Saga Review: Die Hard

For me the Die Hard series began with the third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance, mostly because I was eleven when it came out, then television showed it later with a censored cut. It would be a little while before the first two would be brought to my attention!

So what can you say about the series in general? Watching them all again, they are goofy, gory, solid action movies born from the late eighties. Now we have the strange situation where the series has been prolonged with the sequel-boom of the last decade, and many people believe Die Hard to have lost its way.
But has it really? We are talking about a pretty lighthearted shooting spree series here, where none (I repeat, none) of the villains are in anyway terrifying or truly sadistic.

Let the Yippy-Ki-Yay’s commence!


Die Hard
(1988)

What can you say about the original Die Hard, a classic, an action juggernaut that is one of many benchmarks in the genre?

Bruce Willis stars in his film debut as John McClane, a New York cop who finds himself very much in the wrong place at the wrong time while off duty in Los Angeles. The tower block where his wife works, and he visits, is attacked and held hostage by German terrorists led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. McClane is the only cop who knows what’s going on, and he has to use his initiative, guile and rogue wits to save his wife and prevent disaster!
All on Christmas Day!
Willis is on fire here (and looking ridiculously young) in his first role, McClane immediately jumps off the screen and you are with him every grueling step of the way.
Die Hard has a very simple premise and a narrow scope; ninety-eight percent of the action takes place within the one building, and perhaps seventy percent is following McClane on his own, talking to himself, as he battles thugs and elevator shafts. Always elevator shafts, and C4 explosives. For a man’s first film role, that is very impressive to carry off so well, and proves the man’s capabilities!

The rest of the cast is effective at their supporting roles. Alan Rickman is positively ridiculous with his German accent (which slips and slides towards his angry Sheriff of Nottingham voice) but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find him a joy to watch here! Plus, to be an Englishman playing a German pulling an American accent? That’s… impressive.

Ultimately what can be said about this film is that it still holds up today. It is surprisingly slow paced too, roaring up to crazed shoot-outs and battles when necessary as McClane does his best to sneak around undetected. A great cat and mouse film.
If the mouse was armed with a machine gun…
Ho
Ho
Ho.


Die Hard 2: Die Harder
(1990)

Being obviously wary of messing up Die Hard‘s formula, Die Harder proves to be a little too safe and ultimately feels a little… forgettable.

John McClane is back, and it is his favourite time of year again, and his wife is in danger again! A crazed American military officer takes control of an airport and all of its systems, ultimately holding half a dozen passenger jets hostage and unable to land. With planes threatening to fall from the skies, McClane must stop this madman quickly!

One thing that can be said about Die Hard 2 is that it is a fast film. It literally flies by, none of it drags or feels redundant. However, problematically we get possibly the most cardboard and unremarkable villain(s) yet, a proper 1980s action movie cliche.

Anyone who has seen this, tell me, what is the villain’s objective here? Can you remember without looking at IMDB?
I’ll tell you. These terrorists… want to go on holiday. Seriously, that is what it boils down to!

So yeah, I am a little sad when I watch the second film, it feels rushed; side characters and villains aren’t given any time to shine. The crazy janitor guy? The cop who tows McClane’s car? The villain?? The political prisoner?? They all feel like filler before McClane can say more witty things about being trapped in a air vent again. Which is fun, don’t get me wrong.

Possibly the best part of Die Hard 2 is William Atherton’s role as the selfish, snooping reporter Richard Thornburg who, despite also being trapped on one of the planes, attempts to benefit from his dangerous predicament. It is a great use of a relatively minor character from the first film.

So, it isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. Die Harder isn’t the sequel the classic film deserved, even if Willis remains on top form


Die Hard with a Vengeance
(1995)

The one Die Hard film I know almost beat-for-beat! A terrorist calling himself Simon makes things very personal with john McClane, forcing the suspended cop to complete life-threatening tasks across New York, the penalty being various chemical bombs to explode.

Some people may remember this as Die Hard with Samuel L. Jackson, and rightly so, Jackson transforms the series’ formula into a buddy cop movie and gives Willis’ McClane even more outrageous dialogue (even if most of it is complaining about his headache). Of course, Jackson is equally outrageous, and constantly bringing up the issue of race (which is curious, considering the Die Hard films have had no mention of it to this degree despite having several African-American characters)
Jeremy Irons is this film’s antagonist, with a legion of German ex-military types and mercenaries, and while terrorising McClane he is obviously enjoying the role a lot! Positively silly at times, yet rewarding with his intelligence and underhanded methods!

It is a packed film too; it doesn’t hang around to get going or introduce characters again, all we get is a terrorist threat followed by John McClane having to wear a questionable sandwich board in Harlem. Little to no backstory, it reveals its ties to previous films later and expects you to have watched the previous two films (or at least Die Hard).

My only problem with Vengeance is the ending, which seems to come out of nowhere. True it could just be a deliberately unusual, unorthadox finale made to take you by surprise… but it feels tagged on after the consistency of the overall movie. Plus, not the most fitting final battle either.

It is funnier, more blood-soaked and way more action packed than Die Hard 2, I still love watching McClane driving the taxi through Central Park. Definitely recommended to any action movie fan, especially after watching the original Die Hard.

Given how CGI happy and outrageous films are getting with action sequences, might Vengeance be the last Die Hard to have these more down-to-earth physical stunts?


Additional marshmallows: And what is with this film’s soundtrack? Seriously, there is something really odd and perplexing about it using “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” a Civil War song based off an Irish Folk tune? All I think of is “The Animals go in Two by Two” (ala Noah’s Ark) which uses the same tune! Google the tune, it is a tune with an interesting heritage.

Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard
(2007)

So twelve years after his last outing, twelve, Bruce Willis steps into the shoes of John McClane once again to fight cyber-terrorists!

When young computer hackers are systematically wiped out and American cities are losing control over electronic devices, John McClane finds himself protecting the last hacker alive who knows how to prevent a power hungry terrorist from taking total control.

Die Hard 4.0 is definitely different from the first three films; it is taking a leap forward into a new generation, and as such we see McClane as an older, “senior official” having to deal with the new technology of the new millennium. There isn’t as many “McClane is old” jokes as I remember, but I must admit the film takes a long time to grow on me…

The film opens not only with the first deliberate “hot femme fatale” in the entire series, and a whole lot of swish digital and super high-tech visuals, no more big and noisy credits now! It then cuts to footage of the Gears of War video game. Oooooh dear. I have developed a dislike of films that open with video game footage… its like saying: “Hey, geeky-young-single-males, you know what this is! You’ll love this movie!”
I don’t particularly like Justin Long’s hacker character Matthew either, he just whines and complains about McClane being old and uncool for the first half of the film. I’m sorry, clearly I (a twenty-three year old when the film released) am supposed to relate to this guy? Uhm… no, McClane is awesome, I grew up with his films! This hacker is the one who’s uncool.
The middle of the film improves though as McClane disrupts the god-like powers of control the terrorist exerts over the city. Using a fire hydrant to take a gunner out of a helicopter? Awesome.

But then the conclusion happens… and McClane surfs on a concept F-22 fighter jet for… no reason at all, except to have an over-the-top action sequence for the trailer. Die Hard films are action films, but they aren’t meant to be that ludicrous or unnecessary. This villain too, I’m not fully convinced by, he also comes off as a techno whiner, plus his backstory makes the government (naturally in films today) appear incredibly retarded.

I think you may love or hate it… Die Hard 4.0 is a definite shift in the series since, well, Willis is older now! It is impressive however that it still works to some degree. It was fun to see McClane on the big screen again, and it didn’t let me down as much as other returning franchises have done.


Additional Marshmallows: Justin Long also features as the “Apple Mac” in some of the old “PC versus Mac” adverts. Yeah… really selling him aren’t I?

A Good Day to Die Hard is releasing here in just a few days time, continuing the series formula of releasing on festive days with Valentine’s Day.
I was really excited to see the new film but as of today, as I finish this saga review, I learned the appalling news that it has been rated a 12A in the United Kingdom.


A Good Day to Die Hard
(2013)

If you follow Cinema Cocoa then you are already aware of my disdain for this film having a 12A (PG-13) rating. Yet, many people suggested I watch it for sake of having my opinion. What do I think now? An unsurprising test in mediocrity.

If you go into it, A Good Day to Die Hard is probably the worst example of reviving “old school” action movies of the 80s and 90s (up there with The Expendables) as the fifth in the series is possibly the most watered down and derivative example of what Die Hard actually is as a franchise.

So when he discovers his son has been imprisoned in Russia, John McClane takes it upon himself to go out there and… save him?… Only for the political prisoner his son was protecting to be attacked by terrorists. The two McClanes must settle their broken relationship if they want to get to the bottom of a political conspiracy.

See how I couldn’t go through the synopsis without struggling? Die Hard 5 has so many ambiguous plot devices and derivative excuses for having action sequences. It isn’t explained why John McClane goes to Russia, in fact he is constantly reminded how he causes trouble wherever he goes, and… twenty minutes in he does. He barges into a CIA operation and complains he was only on a vacation.
This isn’t John McClane acting like John McClane… the formula for Die Hard films is that he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, not barging in to other people’s problems to blow stuff up! (even Die Hard 4.0 got this right!)

Whoever directed this needs to be introduced to something. It is called a steady-cam. Good lord I thought the movie business learned after Quantum of Solace that shaky camera doesn‘t work. This actually makes Michael Bay’s direction feel poised and controlled! Even atmospheric, slow shots are wobbling all over the place like the cameraman’s drunk; your eye gets misled constantly as the camera skews left and right, it is haphazard while characters are so much as walking!

The film itself is mercifully short, though you will find yourself begging for more to give the spontaneous and juvenile plot some sustenance! What kills this film and renders it little more than a line of explosion effects (asides an over-complicated twisty-turn plot) are the villains themselves. Die Hard villains are mostly pretty fun! Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman were gloriously silly. Even the guy in 4.0 was interesting. Here the villains barely exist! We don’t get to know them, we have no idea who they are… and the film is so badly paced that it kills them off before the audience can truly appreciate them.

So what works in A Good Day to Die Hard, if anything? Well, if you forgive them being shot in horrendous shaky-cam, the action sequences are pretty excitingly executed, and I do appreciate the franchise clearly continuing with a family theme: McClane hits rock bottom in the third film Vengeance, and 4.0 and 5 are about him trying to reach out to his kids. It’s just a shame this film couldn’t make that more prominent with a better screenplay.

I haven’t even gotten to the part where John McClane couldn’t say his catchphrase because of the stupid 12A rating…

It is quite sad then that this has happened to the franchise, then again, you can just get the trilogy. Die Hard 1 – 3 are excellent and have very little wrong with them!


Additional Marshmallows: Yes, I saw your references to the original Die Hard… They hurt me… They made me want to watch a better movie.

Also, I would like to stress that this film cannot be excused by the theory: “Oh, it is just a Die Hard movie, it isn’t meant to be intelligent”. While the previous films weren’t world changing drama by any means, they were a hell of a lot more rewarding than this. I know, I rewatched them only a few weeks ago.

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