Next week, Bruce Willis returns as the iconic John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. This latest entry sees McClane team up with his estranged son (Jai Courtney) in Russia to take down terrorists or something. Honestly, the trailers really have not gone into what this story is really about. I suppose it does not need to. The simple fact of the matter is that a new Die Hard movie is coming out. And the fact it has the words “Die Hard” in the title and stars Willis are enough to sell it to audiences.
What is it about the Die Hard films that make them work? To be honest, the series has a 50/50 good-to-bad ratio. For me, each entry has gotten further and further away from what made the original such a classic film. I previously reviewed Die Hard and Die Hard 2 (erroneously referred to as Die Harder) during our “25 Days of Christmas” event, so I do not plan to go into much detail about those films here.
The original Die Hard is a classic of the action genre. What more can you really say about it? Die Hard 2 gets a lot of flak from critics and fans of the series. I do not find it that odious. Granted, the story is a bit overly complicated, but I really like it for what it is. I also really enjoy how over-the-top the movie can get at times. It works for me, and I think why it does has to do with the fact that it comes at the tail end of the excessiveness of the 1980s.
1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance is when the wheels begin falling off. The story is sort of stupid and forces a connection to the original film (which ultimately is incidental in the grand scheme of things). Certain elements (particularly the role of Samuel L. Jackson’s character) strain the suspension of disbelief. More importantly, McClane becomes a dour, depressing, and dismissive (not to mention generic) character. This is a far cry of how the character was originally displayed as someone who, while he might have bad luck, still had a never-say-die attitude (and was possibly a tad crazy).
It also does not help that they completely destroyed McClane’s marriage (ridding the movie of Holly). None of it really felt right considering where things were when we last saw these people. Perhaps I am being too critical. Word on the street is that the script for Die Hard with a Vengeance started out as a completely unrelated project. It was eventually adapted into a Die Hard sequel. This might explain why McClane seems like such a different character.
Twelve years later, Live Free or Die Hard (also known as Die Hard 4.0) was released into theaters. Here is a movie which is okay on its own, but does not quite work as a Die Hard movie. When I first saw it back in 2007, I could not put my finger on what it was. Then, of all places, an episode of The Office put it into perspective for me when Michael Scott was discussing the series:
“You know what, here’s the thing about Die Hard 4. Die Hard 1, the original, John McClane was just this normal guy. You know, he’s just a normal New York City cop, who gets his feet cut, and gets beat up. But he’s an everyday guy. In Die Hard 4, he is jumping a motorcycle into a helicopter. In air. You know? He’s invincible. It just sort of lost what Die Hard was. It’s not Terminator.”
That totally nails the major problem with Live Free or Die Hard. It also does not help that it was incredibly toned down (in language and violence) to achieve a PG-13 rating. And, is it me, or did Bruce Willis completely forget how to play John McClane? It seems like Willis is sleepwalking through the role. And, do not get me started on the completely worthless Kevin Smith extended cameo.
In any event, the film did well enough to warrant a fifth (and potential sixth) entry. Thing is, despite the some of the weaker ones, people like these films. They bring back a sense of magic from the 1980s. The fourth doing as well as it did (financially) was due to the nostalgic nature it provided (in fact, most of the films from the 1980s-redux wave over the last five years did pretty well). Before the fourth film came out, Bruce Willis rebounded his career and was a draw again. John McClane is his most well-known character. If you do the math, people will want to see it.
The real trick is to see if it works for next week’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Was one trip down memory lane enough for most audiences? Or will McClane’s reign remain strong?
Here is the thing I have noticed, though: is it me, or did the studio have no faith in the future of this series? The marketing is ho-hum. They give it to a director who has never proven himself critically or financially and a screenwriter whose scripts are generally unfocused and convoluted. Maybe these things are completely incidental, and it is really Bruce Willis calling the shots. I fully buy into that scenario.
And, the most damming of all, it is being released in February. All the previous films have been released during the summer movie season. February is still largely seen as a dumping ground for movies. This is Die Hard we are talking about. Why is this happening? Additionally, is being released on Valentine’s Day. I understand the nature of counter-programming and that some couples are all about action movies, but it still seems like such a bizarre release date.
Is this a hint of what is to come for A Good Day to Die Hard? I hope not. Though the previews suggest that we are going to get more of the “invincible-McClane” introduced in Live Free…, but they also suggest that Willis rediscovered how to play John McClane. I want to see this. I want it to be good. However, the signs are a little worrisome. Perhaps it is time for this series to die hard (see what I did there?).
Trivia Fact: Did you know that Die Hard was originally conceived as a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando?