Anne is on hiatus during May as she finishes what is quickly becoming the writing project from Hell. In the meantime, please enjoy this guest review by Gabe, writer/drinker of Beer And A Movie.
Hey there, Recyclers!
Are you ready to Die? Hard? IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT COMPROMISING SCENARIOS?! Then you’re in luck because in this installment of WRM, your favorite guest-blogger has watched the original three Die Hard films: Die Hard (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). So let’s get started, shall we?
For starters, let’s being with an overview of the franchise. Bad boy New York cop John McClane encounters terrorists/bad dudes and must single-handedly defeat them because the police are incompetent. That is, literally, the plot to first three movies (and fourth, which I have seen but not reviewed here for sake of time…I can’t vouch for the newest film). Of course I’m being a bit brash with my plot reductions but Die Hard, like most action movies, is not really about the plot. It’s about the hero kicking ass, making things explode and saying snarky things after completing the latter two. In that regard, the Die Hard series is both an innovator and a sad victim of its own tropes. Yippy kay yeah, mother recyclers!
Based off the book “Nothing Lasts Forever” (who knew?), Die Hard is in many ways a vocal response to the action films of the 1980’s. Die Hard is light on body-builders, confined in its geography and completely disempowers its protagonist which is pretty much the opposite of any Schwarzenegger film. The first fifteen minutes of the film quite effectively introduce us to John McClane as a man who’s not on his A-game. He’s in LA to woo his wife back but seems at a loss as to how to do so. He fumbles with his wife and when the shit hits the fan, he runs. As the movies progresses, McClane acts more like a wrench in the machine more than a force to be reckoned with. Without providing a list of examples, I will say that this is evident largely in the fact that McClane regularly gets the shit kicked out him and achieves victory mostly through luck. He walks on glass, gets shot, falls down elevator shafts, etc. Like any action hero, he takes a beating beyond what we mere mortals can handle but at least we see the wear and tear on his body. In fact, the movie makes a point of showing us how unfit John is for his situation. Near the film conclusion, we’re treated to beautiful shot of McClane, machine gun in hand of course, limping down a hall. He is blackened and bloody and moaning his enemy’s name. And his wife is there to say what we’re all thinking “Jesus Christ!”
I could keep talking about Die Hard but I’ll spare you. Mostly what I’m trying to say is that this movie is actually really good. Yes, it sags a bit in the middle and is definitely too long, but it’s still one of my favorite action films. The hero is relatable and human. The bad guy is intriguing and oddly likeable (and dies memorably). And the action is geographically confined in a way that feels fresh for the genre. Sadly, I really can’t say the same for Die Hard 2
Die Hard 2
It’s Christmas again and now LA cop is in Washington D.C. and terrorists have struck again! This time, a rogue group of soldiers, for reasons that are pretty much never explained, attempt to free a Latin American warlord from extradition. The plan? Hack into the air traffic control tower and crash planes until they have what they want. But what they didn’t count on is John McClane and his tendency to find average-looking people suspicious. So that’s where we begin. Abandoned are the tight-spaces and disempowerment. What we have now is a cop who knows better than everyone else. All the way until the last 20 minutes of the film, no one trusts McClane’s opinion, even when he has proved correct throughout. In short, this sequel follows the model of most action sequels: broaden the scope and bring in the army.
Not only is the writing and acting worse, the film makes little attempt to invest us in John beyond wanting him to be proven right. He’s cocky and his one-line zingers are more by rote than anything else. His famous “yippey kay yeah mother fucker” is tossed in at the end like lip service and lacks any of the punch it held in the first film. So with a watered-down good guy, the least we could ask for is an engaging bad guy, right? Sorry! No can do. Colnel Stuart is flat and calculating. The only interesting thing about him is that he does naked ninja yoga (no joke) that is never explained. So can we bank of an interesting twist at least? Meh, not really. Sadly, the twist that comes about 3/4ths of the way through this slog of a movie is not that dramatic and does little to change the outcome. Overall, DH2 dismisses what made its predecessor stand out and replaces it with the same bullet-ridden fanfare that we have grown accustomed to.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
Beginning with a title card that made me laugh out loud, DH3 does little to right the wrongs made in DH2.
(just watch the first seven seconds)
The scope is again broadened and McClane is again watered down. Certainly being a hero two times over earns you a little bravado, but the McClane of DH3 seems to have been thoroughly co-opted by the action movie machine. Sure he still gets beat to shit, but McClane is smarter now and actively engages in his plight. He deviates from his enemy’s plan, outsmarts his foe, he leans on his new civilian partner Samuel L. Jackson and he’s generally a bigger douchebag. Sure, the action is bigger but it isn’t better and the story is as meandering as McClane’s cross-city adventure. Simply put, it’s just not a good movie.
Overall, I still generally like these kinds of action movies. They are good fun and mostly mindless. What upsets about the franchise is that it started off so damn well. It had all of the elements of a great, stand-out film in its genre and yet as the series progressed, it began to look more and more like its silver screen siblings. There is a lot more that I could say about these movies; issues of race, Cold War fears and discussions of technological reliance but that’s for another day…to DIE HARD!
Thanks for sticking with me through this post. My posts on my own blog are typically shorter and booze-fueled, so this was a bit of a fun challenge for me to write something a little longer. Thanks to Anne for letting me tarnish her reputation of academic analysis. But sometimes it’s good to remember that watching a bad movie can just as much fun as watching a good one.