Sunday, 27 February 2011

Die Hard Horse, Die : A review of all 4 Die Hard Films

If the Die Hard series were a horse, then at this point in time it would have been beaten to death by John McClane and thrown out of the top story window of a skyscraper directly onto a stationary patrol car. You may be away of the upcoming fifth instalment of the series, tentatively titled Die Hard 24/7 (which frankly sounds like a brand of Viagra), and is set to be released in the Year of the End of Time (2012). Since Bruce Willis has recently announced the filming of the fourth sequel to Die Hard will be most likely this year, I thought I would briefly review all four movies in the order of worst to best and give my comments regarding the fifth. 

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Yes, the one most people hail as one of the best - if only because it stars Samuel L Jackson and people would buy ground up baby remains sold as a food supplement if it were endorsed by him - is my worst. Now there are several reasons for this; firstly it was essentially an action-oriented road trip movie. Think about it. John and Zeus travel the city in a car and get into all manner of hilarious scrapes, the only difference being that the innuendos and sexual shenanigans that usually inhabit the genre are replaced by puns and penetration by bullets and sharp objects.

The second reason is that the story just isn’t very good. It may seem like I am being unfair here since, after all, we don’t watch a Die Hard film to see if it can be the next Citizen Kane: we watch it because we want to see John McClane stab a fucking guy with an icicle. But bringing back the popular antagonist from the popular original - in the form of the villain’s brother Simon Gruber - does feel like the cheap trick you would expect a soap opera to pull. Clearly director Jonathan Hensleigh had little idea of where this film was heading and had to pull an idea out of a hat as he sure as hell wasn’t going to abandon the project. He needed to build a penthouse suite in his built to scale money hotel after all. Also after two movies, 255 minutes and Battle of Passchendaele level casualties, I had hoped there would be no schmaltzy scenes involving McClane’s wife or his personal problems. Because, at the end of the day, it is not necessary and feels tacked on since I’m not trying to identify with the man; that would require going postal in the La Scala opera house for that to be made possible.

The film should have used the alternate ending in which John’s life is destroyed by Simon (whose plans are an outstanding success), forcing the disgraced police officer to track Gruber down to Hungary to force him to play a form of Russian Roulette; taking form in the unsubtle way that you would expect from such a series and Taliban insurgents. It would have portrayed McClane in a whole new light and would have been the much needed new life for the franchise, making this ending in essence the life force stealing scourge device from the Corean Chronicles which punishes wayward Alectors. Unfortunately, Hensleigh dropped this for the theatrical release ending. An ending which is like an unstoppable force (Gruber + a helicopter + a minigun) meeting the unmovable object (John McCLane + pistol + two rounds remaining) resulting in the force saying “Sod this!” and allowing himself to be liquidated. I understand this is an action movie, and a prerequisite of an action movie is that you are supposed to leave your belief precariously suspended in S&M restraints. But the conceit displayed by the villain and his subsequent defeat left such a bitter taste in my mouth it felt as though I had just performed fellatio on a cynical lemon.

Rating: Tried too Hard.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Basing the plot on the A Farewell to Arms article written for Wired magazine was always going to be a bad start. Die Hard may be the preponderant action movie series, one which all imitators shall be measured by, but it is not intellectual. Therefore, taking an articulate essay on the possibility and connotations of an E-War and applying it to an action film is as good an idea as a Dingo babysitter. Live Free or Die Hard comes across as knowing as much about computers as a time traveller from 1670 aka The Net Effect. Yes, a cyber war could theoretically destroy our entire infrastructure reducing the western world to the dark ages of a typical American trailer park. No, a cyber terrorist cannot blow shit up using a computer (unless they are playing a video game or using it to control a remotely controlled projectile, or, enlarging pictures of fecal matter – pun #386283.)

