Today’s my birthday (don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting a card or anything) and as a lovely birthday present, 20th Century Fox have seen fit to release a new Die Hard film in the week of my birthday. But like receiving a birthday cake that someone’s licked all the icing off, Fox have seen fit to send us Brits only the least offensive parts of the latest vestathon from America’s favourite retired bartender. The excitement that had built up in many parts from people seeing that this would receive an R rating in the US has turned to anger at the knowledge that Uncle Sam is keeping the blood sprays and the verbalisation of sexual denigration of those who prefer mothers all to itself.
It’s clear that those people (a) haven’t seen the trailer for this film, which looks shards-of-glass-in-toe-curlingly awful, as if Fox compiled all of the worst parts of the film into one easily digestible two minute package, and (b) seem to have forgotten that Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free To Die Hard as it was known across the pond, wasn’t much cop either. Or at least, that’s the received wisdom. But that’s not how I remember it. I seem to remember actually really enjoying Die Hard 4.0. But of course I’m mad, and the only one who did. Because everyone knows that only the first three Die Hards are any good, and the fourth is just a bit rubbs, innit?
The Prince Charles Cinema in London, one of the capital’s finest and most respected emporiums of cinematic thrills, seem to agree, sticking resolutely to showing the Die Hard Trilogy and completely omitting the fourth entry from their own celebratory marathon. And they’re not alone; the general consensus from what I read on the internet – which is always an unimpeachable source of fact – is that Die Hard 4.0 either isn’t a good film, or might be OK but isn’t a great Die Hard.
I’m not quite sure what it’s done to deserve this reputation, but further research on the internet shows how each of the films is regarded by the movie-going public and by those harshest of judges, critics:
So Die Hard is ranked by all as the cast-iron classic it absolutely is. No surprise there. But it seems most groups regard either Harder or With A Vengeance (or both) as not as good as the fourth one. Die Hard 4 is that exception that proves the rule – it’s a good Len Wiseman movie, with a reasonable supporting cast, if you overlook the presence of Timothy Olyphant as the weakest bad guy in the series.
So maybe it is a good film, but not a good Die Hard film? There’s generally four main complaints that I hear about the fourth Die Hard that make it Not A Die Hard, so let’s take them in order of quickness.
1. Yippie-ki-yay, motherfmpfl
What’s wrong with this video? (Rated 15 for language, except the last few seconds which are a 12A.)
Yes, much wailing and gnashing of teeth was expressed over the last movie and its similarly botched rating, getting a PG-13 in America but still managing a 15 here, even with the mangled ending. While I’m extremely frustrated not to be able to watch a film designed for adults in a cinema, where they’re supposed to be seen, the copy I have to watch at home reinstates the “ucker” and provides the much-needed catharsis for McClane’s extreme violence. But think about the other great lines from the other three Die Hards. Are they dependent on language offensive to mothers everywhere?
John McClane: [stealing Tony’s shoes] Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.
Hans Gruber: [addressing the hostages] I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way… so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.
Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
Dwayne T. Robinson: We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.
Carmine Lorenzo: You’d be a surprised what I make in a month.
John McClane: If it’s more than a dollar ninety-eight I’d be very surprised.
Gen. Ramon Esperanza: [Esperanza has landed the plane and steps outside] Freedom!
John McClane: [punches him] Not yet!
Simon: No, no. My only problem is that I went to some trouble preparing that game for McClane. You interfered with a well-laid plan.
Zeus: Yeah, well, you can stick your well-laid plan up your well-laid ass.
Swear words are mere profane embellishments to what should be core values of story and dialogue, and if A Good Day To Die Hard is to succeed, it will have remembered this rather than relying on one tired old catchphrase. Or it could even road test some new alternatives, obviously without the swearing.
2. They are so frail, humans. So easily crumpled and broken
What actually makes a Die Hard film? Obviously it’s John McClane, fighting his way through increasingly testing situations. One of the key observations often quoted around the first film is how McClane bore the effects of his struggles, sat frustratedly in a bathroom while picking glass out of his feet, counting himself lucky that he hadn’t sliced through an artery and swiftly bled to death. Here’s a list of the number of times McClane showed similar difficulties, questioning not only his mission but almost his chances of success and survival, in the subsequent two films:
- He got a little bit miffed when he failed to save a plane with 200 passengers and O’Brien off Star Trek on it. But that doesn’t really count as it wasn’t about himself.
