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Monday, February 18, 2013

Brief Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Hey there Chaos nuts! Winter's chill has certainly been around lately, what with frigid temps, blizzards, and all that jazz. I usually get tired of winter at the start of February, and I'm sitting here hoping that spring is just around the corner. Anyways, I just went to the movie theater to check out the latest Die Hard. So, is it a continuation of the legacy of the Die Hard series? Or is it a disappointment that will end the franchise? And why am I asking you?

A Good Day to Die Hard

I first got into Die Hard in the mid 1990s. I wasn't even 10 years old one the first one came out in theaters. Obviously, there was little chance my parents would allow a precocious 9 year old to see a rated R actioner (of course, if it was Sci-Fi, Horror, or The Godfather, my parents had no objections, apparently). Eventually, in high school, I caught Die Hard: With a Vengeance on tape (1995 or 1996). I absolutely loved it- even if I didn't know the events of the 1st Die Hard, the movie did a great job of explaining all that you needed to know. DH3 was action packed, humorous, with a great chemistry between Willis and Jackson. This movie had it all- a run down cop fighting for all of NYC, with nothing but his wits and a semi-racist electrician named Zues to help him fight Jeremy Irons' terrorists. The car chases, suspense, and bloody shootouts just blew me away, and the character beats made me invested in these 2 guys.

Naturally, I tracked down the other two movies. Watching the first Die Hard for the first time was nothing short of amazing. Bruce Willis' John McClane was an absolutely terrific invention- an everyman who is stuck in the most terrible situation imaginable, fighting to save himself, his wife, and a hundred other innocent people from a group of German terrorists with a secret agenda. Holy Cow! And I thought DH3 was great... this was even better. Then I watched Die Hard: Die Harder. Meh. It was OK, with some decent action, but frankly was pretty weak compared to the other two. The main villain was quite lackluster, and it just felt really contrived. John's wife is trapped- again. There's a pain in the ass reporter- again. I appreecaited DH3 all the more, as it expanded upon the themes of DH while upping the stakes.

But DH3 was in 1995. In the past two years, we have seen the franchise return (that's a long running action series, then). Live Free or Die Hard was an odd animal. It was trying to bring Die Hard into the 21st century, with a high tech plot and state of the art CGI special effects.  Yes, this movie has its problems- too much of the movie is McClane driving around all over the place, and there are some convenient plot coincidences, and that scene with the fighter jet is way too over the top. Lots of fans hated the movie for those reasons. However, it is still a fun movie, in my opinion. Though it never reached the heights of DH or DH3, it was a decent action movie with a sense of humor. The bad guy was interesting (unlike DH2), as he pursues a plan which is, in reality, a bit too realistic (what if all of our tech went down?).  I like how the movie raised the stakes from DH3 (the whole country is in danger in this one). Further, Willis has continued making John a character to root for, even as he gets older and a bit more grizzled. His explanation of why he does heroic things is pretty damn compelling, and ties in nicely with the previous entries. I enjoyed it, even if it isn't in the same league as DH1 and 3.

So, that brings us to A Good Day to Die Hard. I must confess that I like the title, again an action series with a bit of humor. This one sees John McClane in a bad spot- his son has been arrested in Russia for murder. Naturally, John has a poor relationship with junior, but he decides to fly to Moscow to be there for his son. John unknowingly enters a huge conspiracy, replete with CIA operatives, Russian mercanaries, the neo-dictatorship politics and corruption of Vladimir Putin, and a cache of weapons grade uranium. Oh yes, John has put his foot in it this time.

The movie is, like LFDH, not in the same league as the classics, but still enjoyable. It has the same propensity for over the top action and slick CGI effects. Yes, John is virtually a superhero here- however, even the originals had that element (it just wasn't so CGI heavy). What? Heresy, you say? Hear me out. John escaping a huge explosion and firey helicopter crash by rappelling down a skyscraper -- with a fire hose? That isn't slightly unrealistic? Dropping a huge amount of C4 down an elevator shaft, and conveniently getting out of the way of the blast- AND the building is still standing? Hmmm. Using an emergency ejector seat to escape a firey air plane... Jumping off a large suspension bridge to land on a boat a hundred feet below? Surely you see my point- John has always been a bit of a superhero- this is fiction after all. What happens here is pushes it a bit further into that realm, but if you look at the DH series objectively, you'll see that it has been there all along. What really matters to DH is the plot, action, and Willis' performance.

Again, like the previous entry, it has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the action scenes are pretty darn cool (if over the top). The car chase in Moscow is quite visceral, and the shootouts are action packed (though lacking the blood of DH1 and 3). There's a bit of suspense, and there is a pretty interesting double cross (or even a triple cross), as well as "euro trash " bud guys, all in the DH tradition. Willis again does a great job with the character- he is older and even more grizzled, and he must deal with how he has influenced his son throughout the years. It isn't easy being the son of a cop, let alone a hero- a lot to live up to. Also, Willis isn't afraid to show that he will never win father of the year in how he treats his son. I could understand the temptation of good man/rebellious kid, but the movie wisely shies away from that, and John is actually not a great parent, equating working hard for being a good father, which isn't the case (a lesson he learns by the end).  Finally, the movie is very, very lean. LFDH seemed to have large bits were nothing was really happening, with John driving around or talking to the computer nerd. A Good Day wastes almost no time, moving from action sequence to even more action, with just enough time to take a breath in between. The movie moves fast, I'll give it that.

There are considerable negatives, most notably the actor who plays John Junior. Jai Courtney is rather bland and uncharismatic. Now, DH3 had the ultimate side-kick, while LFDH had John paired with a nerdy weakling, making for some comedic moments. Here, John is working with someone who is stronger and possibly even better-trained than him, and it is his estranged son to boot. However, the "kid" is never that interesting, and even unlikeable at times. It became tough to be invested in the father/son dynamic when half of that pair is so tough to feel connected to. Another weakness is the feeling of missed opportunities. With John in Moscow, this could have been a real fish out of water story. Imagine John growing frustrated with the language barrier, the cultural differences. There could have been some real humor, as well as suspense in having John trying to blend into Russia, and the movie basically ignores that. It would have been interesting to have John in the role of the Germans in DH1 and 3- like when they were trying to hide in America (the cigarettes, the "raining dogs and cats"), but the movie misses the chance. Finally, despite the interesting double cross, the plot just isn't as compelling. Yes, there is a lot at stake, but it happens so quickly that there is little time to appreciate the implications of the bad guys winning. In LFDH at least, the consequences of Gabriel's scheme are front and center (let alone DH1 and 3). Again, a bit of a missed opportunity.

So- what's the verdict? The movie never hits the highs of earlier entries, that is for sure. It is about on par with LFDH- it is a fun action movie with a likable lead, an everyman who we all could identify with. If you go in with lower expectations, you will find this to be an enjoyable action movie- just don't go in wanting it to be a classic, because it just isn't. I give it 2 1/2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

I think they should do one more Die Hard. The title could be something like say "Die Hardest" or something. You need to have Cristolph Waltz be the main villain (cerebral, but more smarmy than either Rickman or Irons), with McClane going against German terrorists one last time. Somebody like The Rock should be McClane's side-kick; somebody tough but also someone who could give Willis a run for his money in the charm department. There's still life in this franchise, and I think that if they do it right, it could be a worthy conclusion. Just my fanboy musing.

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