MANILA, Philippines – Yipee-ki-yay: John McClane is having his silver jubilee.
It has been 25 years since the first “Die Hard” movie, a blockbuster that spawned a lucrative enough franchise comprised by blockbuster sequels (plus videogames and even comic books), leading to this year’s 5th installment, “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
At the center of it all is McClane, the fictional New York cop that turned portrayer Bruce Willis, up until then largely the cocky star of the TV comedy “Moonlighting,” into an out-of-the-blue action star.
“Die Hard,” scripted by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart off the Roderick Thorp novel “Nothing Lasts Forever,” did not do anything spectacularly new, focusing instead on delivering spectacular popcorn entertainment.
Viewing it today — despite outdated details such as VHS players, pre-Windows computers, Aqua Net-buffed hairdos — shows that its thrill is intact. After all, strip away its antiquated traits and we see at its core a crisp plot about a persistent everyman thrust into the unlikely scenario of mortally thwarting terrorist crooks, his ways out of the precarious situations crazier as his straits get direr.
Mix that in a stew teeming with violent action and sardonic comedy and we’ve got ourselves one glorious junk-food stew, making viewers eager to lap up second or so helpings.
(Interestingly, most of “Die Hard” villains are Germans and Willis himself is part-German — his mother was German and his birthplace was West Germany, where his American soldier-father was stationed during his birth.)
Harder but not better
Such was “Die Hard’s” global, million-dollar triumph that Hollywood, specifically 20th Century Fox, dished out an inevitable sequel, with Renny Harlin taking over the directorial reins after John McTiernan delivered the goods in ’88.
The first sequel-cum-second installment, 1990’s plaintively titled “Die Hard 2,” (scripted by de Souza and Doug Richardson, based on the Walter Wager novel “58 Minutes”) had a key dual objective throughout: be a carbon copy of its predecessor but the ante upped with glee, as encapsulated by its promoted subtitle, “Die Harder.”
Thus, whereas McClane was confined to a Los Angeles skyscraper during a Christmastime heist, the man was now holed up at a Washington airport during a Christmas Eve siege.
The violence and profanity of “Die Hard 2” was rather rampant that it seemed to be outdoing the rather brutal “Robocop,” too.
While the action set pieces are suspenseful (such as a close call involving an airport “slidewalk”), even creative and over-the-top (an ejector seat stunt complements the first “Die Hard’s” fire-hose-as-rope money shot), “Die Hard 2” had a noticeable deficiency: it lacked the wit of the original.
Sure, McClane still had bouts of talking to himself about the astonishing predicament of having “the same sh*t happen to the same guy twice” and gets to utter his signature “Yipee…” line anew, it was harder to laugh at “Die Harder” and easier to notice that the burgeoning franchise featured reverse horror movies: the “innocent” protagonist gets to off the bad guys one by one.
Third time’s not the charm
If “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2” were identical twins, then the further followup, 1995’s “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” is their less interesting cousin.
While it had McTiernan back as director and convincing supporting actors Jeremy Irons and Samuel L. Jackson on hand, the 3rd “DH” was a less engaging diversion, arguably made so by expanding McClane’s working domain into much of New York City, the compelling claustrophobia of the earlier installments diluted into a now comparatively pedestrian thriller — the usual time-is-running-out plot point aside.
Jonathan Hensleigh’s script, with its post-“Do the Right Thing” bits of racial tension, could have worked, if only Irons’s scheming character was not such a retread of Rickman’s pioneering “Die Hard” turn and Jackson’s raised-voice, race-conscious portrayal was not such a hangover from his memorable, volcanic turn in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.”
Yet nothing was more distracting about “Die Hard with a Vengeance” than its tiresome “Simon says” ploy — a brain teaser, true, but one so overused that hearing it often across the film’s 129-minute expanse was quite the movieviewing torture.
More high-tech, still action-packed
It would take 12 years before, surprise, a new “Die Hard” movie turned up, apparently in part because 9/11 happened. (Truth be told, no matter how fake, made-up the “Die Hard” movies are, several of their scenes now tend to be grisly echoes or reminders of that Twin Towers nightmare and even the recent Sandy Hook school tragedy.)
Entitled “Live Free or Die Hard” — that line a play on the New Hampshire state motto “Live free or die” — or simply “Die Hard 4.0,” 2007’s then spanking new “Die Hard” flick was an acknowledgment of the infotech age, with old-school McClane inadvertently teaming up with a hacker in foiling the grand plans of a cyberterrorist.
As directed by “Underworld” helmer Len Wiseman (from a script by Mark Bomback based on a Wired article by John Carlin), “4.0” had a craftsmanlike efficiency to it.
It smacked of a sleekness that befits the digital era and, even with far-out action scenes such as a car “killing” a helicopter, eschewed being a complete throwback to the earlier “Die Hards.”
The 4th movie’s planned title, “Die Hard: Reset,” would have been apt.
Still fighting after 25 years
Today, 6 years later, comes “A Good Day to Die Hard” which, as the trailers divulge, finds McClane abroad and suddenly joining his grown-up son in frustrating a Russian criminal mastermind in colorful Moscow.
From the looks of the teasers, “A Good Day” — directed by John Moore from Skip Woods’ screenplay — will be a mix of something old (much gunfire, leaping, explosions, careening cars, McClane smirking amid danger, plus “Ode to Joy” off Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) and something new (a skin-baring vixen, the outside-the-US locale, Australian Jai Courtney dropping his accent and matching Willis’s brawn, plus Imax-worthy cinematography).
While scores of theatergoers, with or without Valentine’s dates, are certain to line up for it, here’s hoping the 2013 “Die Hard” is worth its relatively brisk 97 minutes.
Otherwise, here’s looking at you, “Die Hard 6: Die Already.” – Rappler.com
(“A Good Day to Die Hard” opens in Philippine cinemas on February 13.)