Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Die Hard Marathon

On February 13th, select theatres had a marathon of the Die Hard movies, ending with the premiere of A Good Day to Die Hard. Cody was at one of those theatres.

I'm really liking this new trend of theatres holding marathons of franchises to coincide with the release of new sequels and/or Blu-ray collections. Last year, I attended and enjoyed such marathons for the Marvel Avengers movies and the Indiana Jones series, and there were others, like Lord of the Rings and Twilight marathons, that weren't as appealing to me personally but I'm sure were fun experiences for their attending fans. So when I heard that the same was being done for the Die Hard franchise, I was totally up for it. The Die Hards are movies I'd be happy to spend a day watching in a theatre, and it's perfect timing for this - 2013 is the 25th anniversary of the first Die Hard, the Blu-ray collection just came out, and the marathon would culminate with the 10pm premiere of the latest sequel in the series.

Before hearing about the marathon, I had been contemplating having a different mini-marathon on the opening day of the new Die Hard. Since Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis were going to have movies coming out every other week, I was thinking of having an '80s throwback triple feature of The Last Stand, Bullet to the Head, and A Good Day to Die Hard. That wouldn't have worked out anyway, since The Last Stand had already left the first-run theatre by the time AGDTDH hit. In the weeks since, I have managed to see Arnie and Sly's new movies at the dollar theatre.

I've been missing a lot of new releases over the last couple months because, as mentioned in my Spider-Man 3 write-up, I've been worrying over and dealing with the health issues that my dog Zeppelin has been going through. Over the three days prior to the Die Hard marathon, it was looking like that situation wasn't quite as taken care of as it seemed to be when I wrote about S-M3, the growth of his lip seemed to be coming back and that didn't jibe with the veterinarian's initial belief that it had been benign. The marathon was on Wednesday and Zeppelin was scheduled to have a second surgery that Friday. So if I hadn't already bought my ticket, I would've skipped the Die Hard spree to focus on my dog, but with the money already invested I made my way to the theatre to spend the day watching John McClane save the day.

I opted not to drive to the marathon, since it was being held at a theatre in a town I wasn't familiar with, and instead got dropped off there around 11:30am. I got my pre-printed ticket ripped, bought a large drink with free refills, and went to the auditorium where the marathon would be screening. Auditorium 4, which was in "the basement" of this 16 screen theatre. That meant walking up and down a flight of stairs to get to and from this auditorium for restroom breaks and concession stand visits, providing some light exercise over the course of a day largely spent sitting in a dark room. I took a seat among the other attendees, a group that numbered in the 40s, and at noon the show began.


DIE HARD (1988)

In 1968, Frank Sinatra played a character named Joe Leland in the Twentieth Century Fox release The Detective, based on a novel of the same name by Roderick Thorp. So when Fox started developing a film adaptation of Thorp's 1979 sequel novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Sinatra was offered the chance to reprise the role of Leland. After Sinatra turned it down, ties to The Detective were cut. Internet rumors say the studio considered adapting the story into a sequel to 1985's Commando starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Steven E. de Souza, a screenwriter on both Commando and Die Hard, has denied that. Instead, it became a standalone film with a main character named John McClane.

Many popular actors of the '80s were up for the role of McClane, many of them turned it down, the names that were gradually crossed off the list included Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Sylvester Stallone. When Bruce Willis, star of TV's Moonlighting, signed on, there were those who questioned whether he was suited to be an action hero. But when the finished film reached screens, it turned out that Willis, director John McTiernan, and writers Jeb Stuart and de Souza had created an action icon.

What makes McClane such a great character is that he's not the sort of superhero that action stars so often portray and which he could've been in the hands of a different director and actor. He's a regular guy, a police detective, an 11 year veteran of the NYPD. He's a man with flaws and relatable problems. When we first meet him, he's scared, gripping the armrests of his seat tightly as the plane he's on comes in for a landing in Los Angeles. He's afraid of flying. McClane has come to L.A. to spend Christmas with his wife Holly and their two young children, who moved out to the west coast six months earlier so Holly could continue moving up the ranks with her career at the Nakatomi Corporation. We get the impression that this visit is make or break for John and Holly's marriage, especially when he arrives at the new, still partially under construction Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper office building to find that she's reverted to using her maiden name.
The only people in the thirty-five story building this evening are the ones attending a Christmas party/business deal celebration on the thirtieth floor. McClane goes up to 30 to check in and catch up with Holly, have a talk that turns into an argument... And when the party is crashed by thirteen terrorists, McClane is the only person who manages not to be killed or taken hostage. He's the only person who can stop the terrorists, and in doing so, save Holly. An average cop, barefoot and in his tank top undershirt when things go down, armed initially with only his service issue Beretta, going up against thirteen men armed with pistols, machine guns, assault rifles, C4, and cases of guided missiles. McClane is in way over his head.