- Er, that’s it.
So this happened once, in Die Hard. Hardly a staple of the series, is it?
Additionally, John McClane keeps finding himself in these situations. He would either become hardened to it, or go on an insane rampage, indiscriminately killing innocent bystanders. (Which I believe is the plot of A Good Day To Die Hard.)
3. Location, location, location
The original entry in the series has an iconic location, so iconic in fact that it appeared on the first poster in place of Bruce Willis himself. The Fox building which became Nakatomi Plaza on-screen is almost as much of a character as a McClane or a Gruber. Since then, each film has seen a subsequent expansion, to airport, city and eastern seaboard. There’s also been grumbling that the series has consequently lost its focus with that expansion, but I’d counter that with a couple of things: it never did Grand Theft Auto any harm, and sequels do demand the law of increasing returns.
While on the former point I’ll admit it’s a bit of a cheat, I do think the continual expansion of the series has helped to keep it fresh. If we were just re-treading the same ground each time in buildings of random sizes (a skyscraper! a train station! a really large bungalow!) the Die Hards wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have. I don’t hold with the argument that keeping the location confined is a pre-requisite; many action movies, and Die Hard is little different, feature the protagonist and antagonist kept separate for much of the film, before a final confrontation. The first two have brief encounters with Gruber and Colonel Stewart respectively, but this is another argument where it comes down to character and conflict rather than a forced situation.
4. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a man in a grubby white vest
The last complaint that most often crops up regarding the continued evolution of the Die Hard series concerns the action, and most specifically this scene where McClane and his giant truck take on a F35 fighter.
The complaint here is again twofold; the unreality of John’s almost superhuman efforts, coupled with an excess of CGI. But if you look back over the series, effects work has long been a staple of the series, just at the level that the series could actually afford at the time. (Guess what? They didn’t actually blow up the rooftop of a downtown LA skyscraper. Movie magic, isn’t it wonderful…)
But it’s also about how feasible it is for a man to be sliding around on falling roads and flying jets. The immediate answer, of course, is not in the slightest, but is it the fault of Die Hard 4 that believability in the field of human endeavour has gone out the window? Let’s work back through the series to find where the root of the problem is.
- Die Hard 4.0. McClane drives a car through a toll booth and into a helicopter, bailing out of the vehicle at a probable 90 miles per hour which leaves him very seriously injured. Or miraculously not.
- Die Hard With A Vengeance. McClane and Carver leap from a boat that detonates in a massive explosion, about two seconds before it explodes so powerfully that the shockwave is felt miles away, undoubtedly seriously injuring them as they are about a foot underwater at the time.
- Die Hard With A Vengeance. McClane and Carver are attempting to climb down a line from a truck on a bridge to a container ship, when the truck falls and drops them tens of feet onto the hard metal surface of container ship, leaving them both very seriously injured.
- Die Hard 2: Die Harder. After fighting two leaders of the criminal gang on the wing of a moving plane, McClane falls off the wing of the plane moving at high speed, leaving him very seriously injured.
- Die Hard. McClane leaps from the top of the Nakatomi Plaza, and after falling five floors with only a fire hose tied around his waist, the metal reel of the hose drops ten floors, instantly creating enough force to pull him straight out of the window despite his best efforts to resist it and leaving him very seriously dead.
- Die Hard. McClane attempts to climb across an air vent at around thirty stories up; he slips and falls but attempts to grab onto a vent two stories below. Instead, he breaks both his arms and falls, leaving him extremely dead.
In conclusion, Die Hard 4.0 is the continuing adventures of a superhuman, wisecracking sociopath on a logically expanding wider canvas, featuring both international and family stakes based on a third large scale larceny encountered in just over a decade. As such, it’s not just a decent action movie, but an absolutely logical extension of the Die Hard universe.
Come back soon, where I expect to be reporting that the 12A rated, not released for critics, originally scripted fifth Die Hard film is a complete pile of cack, motherfmpflers.