For much of the 1980s, action movies were dominated by musclebound, seemingly indestructible badasses like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris, who coolly obliterated legions of scrambling bad guys without breaking a sweat or revealing an emotion. But that began to change in 1988 with the release of Die Hard, the film that not only transformed Bruce Willis from a largely comedic TV star to an action movie star, but also ushered in a new type of action hero. Instead of stone-faced bodybuilders or martial arts experts, Die Hard had John McClane, an everyman New York cop with only street smarts and a sense of humor on his side who seemed as surprised as anyone to be an action hero. Not only was McClane physically vulnerable, with each fist-- and gunfight noticeably taking its toll, but he was also emotionally exposed because of his separation from his wife and the worry he feels when she's taken hostage.
For many (especially myself), this was a revolution that marked a new generation of action movies with a focus on realism and more human, flawed, emotionally complex action heroes -- a generation that we're arguably still in now with the popularity of troubled superheroes like Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Tony Stark (Iron Man). But as the lure of box office dollars became irresistible and Die Hard was regrettably turned into a franchise, the humanity and realism that made Die Hard so special was eventually replaced. McClane became an unrelatable, unemotive, indestructible killing machine wading through a by-the-books bulletfest -- exactly the types of things Die Hard had seemed to vanquish. And the franchise's latest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, seems to have taken this regression to a new low. Watch my ReThink Review of A Good Day to Die Hard below (transcript following).
The original 1988 Die Hard is one of my favorite movies of all time, and is in my opinion, nearly a perfect film. One of the reasons I love it so much is that it changed the action genre, not only by popularizing the incredibly intelligent villain who outsmarts nearly everyone (in the form of Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber), but by rooting itself firmly in reality. Die Hard's hero wasn't a Stallone- or Schwarzenegger-esque indestructible, musclebound freak, but Bruce Willis' everyman New York cop John McClane, a guy with a struggling marriage, a rebellious streak, and a dark sense of humor who not only displays fear, but gets increasingly injured as the film progresses. But all the things that made Die Hard so compelling and groundbreaking 25 years ago have not just been abandoned, but aggressively rejected over the course of four sequels, hopefully ending with the fifth ridiculous installment, A Good Day to Die Hard.
In this edition, McClane travels to Russia to help his estranged son, Jack (played by Jai Courtney), who's been arrested for murdering a Russian official. But unbeknownst to John, Jack is actually an undercover CIA agent trying to help a Russian political prisoner named Kamorov (played by Sebastian Koch) who knows the location of a mysterious file that could incriminate corrupt officials and may have something to do with nuclear secrets. Jack begrudgingly joins forces with John as they rampage across Russia, miraculously surviving everything thrown at them as they pursue and are pursued by Russian bad guys.
The makers of the original Die Hard were so set on emphasizing McClane's vulnerability that they made the brilliant decision to have him not even wear shoes for almost the entire movie. Yet now, in his late 50s, McClane has somehow become more indestructible than Willis' superhero character in Unbreakable, able to survive enormous car crashes, crazy gunfights, and multiple leaps off buildings with hardly a scratch, totally robbing A Good Day to Die Hard of any sense of danger or even reality. The wonderfully acted, even touching regrets McClane feels towards his wife and their failing marriage in Die Hard have been replaced by the laughably inauthentic rift between McClane and Jack as they try to hash out what a bad dad McClane was between hails of gunfire.
While the underrated Die Hard 2 found humor in the improbability of McClane disrupting two terrorist schemes in his lifetime, the fifth installment has not a shred of irony or self-awareness, instead trying to shoehorn laughs by having McClane repeatedly shout, "I'm on vacation!" which, by the way, he isn't since he went to Russia to get his son out of jail. And while it's a Die Hard tradition to have there be a twist to the villains' plans, it's hard to understand or even give a damn about who these largely faceless bad guys are and what they're up to.
You might say that it's unfair or pointless to judge A Good Day to Die Hard against a classic that came out almost 25 years ago. But why wouldn't you if the movie still has Die Hard in the title and stars the same actor playing the same character? The only reason not to compare the fifth installment to the original is the fact that the original Die Hard is so undeniably superior on every conceivable level, which only emphasizes the fact that the sole reason to make this sequel that doesn't advance a story or improve on anything is solely to make money peddling a shoddy knock-off to a largely international audience. So please, instead of wasting your time and money on garbage like A Good Day to Die Hard, do yourself a favor and just rewatch the original so you can marvel at what a truly wonderful movie it is and how well it holds up after all these years, while trying your best to forget that the last three Die Hard sequels, especially A Good Day to Die Hard, ever happened.