Willis/McClane is surrounded by a great supporting cast; Bonnie Bedelia as Holly, Reginald VelJohnson and De'voreaux White as LAPD Sergeant Al Powell and Argyle, McClane's friends on the outside, Paul Gleason as the frustratingly dim and mistrusting Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (basically Gleason's Principal Vernon character from The Breakfast Club with more authority), William Atherton as overzealous and unscrupulous TV reporter Richard Thornburg, Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush as FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation). There are characters you connect with, who you care about, and even the ones you don't like are enjoyable to watch. Especially entertaining to me is Hart Bochner as Holly's co-worker Ellis, a coke-snorting yuppie douche with bad ideas, an interest in Holly that goes beyond professional, and a very high opinion of himself.

Alan Rickman does fantastic work as Hans Gruber, the sharp dressed and classically educated head of the villains. His interplay with this "cowboy" who's messing up his plans is great, and partially improvised - Willis has said that he came up with the "Yippee ki-yay" line that became his character's catchphrase on the spot.

Rickman is British playing German, and his crew of baddies is made up of actors from all over Europe - Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria - with a couple Americans and the legendary Al Leong thrown in for good measure. They don't all get a lot of screen time, but most of them make an impression in their own way, whether it be certain lines, the way they react to what's going on, or even taking a moment to eat some candy bars. Two of the henchmen are brothers, and even before we know that for sure it's nicely conveyed in a scene where one antagonizes the other with his different, more brash approach to a task they have to perform. One of the brothers is Karl, played by Russian ballet star Alexander Godunov, who becomes one of McClane's biggest problems, because he has a personal vendetta against him - Karl's brother Tony (Andreas Wisniewski, who fought James Bond in The Living Daylights the year before Die Hard) is the first of the bad guys to be killed by McClane.

While Gruber puts on a front that this raid on Nakatomi is all about punishing the company for the greediness of its international endeavors and to negotiate the release of imprisoned fellow "freedom fighters", Gruber has no real allegiance to any other groups or belief in causes - the terrorist act is a front for a heist, the theft of $600 million from a vault within the building. $600 million is only ten days of operating capital for Nakatomi, it shouldn't be such a problem. But McClane causes a lot of trouble for Gruber...

And McClane doesn't have an easy time of it, either. He takes a hell of a beating along the way. In a very effectively emotional scene late in the film, McClane is bloody and hurting and feeling backed into a corner, knowing that he's not likely to get out of this alive, so he contacts Al Powell via walkie talkie to send out a heartfelt message that Powell is meant to relay to Holly when this is all over, an imperfect husband's final words to the wife he loves.

Die Hard is a simple set-up masterfully executed on every level. Direction, writing, acting, the cinematography by Jan De Bont, the musical score by Michael Kamen, it's all top notch. It's easy to understand why the film became so popular and why it ranks as a favorite for so many people. It's certainly one of my favorite action movies, and has been since I first saw it at the age of five.

I've watched Die Hard many times over the years, on cable and on VHS, eventually on DVD. I watched it with parents and grandparents, and it's what I was watching when I discovered that no matter the quality of the film, my paternal grandmother would not abide any movie that had multiple droppings of the F bomb. I had never seen the movie on the big screen before, so getting to see it at the marathon with an audience of forty other appreciative fans was a really fun experience.

After the movie ended, there was a brief intermission, uneventful aside from some musical chairs played by latecomers looking for a better vantage point. When 2:35 rolled around, it was time for

DIE HARD 2 (1990) 

The first sequel is based on a novel by Walter Wager called 58 Minutes, which had nothing to do with Die Hard or John McClane (or even Joe Leland) before Fox had screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson take the story and adapt it into a second McClane adventure. First published in 1987, the novel is about a police officer getting caught up in the middle of a terrorist plot at an airport during a Christmas season blizzard. While Die Hard had been a relatively faithful adaptation of Thorp's Nothing Lasts Forever, name changes and tweaks to motivation aside, Die Hard 2 mainly just went with the basic set-up of 58 Minutes.

Producer Joel Silver gave the directing job to Renny Harlin, based on the dailies of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, a job Harlin had gotten at Fox after his version of Alien 3 fell apart. Harlin went straight from Fairlane to work on Die Hard 2, and filming began just seven months before the set release date. This wasn't the only sequel Harlin was hired to do extremely quickly - on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, which he pulled off impressively enough that Fox gave him that ill-fated Alien 3 gig, he started shooting just four months before release.