However, it was a Die Hard movie nonetheless, unlike With a Vengeance which was simply a chance for Samuel L Jackson to fill his angry black man quota for that year. The set pieces are pure Die Hard; John destroys a helicopter with a car and a car wreckage flies perilously overhead on a motorway. The villains are pure Die Hard; outlandishly over the top like a flamboyant Gary Oldman, with flimsy motivations to boot. All that remains to ruin the experience is Justin Long who is essentially Shia LaBeouf and Dane Cook if they were caught in a head-on collision and somehow merged together by the forces of sheer retardation. He is that one personality that features at every party who is the life and soul of the room; yet the minute he leaves, everyone plots his murder in various macabre ways. The presence of Justin detracts from the experience since every moment of danger that passes becomes a disappointment as it is yet another extension of Long’s character’s life.

The plot must take place during Take Your Daughter to Work Day as we are introduced to John McClane’s estranged daughter who has formed along rather nicely since we last saw her in the original Die Hard. This is an act designed solely to provide emotion to all the senseless violence, and maybe even a little suspense. But that is clearly as redundant as the upcoming The Thing prequel (look we already know what happened to the Norwegian base so it’s going to be as gratuitous as The New Labour Government). This is the fourth time John has been thrown into this situation and just like going on a date with Anand Jon we know by now how it’ll work out. Interestingly, this also marks the third time McClane’s family has gotten in his way while he attempts to kick ass. Look I know your family is important John, but you have your precious guns and they are attempting to take the precious guns away; you should kill them now while you have the chance…spake the voice inside John McClane’s head.

Rating: Died Hard on the vine.

Die Hard (1988)
It is written in The Epistle of James, lines 1:2 &1:3 “Consider it the greatest joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you encounter various types of difficulties, because you know that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance.” The reason I arbitrarily bring this up like a Chief Executive arbitrarily mentioning his Aston Martin Rapide and villa in the Maldives during small talk at a dinner party, is because the majority of readers will be shocked that the original Die Hard has come second. Thus shattering the very fabric of their mortal existence. Look, believe me, when I say that choosing between Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder was like choosing between Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian in a contest to select the most useless person to have by your side during your savage and bloody survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was hard, but I did it. Where's my fucking parade?

The original Die Hard is what I call the Space Invaders of movies; a minimalist storyline that is simply a thin veil for engaging and entertaining set pieces. For those of you that are not familiar of the storyline - first of all, congratulations for finally awakening from that twenty-three-year coma - and secondly; it concerns McClane trapped in a skyscraper with several heavily armoured antagonists who also have hostages. McClane, who is outgunned, outnumbered but never out-vested slowly fights back using his wits and humour blacker than a seminar for gothic black sheep. The relationship between John and the leader of the saboteurs, Hans Gruber, is one of the highlights of the movie. Hans is not your run of the mill James Bond ‘generic megalomaniac who has burning desire to crush the world, and must be stopped last minute after he captures the protagonist who escapes due to said megalomaniac’s arrogance’ type of antagonist. Instead, Hans is ruthless, unpredictable and has a dry sense of humor. John’s adversaries are not limited just to trigger happy terrorists cum thieves (I sayyyyyy); he also has to contend with the local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation – which marks a departure from a large number of action movies in which the protagonist is a conduit of such agencies. 

But if I’m pushed to be critical (this is The Crusades of a Critic and not Captain Nice’s Lovey Dovey Happy Magical Fawning Hour after all) then I must mention De’voreaux White. No, that’s not the name of a fucking shade of paint; it’s the name of the actor who played the limousine driver Argyle. He plays Argyle as the stereotypically sassy, cool black guy who only really can be found in American movies, just look at this quote “Man, if this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year's.” He is just annoying and unnecessary like a Crazy Frog ringtone, which is a shame because humour is what Die Hard does well. The police and FBI also suspend the disbelief somewhat; through their sheer idiocy, they make disastrous decision after disastrous decision and continue to throw men into the slaughter as though the law enforcers were Christians and the terrorists Lions. Yet one man armed with a vest is able to do the job a heavily equipped SWAT team fail to do. I know in real life that in the public’s eye law enforcement agencies are often shrouded with an air of incompetence but…erm, I’ve kind of lost my train of thought here, something about the FBI being excellent at handing out cruel and unusual punishment to foreign lawbreakers I guess. 

