A Good Day to Die Hard

Posted on June 12, 2013

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Over in Russia, there are two guys. One, Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), is politically powerful, and about to become more so. The other, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), is in prison because he threatens the status quo, and Chagarin in particular.

Then this other guy goes into a nightclub and shoots someone, first announcing that Komarov sent his regards. The shooter makes no attempt to escape, gets tackled, and is whisked off to jail. While being interrogated by Russian security, the shooter offers to give up information on Komarov, whose trial is the next day.

If that sounds like a grade school movie report, that’s because of how the movie is written.

Meanwhile, back in New York, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is practicing on a target range when another detective brings him a file. They talk about how bad the guy in the file is, and we see that it’s the shooter.

Turns out the shooter is Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), John’s son, and John is off to Russia to try to help his kid – who turns out to be a CIA agent trying to rescue Komarov and keep Chagarin from gaining any more power.

Then all Hell breaks loose. Because, you know, it’s Die Hard. Kind of.

Okay, children, take your seats and shut up, because I am taking you to school.

Back in 1988, a sequel to The Detective came out.

The Detective (1968) starred Frank Sinatra as NYPD detective Joe Leland. It was a gritty cop drama about corruption, drugs, and sex. Sinatra’s contract gave him first dibs on playing the character in any sequel. When work started on a film based on the sequel novel, Nothing Lasts Forever. twenty years had passed. Sinatra passed on reprising the role. Development continued, and what came out was Die Hard.

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Bruce Willis was way down the list of actors to play John McClane. Schwarzenegger (because Die Hard was Commando 2 mixed with the sequel novel), Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, Nick Nolte, Robert DeNiro, Tom Berenger, and Mel Gibson were all higher on the list.

By an interesting coincidence, Willis’ first on-screen credit is in The First Deadly Sin, which starred Frank Sinatra.

I mention all those things so you’ll understand how unlikely the original Die Hard was.

When it did finally come out, it was a revelation.

No longer was our hero a mythical loner-man-with-no-name, or a grossly over-muscled superhuman tank. He was just a guy.

Granted, he was a guy who happened to be a decorated NYPD detective, but he was human. He got tired. He got dirty. When he got broken glass in his feet, he limped and bled – and not just for that sympathy scene. His feet hurt for the rest of the movie.

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He made mistakes. He fell down a ventilator shaft and missed the first duct. Actually, that was a stuntman’s mistake, but John McTiernan worked it into the final cut, and that was a great call. It reinforced the idea of McClane as a human being.

Now, every sequel has to outdo the previous movie. So when Die Hard 2 (1990) shot McClane out of a cargo plane on a runway with an ejector seat, we rolled our eyes and went with it. It was an over-the-top moment in a movie that was otherwise largely similar to the first.

Speaking of similarities, Joel Silver used to tell a story about how people pitched movies to him after Die Hard came out. “It’s like Die Hard, on a bus” (Speed). “It’s like Die Hard, but on a boat” (Speed 2). He says that about ten years after Die Hard came out, someone pitched a movie to him as “It’s like Die Hard, but in a building.”

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When Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) came out, again there were a few moments of over-the-top silliness. John McTiernan was still directing, though, and mostly the movies remained about how one very human, very fallible, guy could win by refusing to quit, give up, or submit to authority.

Then came Live Free or Die Hard (2007), and McTiernan did not direct. Len Wiseman (director for Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, who would direct the Total Recall remake after his Die Hard moment) took the reins. Wiseman and writers Mark Bomback and David Marconi clearly know how to create action movies.

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Unfortunately, they had no idea how to make a Die Hard movie. Now, I say that as someone who genuinely enjoyed watching Live Free or Die Hard. I’d missed the franchise for twelve years, and I wanted it to come back strong.

I thought casting Justin Long was a great idea. He seemed ready to take on an everyman hero role. If Fox (the movie company) and Willis wanted to pass the McClane baton to Long then that was fine by me.

Or if they wanted to do something really original and pass the baton to Lucy Gennaro McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that would have been great, too.

Instead, they turned John McClane into a superhero who could find ways to drive cars into helicopters and who could hang on to out-of-control jet fighters.

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They completely missed the fucking point of McClane as an everyman, as someone we could all aspire to be.

By the way – the reason that John McTiernan stopped directing the franchise is because he is in prison.

Sadly, A Good Day to Die Hard carries on that superhuman tradition. Director John Moore’s roots in Behind Enemy Lines and Max Payne are obvious through-out every physics defying sequence. Writer Skip Woods (the first Die Hard movie to have only one writer) came from Swordfish, Hitman, X-men Origins: Wolverine, and The A-Team. Hardly a background that recommends a writer to produce something realistic and human.

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To be fair to Skip Woods, he also directed two re-makes, Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen. I hear both were very good, and certainly the former is all about human characters coming together to overcome being stranded in a desert.

If only.

If only Fox had kept McTiernan. If only they had gone back to writers Jeb Stuart and Steven E de Souza, from the original movie.

If only that long list of producers had focused on McClane’s humanity, rather than on explosions, gunfights, car chases, and ridiculous helicopter stunts.

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Then we might have gotten the franchise back on track.

Now, don’t get me wrong: A Good Day to Die Hard is a fine action movie. I have really enjoyed Jai Courtney this year, in both this and in Jack Reacher. A Good Day to Die Hard is very well made, even if Komarov is no Hans Gruber.

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It’s just a shitty Die Hard movie.

Overall

Now get the Hell off my lawn. And pull up your pants!

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Posted in: Movies