As part 2 begins, we find that John McClane has transferred from the NYPD to the LAPD to live happily with Holly and the kids, but now he's back on the east coast, spending the holidays at his in-laws' in Virginia. Holly is flying in from LA to the Washington Dulles International Airport on Christmas Eve, and while John waits for her flight to arrive he's thinking that the biggest trouble he'll have to deal with today is the fact that the car he borrowed from his mother-in-law has been towed to the impound because he left it in a No Parking zone.

But then McClane notices a couple guys acting oddly in the presence of airport police officers, catches a glimpse of a gun under one guy's coat. He follows these suspicious characters into a restricted area of the airport, shots are fired, a bad guy is killed, and McClane has stumbled into another terrorist situation. Soon the runway lights have been shut off remotely, communications between the tower and the planes cut off. The flights that had been coming in for a landing, including Holly's, are forced to circle in the sky overhead, waiting for comms and lights to come back on.

McClane is in over his head again, but he has some experience with this sort of situation now, so the threat level is increased. This time the terrorists are a team of former Special Forces soldiers. All of them were believed to have died while serving their country, but they've faked their deaths to go rogue and take part in this mission headed up by their commander, William Sadler as Colonel Stuart.

Only one flight will be allowed to land at Dulles while Stuart and his men are in control, the one carrying deposed dictator General Ramon Esperanza (played by Franco "Django" Nero). Most of what we know about Esperanza is gleaned from exposition delivered through television news reports: Two years earlier, Esperanza led the army of the South American country Val Verde (a fictional place that de Souza has used and referenced several times in his work, including in Commando) in a fight against Communist insurgents, a fight that the U.S. supported and funded. Those funds were cut off when Esperanza's men started violating the neutrality of neighboring countries, but a certain official in the Pentagon kept supplying Esperanza with weapons despite a Congressional ban, while he made up for the money loss by going into the cocaine smuggling business. Now Esperanza is a political prisoner, touted as the first prisoner in the war on drugs, and is being extradited to the U.S. One reporter informs us that despite his illegal actions, Esperanza still has ardent supporters in Val Verde and abroad. Stuart and his men are some of those supporters, Stuart was in fact the man who kept supplying Esperanza with weapons. He sees Esperanza as a noble warrior in the fight against Communism, and when he lands in Dulles, Stuart will rescue him from captivity.

That's the plan, anyway. McClane does his best to make sure it doesn't happen, while hoping to get all of this sorted out before Holly's plane runs out of fuel.

McClane's reputation proceeds him in this film, as the Nakatomi situation got a lot of press and even got him a guest spot on Nightline, and you'd think that might make people more likely to listen to him, but it actually has the opposite effect with Captain Carmine Lorenzo of the airport police. Played by Dennis Franz, Lorenzo is completely over-the-top in his resistance of having anything to do with McClane, constantly shooting him down, berating him, belittling his opinion. He's so high strung that you waver between hating him and feeling concerned for him because he seems like he might burst something vital inside at any moment during his rages and just drop dead. McClane slaps him with a zinger at one point that makes absolutely no sense - "What sets off the metal detectors first? The lead in your ass or the shit in your brains?" That seems to get to Lorenzo for a moment, but he's probably just confused by the nonsense McClane has thrown at him.

Luckily, McClane doesn't just have to deal with Lorenzo, there are some more helpful people at the airport, like Fred Dalton Thompson and Art Evans as tower workers Trudeau and Barnes, Tom Bower as Marvin the tunnel rat janitor, and Sheila McCarthy as a reporter. Eventually an anti-terrorist Special Forces unit called Blue Light arrives, led by John Amos as Major Grant, a man who knows Stuart personally. Indeed, he taught Stuart everything he knows.

I can remember when this movie was first coming out. I knew when it was made being made because my father had been close to the set on one of his trucking jobs, the bright lights nearby had been shining down on the filming of Die Hard 2. I was already a fan of the first, so I was excited that there was going to be a sequel. My film fandom had taken a step forward in 1989 as I had started buying movie magazines and reading about productions, and DH2 was covered in some of the magazines I got. When I finally got to see it on video, I thought it was great.

Thinking back, I didn't really judge movies in franchises against each other when I was a kid, I just took them all as a whole, a package deal, and if I liked a series it was always fun to get more entries in it. I'm still into following franchises, but I don't still hold that "all sequels are equal" idea (that will be very clear later in this write-up), and Die Hard 2 has fallen down a few notches for me over the years. Watching it now, I can see that there was a dip in the quality of the writing between the first and second movies, and it's way too much of a "repeat the beat" sort of sequel. Christmas, Holly in peril, Lorenzo is the Robinson stand-in, Marvin humorously references World War II like one of the Johnsons did Vietnam, Al Powell lends a hand, Thornburg just happens to be on Holly's flight and causes trouble again. Like McClane himself opines, "How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?" It's crazy.

