The problem with some movie franchises is that watching them over the years becomes less of a diversion and more of an obligation. Not only do storylines manage to drift with the characters, but franchise films also have a high degree of predictability. It’s well known that even-numbered “Star Trek” films are huge disappointments and that the “Scary Movie” franchise stopped being funny halfway through the first movie, although sometimes a series takes on a life of its own. Something like this seems to be happening with the “Die Hard” movies.
The original “Die Hard” was amazing. To deny this is nothing but impudent heresy of the worst sort. John McClane, who has been played by Bruce Willis in every single installment-shame on you, Alec Baldwin, a.k.a. Jack Ryan-was never supposed to be a machine gun-wielding super cop. The appeal of Willis’ character was always that he was just an ordinary guy who got caught in rough situations and who had to be really tough and use his wits to save the day. This sort of ethos is the reason McClane spends half of the first movie barefoot; the audience literally winces at his obviously painful handicap. This makes him more human, ergo more relatable. John McClane was never supposed to be Superman.
The extremely productive device of putting a barefoot Joe Average in a tall building that’s under attack by terrorists worked so well in the first film that the audience didn’t ever think to wonder why thieves-who usually try to keep a low profile-would try to cover their tracks by pretending to pull off a massive terrorist attack in the heart of a major city. The whole thing worked because that sort of thing could happen to anyone. For a short time in 1988, millions of moviegoers were streaming out of theaters all over the country and thinking what they would do if they got stuck in the same predicament.
Enter the sequels, perhaps to ominous music. Following the sage advice of Hollywood’s holy scriptures-if it smells like money, chase it-the studio immediately set to work on a sequel. In a stroke, the central appeal of “Die Hard”-normal guy gets caught in an impossible situation-vanished to be replaced with John McClane, the action hero who is nothing like his fans. While the audience proved willing to overlook slight flaws in the first film, by the third installment, fans were left wondering if these sorts of random terrorist attacks struck everywhere John McClane went for vacations. His ability to pass as an ordinary guy who just occasionally ramped police cars into helicopters, making them explode as if they were both stuffed with TNT, was gone for good and replaced by Robocop without the armor plate, Batman without his billions.
However, all was not lost, as the resilient Mr. McClane was still a lot of fun to watch in action. Sure, it might be silly to ask the audience to believe that one human being could possibly spend twenty-five years foiling over-the-top villains half a dozen times, but it is undoubtedly fun to watch.
In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” McClane is back at it. This time, he’s in Russia, and his black-sheep son, Jack (Jai Courtney), is… well, eventually, nuclear weapons get stolen. Sorry, Jack isn’t really a loser; he works for the CIA, tracking loose nukes. Sure enough, there’s a super villain attack aimed at the nukes, and only John McClane stands in the way.
The elements of this film may be discussed at length. They won’t be, however, because who cares? This is a “Die Hard” movie. The only elements to be discussed are the parts of the periodic table that make stuff explode. McClane certainly isn’t the put-upon everyman any longer, but he hasn’t forgotten how to awesomely ramp things into other things. For a “Die Hard” movie released in the last twenty years, that’s nearly all that matters.
The reservations one might have about this film aren’t due to the people who made it. The “Die Hard” franchise went from being fresh and exciting to being predictable and shallow-but still awesome-a very long time ago. What ” A Good Day to Die Hard ” gets right is its willingness to embrace new angles of the series. John McClane may have become unnaturally larger than life, but such awesomeness is a crowd pleaser, and “A Good Day to Die Hard” pleases crowds.