THE festive holiday period is always a good time to catch up on those films and TV shows that, for whatever reason, there just hasn’t been time to watch yet. I kicked off the break by bingeing the latest season of Superstore. At least, I think I was watching Superstore. I was pretty deep in the midst of my Covid booster-driven fever dreams by the time I fired up Netflix over the holiday.

New shows aside, Christmas is also a time for returning to the classics and of all the films and shows I watched, the movie that was most enjoyable to return to is the Christmas classic Die Hard. And having re-watched it following a period of intense global scrutiny over police violence and corporate greed, I’m no longer sure Hans Gruber was really the bad guy of that movie.

Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the European-ish antagonist to John McClane’s Christmas plans is iconic. He’s charming, smart, slow to violence and just resonates personality on screen. There’s a reason he stands out in comparison to many other forgettable 1980s action movie villains who more often than not were simply manifestations of America’s fear of foreign power, threats that could only be resolved through a storm of bullets.

Then came Rickman, in his sharp suit and with a calm, compelling performance as the “who said we were terrorists” terrorist Hans Gruber, crashing a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles to extort himself a little extra spending money for the holiday season. Relatable, really.

His portrayal of Gruber would go on to impact action movies for decades to come.

Undeniably, Gruber is a fantastic foil to Bruce Willis’s city cop John McClane (pictured) – but through a contemporary lens the movie hits a little differently now.

When Gruber sits down for a little one-on-one time with the president of Nakatomi Trading, Joe Takagi, we learn his plan, pretensions aside, is simply to access the vault and steal $640 million worth of bearer bonds.

Yet despite this amounting to spare change for Nakatomi Trading, at most just 10 days of operating capital for, Takagi decides to risk the lives of his employees rather than hand over the money. The lives of the Nakatomi Trading company’s employees are immediately reduced to collateral to protect the company’s bottom line.

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It’s a mark of Rickman’s talent that Takagi’s subsequent execution feels more like a necessary evil to his plan rather than an act of villainous malice. Rickman was known to be uncomfortable around firing guns on set and you can actually see him flinch when pulling the trigger – hardly the behaviour of a stereotypical villain.

Corporate greed aside, however, it’s McClane who feels the most like a character out of time; a New York cop who takes to the wholesale killing of the movie’s antagonists without a moment of hesitation.

McClane's behaviour throughout Die Hard is borderline disturbing, albeit very fun to watch. It’s the cinematic suspension of belief that stops moments such as McLean sending a dead body down an elevator with a message for Gruber from seeming too much like the work of a serial killer. He even brags at one point about constantly finding himself in trouble with his captain for not following the rules; a fictional bad-boy trait that in real world policing is a serious concern for any heavily policed community.

In fact, throughout Die Hard, the cops and law enforcement agencies involved in the developing hostage situation are generally portrayed as reckless, trigger-happy cowboys with no interest in de-escalating the crisis. Meanwhile the emotional arc of Sergeant Al Powell, McClane's man on the outside, is to finally find the strength to gun down one of Gruber’s muscled crew in public, having previously developed a fear of firearms after shooting dead a child.

Compared to Die Hard’s supposed heroes, does Hans Gruber really seem like such a bad guy? A so-called terrorist holding a greedy corporation to account for their toxic legacy, who tries to resolve the central conceit of the film without violence only to be pushed into brutality thanks to corporate avarice and police escalation.

And sure, there’s the teeny-weeny little detail that Gruber planned to blow up the roof of the Nakatomi Plaza along with the hostages – but other than that there’s hardly much about his actions that could be considered particularly heinous; and even then, this decision almost feels like something added to the script on the realisation that Gruber was perhaps becoming a little too relatable to the audience.

That’s an issue with plenty of contemporary villains too, who often suddenly decide to bomb an orphanage out of character lest the audience starts wondering why the superhero is punching a civil rights activist or freedom fighter.

Anyway, if you are looking for something to revisit this festive period, you can’t go wrong with John McTiernan’s 1988 hit. Die Hard is a fantastic Christmas movie, and the late Rickman’s performance is one of his best out of an exceptional career.

But maybe, with all the events of the past few years, you too will see the film in a different light than before - and you too may question just who the true villains of Die Hard really were.