But I still think it's an enjoyable movie, the airport setting and the villain angle are good stuff. The effects like the model airplanes and exploding miniatures are quite charming these days, and I've always had a soft spot for the moment when McClane escapes an exploding plane in an ejector seat. When I was a kid, the aerial shot looking down on the explosion with McClane flying up into the camera was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen. This also has one of the best henchman kills in the series, especially from a horror/slasher fan's perspective, with McClane jamming an icicle into the guy's eye, then snapping it off. I can remember that kill even getting mentioned in Fangoria a time or two. In a TV cut of the film, there's an edited version of a swear that I've often used myself since hearing it - while one TV version famously ended the "Yippee ki-yay" catchphrase with "Mister Falcon", the one I heard and repeat is "motherfather".

Today, the most shocking thing about the first two movies is the sight of McClane smoking cigarettes while walking around inside public buildings, surrounded by people who are just going about their business instead of looking at him in disgust or telling him to step outside. During part 2, I noticed that someone in the theatre auditorium was doing some smoking of their own, but this fellow was puffing away on an e-cig. First time I had seen that happen.

The intermission between the second and third films is when I decided to stop by the concession stand to get a large bucket of popcorn, which I could get refilled for free later. Then it was 5pm and my favorite of the sequels began.



The third film in the series started out as an original script titled Simon Says. Written by Jonathan Hensleigh, it made the rounds in the spec market for a while and there were possibilities that it could become a film starring Brandon Lee or that Warner Bros. would purchase it and turn it into Lethal Weapon 4 before it ended up in the hands of John McTiernan, who thought it was the perfect story to drop John McClane into. So Hensleigh rewrote Simon Says into Die Hard with a Vengeance, and McTiernan returned to the director's chair.
When we catch up with McClane this time, we find that he has pretty much self-destructed since "Die Harder". His marriage to Holly has fallen apart again, they haven't even spoken to each other in almost a year. He's living in New York again, back on the NYPD, but he's also been hitting the booze hard and his behavior has earned him a suspension. He's nursing a hangover when he gets dragged into another terrorist situation.
After setting off a bomb in a department store, a man who calls himself Simon and likes to speak in riddles phones the police and demands that McClane be forced to perform specific tasks within certain amounts of time or else more bombs will be detonated in other places around the city. McClane is sent running all over New York at Simon's whim, a Harlem shopkeeper named Zeus Carver and played by Samuel L. Jackson getting caught up with him along the way. The things McClane and Zeus are forced to do are sometimes humiliating, usually dangerous, and occasionally seemingly impossible. With them being sent all over the place and having to check in with Simon through pay phones, the first hour of the film reminds me a bit of one sequence in Dirty Harry, it's sort of an action-packed expansion on that idea.
The film switches gears when the identity of Simon is revealed - Simon Gruber, brother of Hans. He's not just a mad bomber and he's not only seeking vengeance against McClane. The fact that he's able to toy with McClane in this situation is just icing on the cake, most of the bombs are just creating distraction, he and his team of henchmen are actually seeking to pull off a heist even bigger than robbing Nakatomi Plaza: emptying the Federal Reserve of all its gold, $140 billion worth. Simon is played by Jeremy Irons, appropriately a British actor playing German just like Alan Rickman, and in that accent soup Irons drops a delivery of "Good Lord" that is another Die Hard line I quote regularly.
The supporting cast features some solid work from Larry Bryggman, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Anthony Peck, and Kevin Chamberlin as McClane's boss and co-workers at the police department, and despite his issues he doesn't meet much resistance from them, he doesn't have to deal with any bullheaded jerks, the good guys are actually on his side for once. On the villain's side there are most notably Nick Wyman as Simon's collaborator Targo, who thinks too much time and attention is being wasted on McClane, and Sam Phillips as the mute and bloodthirsty Katya, who makes a badass entrance. She's the first henchwoman in the series, and the two films that have followed both have one.
With a Vengeance is a fantastic film in itself and as a sequel it takes the approach that I prefer one to take - rather than going formulaic and doing all it can to shoehorn every element and character that made an impression in its predecessors, it takes the most important element, the character of John McClane, and goes its own way, in a story with a wider scope. Other ideas developed for part 3 between '90 and '95 had smaller settings, taking place on a cruise ship (Steven Seagal's Under Siege was integral in the scuttling of that version) and in the Los Angeles subway system. They likely would've been the same thing all over again, which would've been a mistake when "Die Hard on/in a ---" plots were already a joke.

