGENT JOHNSON: I can live with that.
Well, Shmoop can't. These sound like terrible odds, don't they. This line reminds us that these FBI agents are perhaps a little too accustomed to violence. In fact, they seem pretty eager for it.
SPECIAL AGENT JOHNSON: Just like fuckin' Saigon, eh Slick?!
AGENT JOHNSON: I was in junior high, dickhead.
Check out the different ways in which the two agents Johnson (no relation) react to the attack-on-the-roof scenario. Special Agent Johnson—the older one—is thrilled to see some action, gleefully comparing it to the Vietnam War (which doesn't sound like a very appealing comparison, if you ask Shmoop). The younger one, with a detached expression on his face, just chuckles. Neither man seems too somber about the fact that they're heading into a situation in which innocent people might die. Desensitization much?
RICHARD THORNBURG: Mr. McClane! Mr. McClane! Now that it's all over, after this incredible ordeal, what are your feelings?
This is the moment Thornburg receives one heck of a right hook from our girl Holly. It's the single act of violence committed by a woman in the movie, and it's more of a Mama Bear moment than anything else. What do you think—was Holly's punch justified?
HOLLY: Harry, it's Christmas Eve. Families, stockings? Chestnuts? Rudolf and Frosty? Any of these things ring a bell?
ELLIS: Actually I was thinking more mulled wine, a nice aged brie, roaring fireplace, you know what I'm saying?
See, Ellis's problem is that he's so successful in the business world, he thinks he can get whatever he wants in other parts of his life, too. In this case, he's greedy for a date with Holly. But hey, she's taken.
ELLIS: Show him the watch.
ELLIS: Well go on, show him! What are you, embarrassed? It's just a small token of appreciation for all of her hard work. It's a Rolex.
Ellis's corporate greed makes him assert power over Holly's accomplishments in the business world. Here, we think he's being pretty possessive. He knows McClane is Holly's estranged husband, and mentioning the watch is his way of staking his claim on Holly in front of John.
GRUBER: Ladies and gentlemen. Due to the Nakatomi Corporation's legacy of greed around the globe, they're about to be taught a lesson in the real use of power. You will be witnesses.
Liar, liar, designer pants on fire.
GRUBER: And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. The benefits of a classical education.
It's fitting that the one time Gruber quotes a classic in the movie, it's about a historical figure so greedy, he had to conquer the known world.
GRUBER: Mr. Takagi, I'm not really interested in your computer. But I need the code key, because I am interested in the $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds that you have locked in your vault. And the computer controls the vault.
TAKAGI: You want money? What kind of terrorists are you?
GRUBER: Who said we were terrorists?
Oh, so this is what it's all about? When the audience finds out that Gruber's only after money, it shifts the dynamic of the movie. No longer is this a righteous political fight—it's all about the benjamins, baby. In some ways, this makes it easier for us to hate Gruber. The man is principle-less.
ELLIS: It's not what I want. It's what I can give you. Look, let's be straight, okay? It's obvious you're not some dumb schmuck up here to snatch some purses, am I right?
GRUBER: You're very perceptive.
ELLIS: I watch 60 Minutes, I say to myself, these guys are professional, they're motivated, they're happening, i.e they want something, huh? Now personally, I couldn't care less about your politics. Maybe you're pissed off at the camel jockeys, maybe it's the Hebes, Northern Ireland, it's none of my business. I figure you're here to negotiate, am I right?
GRUBER: You're amazing. You figured this all out already?
ELLIS: Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen. What's the difference?
When you're a greedy guy like Ellis, you think the solution to every problem is a business deal. And it's that mentality that gets the poor guy killed.
GRUBER: When they touch down, we'll blow the roof, they'll spend a month sifting through the rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we'll be sitting on a beach, earning 20%.
Ah, retirement for the criminal set. You'd think that since Gruber claims he's an "exceptional thief," he'd have a more interesting retirement plan. You know, something a bit more exciting than Boca Raton.
RICHARD THORNBURG: Look. You let me in right now, or I call the INS. Comprende?
