Though the fifth entry in the hugely popular DIE HARD series – the cleverly titled A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD – has received the most abysmal reviews of the entire 25-year-old series (a sad 16% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film did take in nearly $40 million during its extended opening weekend, easily beating out all other Valentine-themed competition. Only time will tell if DIE HARD’s die hard fans will continue to shell out enough dough over the next few weeks to make this film profitable enough to warrant another sequel. Series star (and living legend) Bruce Willis has said he would like to make six total films before hanging up the white hat of his wise-cracking, smirk-sporting, bad-guy-killing alter ego John McClane. While some of the more bitter and cynical critics of this latest chapter have opined that this entry is, and should be, the END of this increasingly far-fetched series, perhaps there is a way to salvage DIE HARD and bring it home again. Anything is better than letting it end like this; essentially The Dead Pool (Clint Eastwood's fifth, final, and worst Dirty Harry film) of the DIE HARD series.
Though A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD looks and sounds like a DIE HARD movie (much money was spent here, and it IS on the screen), what’s missing is a plot, a script, coherent direction and editing, a memorable bad guy, John McClane’s wise cracks, and any semblance of believability in its elaborately-staged stunt work. Bruce Willis, looking terrific at 57, still has the charismatic goods to play this iconic character, but this movie squanders all opportunities to let him do so. Why 20th Century Fox would shell out nearly $100 million to produce this film, and then hire a questionable screenwriter, Skip Woods (Swordfish, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The A-Team) to write it, and a grade-B director, John Moore (The Omen remake, Max Payne) to helm it, is a total mystery. Yes, this is the fifth film in the series, but this isn’t just any series. This is DIE HARD. The original film is widely (and accurately) considered to be the greatest action movie of all time.
What made the first movie so unique was its every man protagonist. John McClane was simply a cop – a flawed, human, smart ass cop – visiting his estranged wife in an LA high-rise, when it was overrun by thieves masquerading as terrorists (led by Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the inventor of the Euro-trash villain, and one of the greatest screen villains of all time). To quote the second movie, McClane is "the wrong guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." DIE HARD was a one-off – a movie that didn’t need a sequel. But since it was also insanely profitable, sequels were inevitable.
1990’s DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER was essentially a remake set in an airport. The payoff was bigger, but plausibility was an issue that even lines like “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” couldn’t quite overcome. 1995’s DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was set in NYC, and had trouble come looking for McClane; a plot point that definitely helped. 2007’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD benefitted from a 12 year gap since the previous chapter, and effectively rebooted the series for a new-millennial, post-911 world, with its analog-cop-in-a-digital world story line, which had McClane saving the world from cyber-terrorists, who, of course, were really just thieves.
Each of these films walked a thin line between over-the-top action fare and real world rules, bloody good action and earned sentimentality, charismatic baddies and a wise-cracking hero. Alas, the writer and director of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD do not know how to finesse these elements, and the results come off badly. Even boringly at times. And one thing a DIE HARD film should NEVER be, is boring.
So … are the critics right here? Is DIE HARD really over? Should it be? Or can this series be salvaged?
I say it CAN be salvaged. Here’s how:
1 – Bring back the screenwriters from the first three films, Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza, Doug Richardson, and Jonathan Hensleigh, stick them in a room together and see what they come up with. If they’re not available, call in Shane Black (screenwriter – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) who actually came up with the title DIE HARD when the book upon which it is based, Nothing Lasts Forever, was deemed too negative. Shane Black is currently directing Iron Man 3.
2 – Bring back director John McTiernan, who helmed the first and third films in the series. Yes, for the past seven years he’s been fighting federal charges regarding a wiretapping case (Wikipedia has more on the subject), but as his appeals have kept him free for this long, I say let the guy get back to what he does best: making terrific DIE HARD films.
3 – Bring back Bonnie Bedelia as Holly! Having John be separated from Holly in DH3 (and divorced from her in DH4) was a slap in the face after everything John went through in the first two films to save her. Even DH5 would have benefitted from having Holly stand next to Lucy at the end of the film, waiting for John and son to get off the plane. But … no. The heart of the first two films was that, even amidst all the bombast, John McClane was just a man who just wanted to get back to his wife. Bring back Holly, and give John McClane something worth fighting for.
4 – Make the stakes REAL again. Yes, you can up the action set pieces if you want, but NOT to the point that McClane is an unbreakable superman. (Believable stunts have never been a strong point of the DIE HARD movies – McClane ties a fire hose around his waist and jumps off a skyscraper in the first film, he even jumps from a helicopter to an airplane wing in the second – but the scenes were executed in a such a way that we, the audience, went with it. The over-the-top slo-mo nonsense in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD stretched even those standards.) You can beat the hell out of McClane in these films, but for God’s sake show some real world consequences and let the guy get hurt, otherwise it’s just a cartoon.
5 – Bring John McClane back to Los Angeles. In fact, have the film do for LA what DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE did with New York. Have the whole fam damily together for some big event – perhaps Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting married to Matt Farrell (Justin Long) from DH4. You could also have cameos here by Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), Argyle (De’voreaux White), Zeus Carver (Sam Jackson), etc … Of course, this event must be ruined by someone. Perhaps someone else seeking vengeance …
6 – Give John McClane a worthy opponent. Possibly even another Gruber sibling, come to exact revenge on John for killing his two brothers. Of course, this revenge plot would actually just be cover some elaborate robbery. As far as who has enough charisma and acting chops to play this German bad guy, and give Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons a run for their money … I say it’s got to be Christoph Waltz. Which further makes me think that Quentin Tarantino could give this script a whack. Maybe even direct it. Why not? He’s worked with both Bruce and Christoph before, and QT dialogue coming out of the mouths of these two actors, in those roles, could be AMAZING!
7 – Since we’re already in LA, have the climax of the film take place at Fox Plaza – aka the Nakatomi building. I’m not sure why this would happen (does Holly still work there?), unless McClane wanted to lure this Gruber into a place where he had the upper hand (John certainly knows the place), but it would essentially bring the series full circle.
8 – Entitle this film OLD HABITS DIE HARD.
What say you? Agree or disagree? Nay or Yippie-kay-yay? Or perhaps you have different ideas altogether. Sound off below.