The movie has balls, the last Die Hard movie to really have them as the two sequels since have both played it safe in their own ways. It's sort of astonishing that a big summer tentpole blockbuster release opens the way this one does, with McClane walking through Harlem wearing a sign with a racist message on it dictated by Simon, and that it deals with racial tension in the interaction between McClane and Zeus. There's a grittiness to DH3 that feels reminiscent of 1970s movies.

The violence is brutal and bloody, and McClane again takes a beating in some great encounters with henchmen. He may have been hurting more at the end of the first film, but he's still a mess in this one. As far as nasty bad guy deaths go, I really enjoy the moment when a henchmen gets sliced in half by a tow cable and McClane and Zeus end up dragging his two pieces away side-by-side.

McTiernan again did awesome work behind the camera, and the quality of the writing swung back upwards. Hensleigh's set-up is great and McClane was worked into it flawlessly. Other writers did some uncredited revisions, including Die Hard 2 co-writer Doug Richardson. I've always suspected that Quentin Tarantino might have done a polish, there's just something there that feels vaguely Tarantinoid, but I could just be imagining it because this movie is a Pulp Fiction reunion with Willis and Jackson and was made right in between PF and the anthology movie Four Rooms, in which Willis appeared in a segment directed by Tarantino. They were around each other at that time, why wouldn't Willis pass the script over to him and ask him to punch it up? Then again, if it happened we'd probably know about it for sure by now.

The only slightly weak point in the movie is the climax. They had trouble figuring out how to end it, and the final battle that they ended up with was a reshoot. But it works. Interestingly, the ending of the previous year's big action release from Fox, Speed, was originally written by Doug Richardson for a draft of DHWAV.

Die Hard with a Vengeance was the first of the series that I got to see in theatres. I was hyped up for it, I had followed the Die Hard 3 developments in movie magazines over the five years since part 2, read rumors that 3 and 4 were going to be shot back-to-back, watched TV reports about the production. My father and I were there opening day, reaching our seats so early that we sat through the end credits of the screening before the one we were there for. It was worth the anticipation I had built up for it. I loved the movie from the first time I saw it and caught a bit of DHWAV fever that summer - I bought the novelization, I bought the soundtrack, I had my uncle read the novelization since he had missed the movie in theatres. Almost 18 years later (that's insane), I was glad to get to see it on the big screen with an audience again.

And with that, we had reached the ending of the original trilogy and were about to enter ground both shaky and uncertain. It took twelve years for the sequel after Vengeance to come out, but we only had to wait until 7:30pm for it start.


It should come as no surprise that the fourth film didn't start out as a Die Hard movie. The roots for the story go back to an article about information warfare written for Wired magazine in 1997 by a journalist named John Carlin. Fox bought the rights to turn the article, titled "A Farewell to Arms", into a film soon after it was published. Years of development followed, writers Jon Bokenkamp and James Robinson did drafts, Enemy of the State co-writer David Marconi signed on to work on the script after the release of that film. The working title was and there was talk that it could be a tentpole release in 1999. Obviously they missed that year. Luc Besson was attached to direct in 2000, then moved on at some point. Marconi's script got some press soon after 9/11 because the climax featured a plane crashing into a Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park. The similarities to reality slowed the project down for a while... until there came the idea of turning it into Die Hard 4, which had long been in development hell itself. Multiple potential DH4 plots had been passed around over the years, at one point the project was called Die Hard 4: Tears of the Sun, and that subtitle so appealed to Bruce Willis that he negotiated to have it used as the title of a movie he made at a different studio.

Mark Bomback was the screenwriter tasked with retrofitting Marconi's script into a new episode in the life of John McClane. 9/11 wasn't the only real life tragedy that was mirrored in this project, on the way to the shooting draft Bomback wrote in a sequence where the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans is blown up, along with an oil tanker in the water below, the power of the blast flooding the city under seventy foot tall waves. That was written out after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. Bomback's work got the project a greenlight, but Bruce Willis wasn't satisfied with it. He went to Doug Richardson personally to get him to write a completely different take on the third sequel, which Richardson did. And Willis loved it. But in the end, Fox felt the Marconi/Bomback story was more marketable, so they stuck with it. And filming commenced with a script that Willis didn't like.

Fox sought to increase the film's marketability even more by making it the only one in the series to be released with a PG-13 rating. The others were rated R and had the profanity and blood to earn it, but this would be a Die Hard that my grandmother who had objected to the original would be able to give an OK to. (An unrated version with blood and F-bombs put back in was released on home video.)

As the screening of the fourth movie began at the marathon with the 20th Century Fox logo flickering out and losing power, someone sitting behind me gasped in mock horror, "It's a fire sale!" I didn't know what he was talking about then, but it turned out he remembered this movie better than I did.