Ol' Dick Thornburg's a different kind of greedy. He's not after the dough. He wants his fifteen minutes of local news fame. He's what we'd call an opportunist, and that's putting it politely. The fact that he's willing to send poor Paulina to the deportation station says it all.
HOLLY: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
GRUBER: I'm an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
You tell him, Holly. We love how she sounds almost disappointed here. Like she expects something a little more, well, exceptional than mere armed robbery.
MCCLANE: So that's what this was all about? A fucking robbery?
John finally learns what all this nonsense was about. And he's as disappointed as his wife to find out that Hans is just another robber—albeit one with some very impressive means.
MCCLANE: Okay, 32, construction; 33, computers.
Right off the bat, McClane's showing his NYPD blues. The minute he runs from the hostage crisis, he starts figuring things out—even taking notes. He just can't help but know what he's doing.
GRUBER: Now, you can break the code.
THEO: You didn't bring me along for my charming personality.
Ain't that the truth. Sure, Theo may have his moments of comedic relief, but we imagine the constant humming of "Singing in the Rain" would grate on anyone's nerves. His point here is that he's got the knowhow to get the job done. Only he can open the vault.
MCCLANE [in writing]: Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.
What's McClane's game here? At first, it might seem a bit odd that he would reveal his existence to Hans and his henchmen in such a taunting way. But McClane's doing more than just poking the dragon. See, he knows that by revealing himself in this way, he can get some key info out of the terrorists as they discuss what to do next. And indeed, in the next shot, we see McClane, listening in from the top of the elevator. Clever, no?
GRUBER: All of you relax. This is a matter of inconvenient timing—that's all. Police action was inevitable, and, as it happens, necessary. So let them fumble about outside, and stay calm. This is simply the beginning.
Hmm. Here's the first inkling we get that Hans just might be smarter than anyone realizes. Plus, this tells us that Hans's true plan is known only to him, which is pretty smart. It's hard to get double-crossed when you're holding all the cards.
MCCLANE: Geronimo, motherfucker.
Sorry—was that McClane or MacGyver? You've got to hand it to him for his skills here. How to take out two baddies, dozens of floors below you when you're armed with nothing but C-4? Stick it on a desk chair, strap a computer to the top of it, and hurl it down an elevator shaft. Geronimo, indeed.
GRUBER: I have comrades in arms around the world languishing in prison. The American State Department enjoys rattling its saber for its own ends. Now it can rattle it for me. The following people are to be released from their captors. In Northern Ireland, the seven members of the New Provo Front. In Canada, the five imprisoned leaders of Liberté de Quebec. In Sri Lanka, the nine members of the Asian Dawn.
MCCLANE: What the fuck?
We love McClane's reaction here. He can tell this is sheer nonsense—he just doesn't know why. It's not until the final showdown with Hans that he learns this was all about money. Props to Gruber for coming up with this clever—and distracting—cover for his real plan.
GRUBER: Please, God no. You're one of them, aren't you? You're one of them. Don't kill me, please!
Well, this was never part of the plan. When Gruber's checking on the detonators, he has no idea he's going to run into the fly in his ointment: one Mr. John McClane. Still, Gruber shows some rather impressive improv skills here, as he pretends to be an American hostage. As it turns out, he's pretty good on the fly, too.
GRUBER: Shoot the glass.
Smart move, Gruber. He knows McClane's barefoot, so a little broken glass is like cowboy cop kryptonite.
GRUBER: The circuits that cannot be cut are cut automatically in response to a terrorist incident. You asked for miracles, Theo. I give you the FBI.
Ah, so that was his plan all along? Most criminals don't want the FBI anywhere near their shenanigans, but for Gruber, they're essential. This guy has really covered every angle.
MCCLANE: What the fuck? Jesus. Oh, John, what the fuck are you doing? How the fuck did you get into this shit?
You've gotta hand it to McClane here. He totally admits he has no idea what he's doing from one moment to the next—it's really all about making it from one moment to the next. He unleashes this litany of swear words when he's improvising his way off the soon-to-explode roof. His best option? Rappelling via fire hose. Yeah, because that sounds super safe.
