While there are many things to love about “Die Hard,” one that stands out is the villain and “exceptional thief”: Hans Gruber. Hans is smart, smarmy, and played to perfection by the late, great Alan Rickman. It was Rickman’s very first movie role (after years of being a stage actor), and the performance is so strong it redefined what audiences expected from a villain in an action film. Prior to “Die Hard,” most villains were brawny bullies; in the decades since, the most effective villains have largely been those with enough brains to engage the protagonist in a chess match with the highest of stakes.
But, maybe Hans wasn’t as brilliant as we all remember. The more frequently you watch the film, the more his heist plans feels based on happenstance, flimsy logic, and details that left him wide open for a “fly in the ointment” to take the whole operation down.
In order to open the Nakatomi vault and get his hands on $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds, he must open the seventh lock (which utilizes an electromagnetic seal) — and to pull off this Christmas miracle, he has planned all along to have the FBI cut the power to an entire city grid. If the power stays on — if the FBI simply makes one different decision that Hans has not anticipated — the entire mission is a failure and the terrorists either die or go home empty-handed. Hans is a confident guy, but that feels like a heckuva lot to leave to chance.
Both McClane (Bruce Willis) and Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) seem to realize that cutting the power will give Hans exactly what he wants; in theory, if either of those men were leading the FBI response, it would be game over right there for Hans. Of course, fortunately for the ex-member of the Volksfrei movement, Hans is instead engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the agency’s resident trigger happy dopes, Agents Johnson and Johnson, who play right into his hands.
This isn’t the only convoluted part of Hans’ plan. He’s also “playing” terrorist to essentially stall for time, planning to blow the roof off the building and — in the aftermath of the carnage — smuggle a team so large they warranted a semi-truck for transportation out of Century City … in an ambulance? Hans’ plan gives the movie its narrative twists, sure — but with so many convoluted steps, it’s no wonder it only took one cowboy to bring it down.