A "fire sale" is what the cyberterrorist villains in the Die Harded version of are threatening to pull off, a three step attack on the infrastructure of the United States: transportation, financial base and telecomms, power and utilities. Everything that's run by computer, they can gain control of. They manipulate traffic signals, make it look like the stock market is crashing, take over network broadcasts to announce to the American citizens that the country is under attack on 4th of July weekend.

The first tip-off that something is going down comes when the cyber division of the FBI is hacked. All of the hackers on their watch list who could pull off such a feat are to be brought in for questioning. That's how John McClane, still working in the NYPD and now a thirty year veteran, gets involved. Since the hackers are high value suspects, the Bureau requests that they be brought in by a senior detective. McClane is dispatched to pick up one of the suspects, a young guy named Matt Farrell, from his apartment in Camden, New Jersey and transfer him to Washington D.C.

Several of the hackers on the list, including Farrell, were unwittingly involved with the crafting of the fire sale. They just contributed some code to an employer without knowing the big picture. To clean up their tracks, the villains knock off the hackers before the FBI can get to them, blowing them up with C4 planted on their computers. Farrell is about to be detonated himself with McClane knocks on his door... But the baddies have a plan B if a hacker's abode doesn't explode: a heavily-armed team of henchmen ready to go in and perform the execution themselves. So McClane almost immediately finds himself in a gunfight and things are off and running from there.

With the villains still gunning for Farrell and the Feds overwhelmed by the stages of the fire sale throwing the country into chaos, McClane is forced to stick by the hacker's side and use his knowledge to try to get figure out what's happening where and when so they can thwart plans and get to the person behind it all.

It's a decent enough set-up in theory and plays on McClane's ignorance of and aversion to technology, which had previously been most featured in Die Hard 2, where he's surprised by the existence of airplane phones, baffled by fax machines ("Just the fax, ma'am."), and states his belief that progress peaked with frozen pizza. I just find the way it was brought to the screen to be lacking, and not just because director Len Wiseman chose to coat the image with hideous, cold, blue-green color grading.

The character of Matt Farrell, as played by Justin Long, annoys the hell out of me. Which is a problem, since McClane is saddled with him for the whole movie. Completely out of his league, he complains and whines and cries his way through and grates on my nerves. I've liked Long in other movies, but I can't stand his character here. Maybe if he had used his Brandon St. Randy voice from Kevin Smith's Zack & Miri Make a Porno.

Speaking of Kevin Smith, he shows up in the role of a hacker called Warlock to deliver the exposition needed to explain the backstory of the lead villain, Timothy Olyphant as Thomas Gabriel. A former employee of the Department of Defense, Gabriel is a legendary computer whiz who's doing this to prove a point and get some cash... And he and his group of techies who spend the movie sitting in front of monitors are a very weak and dull presence.

The mobile henchmen, with Mission: Impossible III's Maggie Q as Gabriel's right hand woman/girlfriend, do liven things up a little, mixing it up with McClane in action sequences that become a bit too overblown and CG at times. Strangely, McClane uses a vehicle as a weapon at some point in almost every action scene, most famously launching a police cruiser into a helicopter, but he even manages to get an SUV involved with a scuffle in an elevator shaft. The biggest vehicular action pits McClane in a semi truck against a missile-firing fighter jet, and the moment when our everyman hero falls from a crumbling road system onto the back of the jet has been deemed by some to be this franchise's "jump the shark"/"nuke the fridge" event.

My favorite element of the film is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane's daughter Lucy, having aged nineteen years since we last saw her in the first movie and now attending Rutgers. She shows up early on to establish that McClane has had just as shaky of a relationship with his kids as he did with Holly - Lucy goes by her mother's maiden name, tells friends that her father's dead, and doesn't want to speak to him. She's brought back for the third act, after Gabriel figures out that no offers and no other threats, including deleting his 401k, will deter McClane. Lucy is kidnapped, and while she's held hostage Winstead gets to shine in the role. Lucy's a tough girl, she puts up a fight, threatens her captors, and tells the wussy Farrell to get a bigger set of balls. She is awesome, and there's not enough of her in the movie.

Despite the ugly picture, annoying sidekick, weak villain, and action that stretches beyond the series' limits, I would still say that Live Free or Die Hard is an alright movie in itself, but a letdown compared to the previous three. Aside from Winstead as Lucy, there's nothing about it that makes me want to rewatch it, and in fact the marathon viewing was only the fourth time I had seen the movie in the almost six years since it came out. I watched it opening day, then bought the DVD to watch the unrated cut and listen to the audio commentary, then never put it in again. As time went by since my last viewing it fell in my esteem more and more, so at least this one showed me that it wasn't as bad as I remembered.

