Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard, or John McClane's Quick and Very Painful Death

     The original Die Hard came into cinemas about a month before my 4th birthday, so I didn't witness John McClane's hard fought, down-and-dirty battle at Nakatomi plaza against creepy terrorist Hans Gruber (portrayed with brilliant snark by Alan Rickman) and his henchmen for a good 5 or 6 years after that. But it will always hold a special place in my movie-loving heart: it's still one of the greatest action films, and it never grows tiresome. The first two sequels (Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance) were worthy entries in the growing franchise, showcasing some of the same wit, humor, and realism (to a degree) as their predecessor. McClane gets beaten and bloodied, and his character is rarely portrayed as an over-the-top killing machine like in action films that came before it. He wasn't superhuman--near death experiences and humility were all part of the game. After a long hiatus, McClane was back in 2007 with Live Free or Die Hard, which took the series away from its roots into a slick and polished actioneer that might as well have been directed by Michael Bay; luckily, it contained enough of a semblance to the original film to be considered pretty watchable, maybe even sort of fun. Now we come to the 5th entry of Die Hard, titled A Good Day to Die Hard.
      ...And I'm almost speechless. Yes, every sign pointed to this outcome: the film was directed by a man named John Moore, whose previous credits include Max Payne, Flight of the Phoenix, and Behind Enemy Lines (that action movie starring Owen Wilson of all people). It was written by someone named Skip Woods, whose previous screenplays were Swordfish, the videogame adaptation Hitman, and the remake of The A-Team. The films trailers, though a bit deceiving because explosions in small doses are exciting, didn't really show any dialogue. And the initial reviews were incredibly atrocious (17% fresh on But still: I wasn't prepared. A Good Day to Die Hard fell far below my expectations which were already extremely low. The film didn't need to reach the heights of any of the previous installments, it just needed to be kind of fun and mildly entertaining. It's not even close to that. It's a big squishy turd that the production company and Bruce Willis should be ashamed of.
     The so-called plot of A Good Day to Die Hard doesn't really even need to exist. The film spends less than 15 minutes of absolutely laughable conversations before moving from action set piece to action set piece with no thought of innovation or respect for the audience. The basics: John McClane--who is still a great shot because he's at a shooting range when we first see him--travels to Russia to try and reconnect with his estranged son. You see, during all of that police work John had to due during the first films, he didn't spend enough time with his children. So young McClane became a spy with the CIA (wtf?) and rarely talked with old McClane. When John arrives, things go wrong and things go Bang.
     The film--in absolutely opposite fashion of the original Die Hard--is so implausible that it almost made me sick to my stomach. An example: McClane picks up a large machine gun (maybe a SAW) and proceeds to mow down a group of well-equipped mercenaries entering a doorway. This elite unit doesn't stop though, they keep pouring into the doorway one after another like brainless zombies in the latest Call of Duty game. Here's another: at one point early in the run time, McClane is in a truck chase. He proceeds to get into an accident, barrel-rolling the massive vehicle 4 or 5 times. Then he gets out (unhurt), gets hit by a car and steals that car (unhurt), proceeds to take a cellphone call from his daughter in America, and crashes that car too. All while swerving around, yelling "Jesus Christ" and "I'm on vacation!". Speaking of McClane yelling unoriginal and uninspired catchphrases, the script is an absolute travesty. He probably says "I'm on Vacation" at least 7 times before emptying his clip into a "scumbag". The actual dialogue between characters in the film is no better: it mostly consists of sarcastic father/son chitchat about absentee dads and troubled kids. The villain(s) have no depth and no death in the entire film matters, because there is less than zero character development and just about everyone is annoying anyway. Most anyone could come up with a more entertaining and innovative script by finger smearing excrement on a piece of toilet paper in a New York City public bathroom.
     I guess some of the early carnage-covered action is the one part of A Good Day to Die Hard that isn't a detriment to the film. The truck chase near the beginning of the film must have cost millions of dollars in explosions and imploding vehicles, though it's not particularly innovative in any way. It's great if you enjoy watching cars flip into the air, glass shattering in every direction, and a shaky-cam directing style that's more likely to make you want to regurgitate your lunch than actually enjoy yourself. But it gets far worse the further into the film you go, specifically the second half. The reliance on CGI is disheartening. Instead of still being a relatable and human hero, John McClane has turned into a computer generated videogame star, hanging off the edge of spinning helicopters, falling dozens of stories through glass floors and debris, and having some sort of regeneration ability that allows him to walk off seemingly lethal injuries like nothing ever happened.
     Like Hans Gruber at the end of the first film, A Good Day to Die Hard falls from a great height, bringing the franchise down so fast and so hard that it seems like you can hear it's death rattle. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis has recently stated that a 6th film is potentially in the works (especially if A Good Day opens to huge weekend numbers). That's unfortunate. In the plethora of movie sequels that completely destroy the memory of the original film (the one that most recently comes to mind is last year's Taken 2 [not that Taken is on the same level as Die Hard]), this entry in the Die Hard ranks among the worst of the worst. It's a complete abomination that violates your cinematic love for a once-revered character and turns him into the latest indestructible killing machine who would be more at home on your Xbox than the nearest movie theater.     (D-)

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