Rating: Too Hard to Die.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Well, here we are, numero uno, as they say (Italians, in case you were wondering who ‘they’ were). Die Hard 2, my favourite of the franchise thus far; most likely forever, because, just like the 4th instalment, the 5th will probably be gratuitous and overdone as though all 83 editions of the OSCARS were magically combined by some kind of Molestiamancer. While my love for Die Hard is just as close, I felt that generally as a package, Die Hard 2 was tighter than a Virginity Pledge created by the Skoptsy. By imposing a time limit on the events - 58 minutes and not any of that Jack Bauer ‘real time’ nonsense either - it creates an exciting pace. John doesn’t have time as to stop for a manicure and a latte, but if he did all it would achieve would be to put further pressure on his time constraints. Therefore, events have to move at a steady pace and, consequently, there is much less of the standing around having extended chats to the Twinkie spokesman cum police sergeant that featured in the first movie. 

The story is superior to that of the first film, as throughout we are unsure who the bad guys actually are - like a Chikan during a blackout. Oh sure, we know that the mercenaries with the automatic weapons and tendencies towards violence are the bad guys, but once Major Grant and his men show up and secretly aid the mercenaries it forces us to question exactly who is on the level, giving the story an extra dimension. It helps that the deaths more brutal than being at the front of the crowd during a Napalm Death concert; for example, there’s the aforementioned icicle death, but there’s also Major Grant’s death by way of being sucked into the aircraft’s engine. Add to this the fact that John McClane manages to kill General Ramon Esperanza, a South American dictator, and I would say that this instalment has more than upped the ante. 

However, to suspend your disbelief during Die Hard 2, you would have to put it on the Boeing 747 that the terrorists are demanding and take it to its maximum certified altitude of 45,000ft. For example, the planes are unable to land so, therefore, have to circle the air waiting for permission to do so; however what exactly is stopping them from simply radioing to Washington National Airport and asking for the clearance to land there instead? They are near Washington Dulles Airport after all which is a stone’s throw away (keeping in mind this is a plane we are discussing here) from national so if they have the fuel to mindlessly fly around then I confident that they could have gone there. Secondly, where are the armed forces? Sure SWAT teams and airport security continuously attempt and laughably fail to contain the situation but the only thing even slightly related to the armed forces present are the Special Forces team secretly working with the bad guys. There are two possible reasons for this; either everyone in the Die Hard 2 world has seen Die Hard 1 and, subsequently, know that John McClane is the only competent person in that reality, or it could be because the movie is set before 9/11 and back then airport security was just something backward European nations had. 

Rating: Died from being too Hard 


Die Hard 24/7 (2012?)

Sporting a title that is one backstroke away from representing the number of instalments the series will have by 2030, Die Hard 24/7 is the soon to be released fifth movie. And since as the series progresses the area which John must liberate increases in size and population, resulting in him being responsible for saving the entirety of America last time round, this will logically mean in this instalment it will be a globe-trotting affair so he had better find an airline that provides a body count to air miles conversion service. As John loses more and more of his image as the every man fallen victim to circumstance (and his hair, a correlation?) with each adventure he undergoes he will likely in this movie resemble a Hound of Tindalos

Many people will claim Bruce Willis is too old to continue playing John McClane, but the way I view this is that it fits the role perfectly. John will spend the majority of the movie draped in a vest and in a state of confusion, trying to figure out what is going on while simultaneously attempting to outfox significantly younger foes. If that doesn’t sound like the perfect role for a fifty-something-year-old, then you can just stop being pedantic. And I’ll particularly be looking forward to the film’s release onto DVD as it’ll be fun to watch the blooper reel and attempt to guess whether a word stumbling Bruce has simply forgotten his lines or if his Alzheimer’s has finally kicked in. 

Die Hard 24/7 is, in all probability, just the film’s working title. But honestly, I couldn’t think of a better one as "Die Slightly Harder Than Last Time (which is going to take some doing as in the last one John destroyed a helicopter with a car)" doesn't make for a good title. I'm sure it’ll be an enjoyable romp provided Justin Long and Samuel L Jackson don’t show up on filming day. If that happens, then it should be titled “Die Hard /wrists”.
Predicted Rating: Died Hard on the bathroom floor. Alone.

"How dare you make old people jokes! What? No, I'm not pulling a face, I'm having a stroke."