A few thoughts on A Good Day To Die Hard: Die Hard 4.0 (2007) aka “Live Free or Die Hard had its problems but it also had its charms. The wisecracking Justin Long fulfilled the roll taken by Samuel L. Jackson in the superior Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995). While Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing John McClane’s daughter performs a similar role to McClane’s wife, Bonnie Bedelia in the classic original Die Hard (1988). These two elements combined with a half decent antagonist played by Timothy Olyphant and a few good action set pieces to make the movie watcahble if inferior to its predecessors. A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) tries to combine the two archetypes into John (aka Jack) McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney) but this is the least of the movies problems.
There is a scene in the movie where the McClane’s drive from Moscow to Chernobyl in little more time than the villains fly there in a helicopter. As we walked out of the movie last night, the friend I had watched it with mentioned that Chernobyl is six or seven hundred miles from Moscow across the border in The Ukraine. Ten to twelve hours drive. As I said at the time, if the movie was any good he wouldn’t have noticed or at least wouldn’t care. But how did our heroes end up at Chernobyl? To put it simply it was the conclusion of a thin but convoluted plot that borders on xenophobia.
Filled with big action scenes but lacking any fun or excitement. A car chase puts the protagonist in peril or perceived danger, this creates excitement, by taking that danger out of the movie removes the viewers involvement and interest. While we know that John Mclane isn’t going to get badly hurt in a Die Hard movie, we still need a glimmer of realism and a sense of danger to keep us on the edge of our seat and keep us interested. In this new Die Hard movie Bruce Willis’ character crashes spectacularly twice before changing vehicle and carrying on unharmed, and all this is within the first act. How far have we come from our hero running, barefoot over broken glass in the Nakatomi Plaza. An there begins the start of the success of the original Die Hard, the Nakatomi Plaza, and what the confines of one building brinks to the story. No one gets in, no one gets out, one man against a group of bad guys. With limitations comes creativity and that’s what we got in Die Hard, that and one of cinemas greatest ever villains, Hans Gruber played to perfection by Alan Rickman. It is also worth remembering the way Die Hard rewrote the rulebook of the action movie by casting the “everyman” Bruce Willis who at the time was best known for the TV show Moonlighting. After the success of their previous movie Predator (1987), it would have been easy for director John McTiernan and producer Joel Silver to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger or someone like him in the role, they very nearly did. It was reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Frank Sinatra (long story) all turned the part down. Robert De Niro, Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson were also considered.
In the ultimate copout of the genre/franchise the distributors cut the movie to achieve a 12a certificate. This is the kind of cynical filmmaking where the bottom line comes before the artistry of the movie. Many of the problems can’t be blamed solely on the director, John Moore, but the poor pace and lack of vigour certainly can be. Not nominally one for character assassination, however Moore doesn’t exactly have a strong track record: Behind Enemy Lines (shameless rip-off of Bat*21), Flight of the Phoenix (crappy remake), The Omen (crappy remake) and Max Payne (terrible video game adaptation). At a time when the Bond franchise is hiring Sam Mendes and Star Trek has been taken over by J.J. Abrams, it shows a lack of ambition at best.
Where can the franchise go from here? It could be that its time to call it a day, alternatively like the character in an action film the producers may look for redemption. If they are going to have another stab at it, they need a great and hopefully original concept, a good script and a talented director. In short they need to do what John McTiernan did twenty-five years ago.