On July 15, 1988, 20th Century Fox released the newest movie from Predator director John McTiernan. It was the story of a Christmas party gone wrong, and featured a script that had already been turned down by nearly every A-list action star in Hollywood. So the studio settled for TV actor and co-star of the ABC show Moonlighting, Bruce Willis. The movie was titled Die Hard and it went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of the year, catapulting Willis into stardom and becoming the greatest action movie ever made.
On February 13, 2013, 20th Century Fox released the newest movie from Max Payne director John Moore. It was the story of a father-son relationship gone awry and featured a script that had been shown to only one A-list action star in Hollywood: Bruce Willis. The movie was titled A Good Day to Die Hard and it has now tarnished the franchise spawned from the greatest action movie ever made.
A Good Day to Die Hard begins with John McClane tracking down his troubled son, who is on trial for murder in Moscow, and rife with animosity toward his estranged father. Almost as soon as the film starts, things begin exploding. No real setup is attempted before we are thrust into an hour-long action scene with almost no break for advancement of plot or development of character; it’s simply a vehicle driven for the purpose of forced one-liners and cartoonish behavior. From there, the weakly constructed plot revolves around WMDs and parenting flaws.
It seemed that every five minutes or so, in between gun reloads, we were force-fed some kind of poorly timed and convoluted attempt at father-son bonding. The thing is we never really know why Jack McClane hates his father, and the movie never cared enough to explain it. We know John is difficult, but the level of disdain Jack seems to have is palpable. Any depth the original movie might have, has now been replaced by a constant string of action sequences that are so chaotic it seems as though a 12-year-old with ADD edited out 30 minutes of dialogue because he’s a huge Michael Bay fan.
That said, there were some enjoyable moments. The idea of McClane as a grumpy old dude on vacation could have been amusing had it been done with more subtlety. The “dancing man” was the one villain who was interesting as he seemed to replay a bit of A Clockwork Orange, though he doesn’t play a large enough role to overshadow the weakness of the other bad guys. Jai Courtney was good and had the writing been better, he would have been believable as McClane’s son. And during the helicopter scene made famous by the trailer, I did enjoy John giving the pilot the finger as he leaped pass the chopper. But the rest of the movie was stale and felt more like Bruce Willis as Rambo rather than a chapter in the Die Hard franchise.
Simply put, it was beyond bad and I’m rather upset about it. This isn’t just some action movie – this is a Die Hard. People can say what they want about the 4th installment, but at least I left the theater entertained in 2007 – not nauseous like this time.
The success of the franchise was centered largely on the principal character of John McClane, aka Mr. At-the-Wrong-Place-at-the-Wrong-Time (not Mr. Flies-to-Russia-to-Pick-a-Fight). In the original, he was a relatable hero and decidedly human. Everyone was against him – from Hans Gruber and Karl to Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson and the FBI snipers, all the way to the very people he was trying to save, like Ellis. I think Al Powell put it best:
Between the support of Sergeant Powell and the scene where John breaks down on the radio relaying an apology to Holly, the audience is roped in. You can’t help but root for the man. Jump ahead 25 years. Long gone are the heartfelt scenes where McClane pulls glass from his foot and surrenders to the belief that he will never see his family again. They are now replaced by a Terminator-like approach where he can hardly be bothered to duck from gunfire or debris. In fact, John is in Russia for only about five minutes before stealing a car, which he crashes, and then stealing a truck that he promptly flips about 30 times, and exits without a scratch. All of this just in time to yell a witty one-liner at no one in particular. It was a far cry from that bathroom in the Nakatomi Plaza…
So what went wrong? How did we move so far away from what made the character great? I understand that the man has hardened over two decades, but he hardly seems human anymore. Who’s to blame for this?
Let’s examine. When McTiernan was given the job of directing the first movie, he was fresh off of Predator and highly sought after. However, John Moore’s previous movie, Max Payne (which currently has a 16% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes), was universally panned… and released five years ago. Moore has clearly not been in high demand since 2008; he’s like a poor man’s post-millennium Joe Johnston, who is responsible for such mediocre and easily forgotten films as Hidalgo, The Wolfman and Jurassic Park III. Moore was hired only after Justin Lin and Noam Murro passed on the project. Prior to Max Payne, Moore was behind the remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix, which both paled in comparison to their predecessors and drew the ire of film fans. The hiring of Moore by the studio (which was clearly vision-less) and the fact that Willis reportedly needed lots of convincing to sign off on a director whom fans hated should have been a giant warning sign.
Another sign was that someone thought it was prudent to hire Skip Woods to do the screenplay. That’s the same Skip Woods who did the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie that had comic fans throwing things at the screen because of what he did to Deadpool. At least he had something in common with Moore, though: Wood’s Hitman video game adaptation was almost as bad as Moore’s Max Payne game adaptation. It’s almost funny that the only one of five Die Hard films that was written as a John McClane movie instead of adapted into one, is the one that feels the least like a Die Hard movie.
So combine those two hirings with the fact that there were no advance critic screenings and a runtime of just 97 minutes (the shortest of the five installments by more than 20 minutes) and we can see red flags everywhere. It’s obvious that Fox didn’t care about making a great Die Hard movie because they knew it would make them their money back regardless.
So a perfect storm of directing, writing and greedy studios shoulder the blame, right? Sure, but they aren’t alone. This is a case where we have to look at the one man who made this movie happen and the only person – cast or crew – involved in all five movies; Bruce Willis. John McClane is his legacy and he should have known to protect it better. He’s not only the star, but a producer as well, so nothing happened here without Willis’ approval. It’s like Stallone with Rocky V – how did he let that happen? This film is a Die Hard movie in name only and shall be treated this way from here on out.
Images: Twentieth Century Fox