Thursday, February 14, 2013
A Good Day to Die Hard
Once again Bruce Willis is back as John McClane, the role that made him an action movie star. For those of you not in the loop, this marks his fifth time in the role which he began 25 years ago. (Who else feels old hearing that?) You'll notice that, like many series with more than three installments, they dropped the sequel number completely. Rather than call it 'Die Hard 5', they opted for the less descriptive and more meaningless, 'A Good Day to Die Hard'. (Though, Rumour has it that its original working title was 'How Could the Same Thing Happen to the Same Guy Five Times?' Of course, us old f@#%$ are just referring to it as 'Oy, Why Won't He Just Die Hard Already?!?' But I digress.) In preparation for this screening, I did my homework and had a 'Die Hard'-a thon last weekend, revisiting the first four.
The first 'Die Hard' is an undeniable classic, and in my opinion possibly the best action film ever made. It's beloved by action fans and non-action fans alike because it's so much more than just action. Every line, every facial expression, every scene, and every character is perfect. And it's every bit as exciting today as it was 25 years ago. The cast is perfect. Before this film, no one expected Willis would become an action star. He was known for his wit in the brilliant detective TV series 'Moonlighting' as well as the comedy 'Blind Date'. But he proved us all wrong. And Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber remains my favorite bad guy in the history of film, marking the beginning of the megalomaniacal Eurotrash villain, with his regal accent, expensive suit, and unshakeably cool demeanor. The chemistry between Rickman and Willis was perfect and set the standard for all action films to come. After 'Die Hard', every action movie could be referred to as 'Die Hard on a ...' (e.g. 'Passenger 57' was 'Die Hard' on a plane, 'Under Siege' was 'Die Hard' on a battleship, and 'Under Siege 2' was 'Die Hard' on a train.) In short, its influence on action films was immeasurable.
In my head, the three sequels that followed got increasingly worse, with the possible exception of the third being slightly better than the second. But I enjoyed them all last weekend more than I remembered. Perhaps it was the nostalgia factor, at least for the second and third, seeing Willis once again back in those glorious post-'Moonlighting' days, when he still had a thick head of hair, a smirk on his face, and a spring in his step. Or maybe I was just in the right mood, but I enjoyed all of them, though some parts are better than others, and none of them hold a candle to the first.
And now I just saw the fifth installment and for the first time, McClane goes international, to Russia, to find his estranged and embittered son. Quite frankly the plot seems forced, centered around a son who was never shown before and barely even mentioned, and the entire film is extremely disappointing. It's action packed but lacks any of the charm that made the series so special. Willis has been reduced to a near-supporting role, almost playing second banana to his uncharismatic offspring, played by Jai Courtney. There's almost nothing here that makes this seem like part of the franchise, except for the occasional Willis one-liners like the obligatory 'Yippee Kay-Yay Mother @#$%$&', and even that felt forced. We all get more serious as we get older, but all the fun of the early installments is gone and unfortunately they didn't take nearly enough advantage of the maturity and gravitas that comes with age to replace it. I truly hope this is not the end of the series. Take a lesson from 'Rocky Balboa' and make one final chapter to let John McClane go out in the manner in which he deserves. With dignity.
Die Hard Grade: A+
Die Hard 2: Die Harder Grade: B+
Die Hard 3: Die Hard with a Vengeance Grade: B+
Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard Grade: B+
Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard Grade: C-