I had eaten half of my popcorn during DHWAV and finished it off during LFODH, and had wiped out my drink over the course of all four of the movies, so in the intermission that followed Live Free I returned to the concession stand to get my free refills. I didn't intend to eat much of the second bucket of popcorn, I just got the refill to take advantage of the deal.

My drink and eats replenished, I returned to the basement auditorium and took my seat for what was probably seen by the organizers as the main event. For me, seeing the first three movies on the big screen was the main draw of the day, watching the fourth I was less enthused about, and I was cautiously curious about what was going to play out before us at 10pm.


Unlike its predecessors, the story for the fifth film was always intended to be a Die Hard sequel. The character of John McClane wasn't added into it in rewrites, he was part of it from the day screenwriter Skip Woods started typing it out. So it's very odd that it's the one which least effectively utilizes the character.

McClane's son Jack had been written into various drafts of the fourth film, from rejected plotlines that had the pair running into trouble while vacationing abroad to versions of the Live Free story in which Jack would've been the hacker his father was teamed with. Bruce Willis mentions such drafts in the Live Free commentary, saying that there were scripts written where McClane's estranged son was jailed and working for the government, but it was too convoluted so the son got written out and daughter Lucy written in with her own troubled relationship with her father. 5 sort of combines elements from unused Die Hard 4 scripts, mixing the idea of the son being in jail and working for the government with the idea of father and son getting in trouble abroad, in this case setting the story in Russia. At first, Woods had McClane going to Afghanistan and Russia to investigate his son's murder, but that was deemed too dark, so the son was kept alive and made part of the action.

On the eve of the trial of former billionaire turned Russian political prisoner Yuri Komarov, Jack McClane walks into a Moscow nightclub and shoots a man dead. Jack is arrested and tells authorities that he'll testify against Komarov, say Komarov hired him to kill the man, in exchange for leniency.

Jack and his father have always had an uneasy relationship, Jack was a problem child, the two had a falling out and haven't spoken in a few years. When news of his son's legal trouble reaches John McClane back in America, he doesn't seem all that surprised, just disheartened. Wanting to see his son through this, he hops a plane to Moscow and gets there just as the trial is set to start... But a team of heavily armed villains bomb the courthouse before it can begin, and in the ensuing chaos Jack manages to escape with Komarov in tow. McClane sees them flee the scene, sees the villains give chase, and decides to join in the chase himself. And so he gets involved with another situation that's way out of the norm for an NYPD detective.

All is not as it seems. Jack McClane is a CIA agent, the CIA knew the courthouse was going to be attacked, the murder in the nightclub (we never do find out who the guy he killed was, just that his name was Anton) was part of a mission to get him close to Komarov to protect him. Komarov's incarceration for unexplained reasons was at the behest of his former partner Viktor Chagarin, who's now a high ranking politician. Chagarin had him imprisoned to get him out of the way and hopefully force him to hand over a mysterious MacGuffin of a file, but he didn't want Komarov to go through with the trial. The CIA also want that file and offer a deal to Komarov to extract him from the country if he hands it over.

Things don't go as expected, the extraction mission falls apart, the two generations of McClanes are stuck in Russia with Komarov, a team of mercenaries after them. What's the secret at the middle of the conflict? A stockpile of nuclear materials that's ridiculously tied in to the real life Chernobyl meltdown.

A Good Day to Die Hard didn't work for me on any level, I was never engaged by it. I was disappointed with Live Free or Die Hard when it came out, but at least you can tell that everyone involved was really putting in an effort. They were trying to live up to the movies that came before, it just fell a little short. Good Day doesn't feel like any effort was put into it at all.

The problem starts with the script. There's hardly anything to it, maybe a lot of it got thrown out along the way or something. Nothing really happens in this movie, it's just a few action scenes pasted together with "bonding moments" that feel entirely obligatory. The writing comes off as lazy in the finished film and the plot makes little sense, so meaningless that two weeks into filming director John Moore was able to make the villain a different character than originally intended. That speaks to how empty the characters are as well.

Moore also made the questionable decisions to shoot the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, despite every previous installment being 2.35:1, of shooting with swaying, zooming, shaking handheld cameras to put the audience in the perspective of the "caught off guard" McClane, and lathering the image in horrendous teal color grading.

My opinion of Bruce Willis has been in decline for several years now, due to stories of him being troublesome on sets and my perception that, aside from bright spots like Looper and Moonrise Kingdom, he's largely abandoned portraying different characters and has decided to just walk through movies as the smirking icon that he is. This is the first Die Hard movie to be affected by that switch - the heart and soul of the John McClane character is largely lost, now he's just an older guy with a superhuman ability to walk out of situations unbelievably unscathed. He could be anybody in this movie.