MCCLANE: Why'd you have to nuke the whole building, Hans?
GRUBER: Well when you steal $600 you can just disappear. When you steal $600 million, they will find you, unless they think you're already dead.
Sure, Gruber's plan is impressive for its cleverness. But we also think he deserves some serious style points.
MCCLANE: It's okay, I'm a cop. Trust me. I've been doing this for eleven years.
One of McClane's first lines in the movie tells us his occupation. And a few minutes later, we learn he's NYPD. As his later conversation with Argyle suggests, McClane's very loyal to the force.
MCCLANE: Why the fuck didn't you stop 'em, John? 'Cause then you'd be dead, too, asshole. Think, goddamn it! Think!
Poor McClane's torn between his desire to help out Takagi and his need to survive. If he had stepped in to save Takagi, he'd likely be dead himself. Or, at the very least, he'd be a hostage—and then they'd all be nowhere. But still, it can't have felt very dutiful to sit back and watch his wife's boss get blown away.
ELLIS: John? Aw, Christ. He can fuck this whole thing up. What does he think he's doing?
HOLLY: His job.
ELLIS: Bullshit. His job is 3,000 miles away.
Ah, but a cop is never really off duty, is he Ellis? Sure, John McClane may be NYPD, but he's more than just a jurisdiction.
MCCLANE: I read you pal. You the guy in the car?
POWELL: What's left of him. Can you identify yourself?
MCCLANE: Not now. Maybe later. Listen fast. This is a party line, and the neighbor's got itchy trigger fingers. All right, here's the deal. You got 30 or so hostages on the 30th floor. The leader, his name's Hans. […] They got a freakin' arsenal up here. They got missiles, automatic weapons, and enough plastic explosives to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger. They're down to nine now, countin' the skydiver you met. These guys are mostly European, judging by their clothing labels and cigarettes. They're well-financed and very slick.
POWELL: Well, now how do you know that?
MCCLANE: I've seen enough phony I.D.s in my time to recognize that the ones they got must've cost a fortune. Add all that up, I don't know what the fuck it means, but you got some badass perpetrators, and they're here to stay.
POWELL: I hear you partner. L.A.'s finest are on it, so light 'em if you've got 'em.
MCCLANE: Way ahead of you, partner.
Just a quick conversation, and the two officers are already calling each other partner. McClane may be a fish out of water in L.A., but it's clear he knows his way around a hostage situation.
HOLLY: I have a request.
GRUBER: What idiot put you in charge?
HOLLY: You did, when you murdered my boss. Now everybody's looking to me. Personally, I'd pass on the job. I don't enjoy being this close to you.
Holly's got duties, too. She's a pretty good caretaker of the hostage crew—that is, until Hans kidnaps her and sends everyone else to the roof. And anyone who mixes duty with sass wins some major points in our book.
CHIEF ROBINSON: Now you listen to me, mister. I don't know who in the hell you think you are or what you're doing, but you just destroyed a building. Now we do not want your help. Is that clear? We don't want your help. I've got a hundred people down here, and they're covered with glass.
MCCLANE: Glass? Who gives a shit about glass? Who the fuck is this?
CHIEF ROBINSON: This is Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson, and I am in charge of this situation.
Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson thinks he's doing his duty protecting the good people of Los Angeles from the heinous nightmare that is broken glass. Of course, what he's really doing is making a fool of himself and a mockery of the LAPD.
MCCLANE: Hans, this asshole is not my friend! I just met him tonight. I don't know him! Jesus Christ, Ellis, these people are gonna kill you! Tell them you don't know me!
Here, McClane does his level best to save Ellis's life, but no matter how hard he tries to do his duty, he just can't succeed. See, the real problem here is that Ellis interfered with McClane's job. If he had just sat tight, like Holly told him to, he wouldn't be in this mess.
POWELL: No sir. You couldn't drag me away.
We bet Dwayne Robinson's wishing he had some wild horses right about now.