There's a marked difference between movies released during the summer and movies that are emblematic of the summer season. Movies that live in that summer mood. There are movies that make seasonal sense to watch during certain times of year.
I want to address the the best summer movies. Movies that are about long days and about living for night.
Today, I'll look back at Bruce Willis and John McTiernan's DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE is one of the best summer movies.
The Die Hard movies are a clash of ideas. They're grumpy anthems to the blue collar Americans just trying to endure our cruel and confusing world. The first Die Hard is a top-10 action classic set at Christmas, while Die Hard with a Vengeance is one of the best summer movies.
It's one of the best summer movies because it caters to the violent, juvenile childishness we equate with summertime. In the movie, terrorists are setting off bombs around New York. The terrorists have singled out the hungover dead beat cop, John McClane, as played by Bruce Willis, as their main focus, tasking him with what amount to time-based action-movie stunt-pieces.
In hot, broad daylight, racing against the clock, McClane has to tear ass through Central Park in a stolen cab, shoot German bad guys, find the missing gold, solve some riddles, and save some kids. It's a love-letter to moronic rulebreaking and the summer impulses the audience only fantasizes about in their moments of delirious leisure, should we even have those moments these days.
The other summer fantasy Die Hard with a Vengeance speaks toward is "correctness," in that, despite being a hungover, aging, divorcee, John McClane is still saving the day. He's doing the "right" thing, despite his failings. This means, if in the heat of the summer, running around town with your hair on fire, killing time with reckless stunts or bouts of sweaty rage, John McClane is your avatar, and you're still on the right track. You can still save the day.
I won't pretend this is an enlightened, modern, or fair read of how we ought to behave. It's a momentary, seasonal fantasy. Never mind the problematic racial debate McClane and Samuel L. Jackson's Zues, which is outdated by lightyears, now 22 years after the fact.
Like Homer Simpson, McClane is a warning of how you should not act. In that, it's entertaining.
Die Hard with a Vengeance is a movie about being stuck in the city with every other jerk. Despite that uncomfortable feeling of New York City in the summer heat, the city sweats it out and works together to counterattack the terrorist threat.
When the need arises, the police's communication is routed through the 911 switchboard. They complain, but they work together, leading one woman to prophetically complain, "Yeah, and I'm gonna marry Donald Trump," as the only prospect worse than that sort of work. Yes, the limp-dicked coward was a joke in 1995, too.
The movie's asshole villains only care about money they're stealing. It isn't a vendetta against the city, or the characters, they're driven only by profit. Jeremy Irons plays villain Simon Gruber as a soulless, European perfectionism, the exact counterpoint to McClane's improvisational mayhem.
The movie tears ass all over the city on an endless scavenger hunt, perhaps the ideal summer activity.
By the end of the day, like the end of the best summer movies, McClane is sore, shot up, hungover, bloody, and filthy. The perfect conclusion.