Jai Courtney showed potential as the lead henchman in Jack Reacher, but is given nothing to do as Jack McClane but bitch out his father and act like a petulant dick for most of the movie.

Sebastian Koch and Sergei Kolesnikov are the feuding Russians, Rasha Bukvic is Alik, a laughing, dancing, carrot chomping clown of a henchman, and Yuliya Snigir is Irina, who mainly makes an impression because she's beautiful and a shot of her stripping out of motorcycle leathers to reveal her underwear was heavily featured in the film's marketing materials. That shot was almost completely cut from the movie itself.

A Good Day also comes off a lesser entry in the series because of its running time of 97 minutes, 26 minutes shorter than the next shortest Die Hard movie (part 2). There is an extended director's cut that might end up coming to home video, and that could fill in some of the movie's gaps, but I can't imagine that it'll help too much. The only sequence that has been confirmed to be longer is the car chase, which is boosted by 30% in the director's cut. At eight minutes long already, the car chase is one of the last things that needed to have any more to it. Oddly, the chase ends not with a freshly recorded ADR line, but with dialogue lifted straight out of the fighter jet sequence in Live Free, and it doesn't make much sense in this moment.

Skip Woods has implied that the 97 minute running time was a studio demand. It's very strange that Fox was aiming so low with this, demoting the series from a summer tentpole all the way down to a February release date. Aside from horror releases, which do well in the early months, February is often seen as a dumping ground for disappointing features. It's unusual for something like Die Hard, and the February date wasn't chosen because it didn't live up to expectations. The release date was set months before filming started, it's just by chance that it ended up feeling like it deserved to be in the dumping ground.

The basic idea is not something that I ever would've chosen for Die Hard, but it could've worked. I love spy movies and I know that dropping John McClane into the middle of one of his CIA agent son's spy missions could've been something fun if it was done right. But it wasn't.

I hate to badmouth people and rail against a movie, that's not what this blog's about, but I had low expectations for A Good Day to Die Hard and it fell far below even what I was prepared for. I was astounded that it was such an inept mess. I've been let down by sequels before, but this may have been the one I've disliked more than any other bummer sequel I've seen. The mighty had fallen hard, and watching the other movies before it just drove it home even more. I would usually say that fans of a franchise might as well stick with a series through all of its sequels, but this was the first time I advised a fan to skip a new entry. I told Jay Burleson (who has written about Die Hard before) to pretend he had never even heard a fifth movie had been made.

But my dislike of the latest Die Hard sequel was the least of my concerns as I walked out of the theatre at the end of the marathon. I had been thinking and worrying about my dog throughout the day, so I was very happy to find that Zeppelin had been brought along on the ride to pick me up after the show. Within 36 hours, he had been back in and out of the operating room, and a few days later the pathologist's report brought good news: the veterinarian had been right the first time, the growth was benign, and should undoubtedly now be gone for good. Zeppelin is proving to be as resilient as John McClane himself, and he's doing just fine now.

The bad ending and my worries throughout the day aside, I did really enjoy the Die Hard marathon experience. They're a good bunch of movies to spend the day watching. For the most part. A Good Day to Die Hard isn't a complete write-off, its existence did lead to a couple good things: theatres brought the other movies back to the big screen for a day, and it also inspired Lee Hardcastle to make a very cool claymation version of the trailer.


  1. Very nice rundown of your side of the day we spent separately together watching Die Hard movies! We agree on 1; I like 2 a bit more than you; 3 we agree on; I like 4 a lot more than you; and I was sorely disappointed in 5 too, but not quite as much as you. We did point out a lot of the flaws in 5 in unison - the 1:85:1 ratio; the shaky-cam; McClane not being...well, McClane-ish enough. I still enjoyed the day as much as you did - here's my blog post about the day:

    And huzzah for Zeppelin coming through a second bout like a champ!


  2. I really enjoyed reading this recap. My trajectory with the series is very similar--I still remember watching 1 and 2 on video before going to see With a Vengeance on opening day. I actually caught Die Hard last summer on the big screen (though it was a very old and very orange print, but still...), so I opted out of the marathon, though I did re-watch all four on Blu-ray (and I have to disagree on Live Free--that movie is still pretty bad aside from a few choice moments). Alas, I didn't make it out for A Good Day, and I'll have to catch up with that on Blu-ray as well. I will do this out of duty, but I'm not hopeful. I will be checking out your blog more. Great work.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope my future posts won't be as disappointing as recent Die Hards.

      - Cody