Monday, December 18, 2017

Rank 'Em: The "Die Hard" Movies

I've heard that plans are underway for a sixth "Die Hard" movie, supposedly aiming for a 2019 release, but they were going the reboot/prequel route the last time I checked, and everything was delayed as Bruce Willis went off to make a "Death Wish" remake/reboot.  We've definitely hit a lull, if nothing else, and if the series goes on from here, I expect that it's going to undergo some major changes.  So as it's Christmastime, and "Die Hard" is of course a beloved holiday favorite, this feels like a good place to go back over the existing "Die Hard" films and see how they all measure up.  All five installments are listed below from best to worst.

Die Hard (1988) - The original "Die Hard" remains a ridiculously entertaining slice of male wish-fulfillment vigilante fantasy, with Bruce Willis at his most charismatic and Alan Rickman at his most hateable.  The cat-and-mouse game feels formulaic now because, of course, everyone tried to copy the film in the wake of its success.  You heard multiple action films described as "Die Hard on a train" or "Die Hard on a submarine" for ages.  Alan Rickman may be single handedly responsible for an entire generation of snobby Eurotrash baddies.  And Bruce Willis never had a more loveable role than his everyman cop, John McClane.  

Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) - In many ways I like this installment better than the original, largely thanks to the participation of Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus.  He's the real average joe caught up in crazy circumstances this time, and he and McClane make an excellent onscreen duo.  I should note that the film was based on an original script that also nearly became "Lethal Weapon 4" at one point, so certain elements are understandably a little generic.  The evil Simon, played by Jeremy Irons, is a memorable villain, and the action scenes and puzzle challenges are a lot of fun.  I also appreciate that the film is very much a New York movie, in the same way that the original was very Los Angeles.

Die Hard 2 (1990) - This one barely squeaks ahead into the third slot for me because while it's a pretty derivative early 1990s action film, it also feels more like a "Die Hard" film than any of the later entries of the franchise.  The plot is, of course, "Die Hard" at an airport.  And like most of the action movie sequels of its era, it tries mightily to duplicate the magic of the original and falls short.  Bruce Willis feels like he's trying a little too hard, and William Sadler is no Alan Rickman.  Still, it delivers the big, bombastic action and disaster beats that you want out of this kind of film.  And I love me some Dennis Franz.  Who doesn't love Dennis Franz?

Live Free or Die Hard (2007) - It's a totally unnecessary sequel, of course, but I've always felt that the film got an undeserved bad rap.  Toning down the violence with a PG-13 rating may have ticked off some of the gorehounds, but Willis wasn't exactly in the shape to be doing crazy stunts anymore.  And I really appreciate the injection of some humor with the participation of comedic actors like Justin Long and Kevin Smith.  The cybercrime-centric plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, though, and sadly Timothy Olyphant is wasted in the bad guy role.  Still, the film is very watchable as a light action movie, even if it's not very good as a "Die Hard" installment.  

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) - The only "Die Hard" movie I just flat-out dislike.  There's McClane's oafish son played by a weirdly thuggish Jai Courtney, the cinematography by someone who apparently took "shakeycam" as a challenge, and the writing is just dire the whole way through.  The saddest part of the whole sorry venture is Bruce Willis, whose heart clearly isn't in it anymore.  The only parts I enjoyed were Mary Elizabeth Winstead's brief cameo and a nice little homage to the original "Die Hard" when the bad guy meets his end.  I'm hoping that this is where the "Die Hard" franchise finally stops, because there can only be continued diminishing returns after this.  


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