(This is a preview of the PopRox column in Sunday’s Pocono Record. Since it’s impossible to find a Die Hard video link without naughty language, be warned that some of these links aren’t appropriate if you’re at work with the sound turned up on your computer. You’ve officially been warned.)
I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Die Hard.
You know why? Because it’s awesome, that’s why. But for all the people who love the Die Hard franchise, they don’t love it more than me. If they do, they certainly haven’t examined it in the kind of detail I have.
With the fifth one hitting theaters on Valentine’s Day, it’s time for a primer to see where the franchise is at before it becomes A Good Day to Die Hard:
It’s the greatest action movie ever made, period. John McClane is the best action-movie character ever, period. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie, and everything about it is right. The script is a thing of sheer beauty, with more quotable one-liners than any other action movie and 99 percent of comedies. Sure, maybe some of them are a smidge cheesy, but they work with at least a 97 percent success rate. Bruce Willis should wake up every morning and thank his agent, manager or whoever got him this job, because it paved the way to him making zillions of dollars for the last 25 years. Then again, maybe that’s the same agent that hooked him up with Color of Night, so they’re probably even. Part of the sacred William Atherton Must be a Real Jerk trilogy with Ghostbusters and Real Genius. GRADE: A++++. I’d give it more pluses, but you get the idea. The problem is when you have perfection, there’s only one way to go …
DIE HARD 2
… and that’s down. Make no mistake — Die Hard 2 isn’t a bad movie, not by a long shot. But the script obviously was slapped together in a weekend, then infused with more random and meaningless F-bombs than any other movie of its era, perhaps to distract from the fact that the script really wasn’t that good in the first place. If Dennis Franz hasn’t washed out his mouth with soap yet, he probably should get on that immediately. Willis himself has admitted the sequel business wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, and that in hindsight, they probably should have taken more time to make Die Hard 2. That’s got to be why John Amos was ridiculously miscast as some sort of military commando, right? No one else was available on such short notice? Willis has also apologized for Striking Distance, so what does he know? Anyway, the action is still good, McClane is still McClane and Willis is strong enough to put the movie on his back and carry it to a surprisingly plausible ending. Yeah, that’s right, I said plausible! GRADE: B
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE
The franchise made up for it here. Glaringly underrated in the overall action genre, it originally was supposed to be the script for one of the Lethal Weapon movies. It was reshaped as the third Die Hard, and instantly reinvigorated the franchise. Like it even needed it! It’s where we discovered that Willis is getting older, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to bring in some top-flight talent to help him out. You know, a little higher up the acting food chain than Reginald VelJohnson. Pairing him with cool-as-ever Sam Jackson and playing cat-and-mouse with Jeremy Irons was a stroke of casting genius, and probably the best decision ever made within the franchise. Yup, the ending is beyond awful and nonsensical, and the alternate ending is shockingly even worse, but at least it only takes 10 minutes. The other 95 percent of the movie is Die Hard at its best. Plus, now that I’m teaching my daughters how to bless themselves, I’m always, always, always thinking, “North, south, east, west,” the manner with which McClane succinctly teaches Zeus to bless himself. GRADE: A
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Aaaaannnnd, we’re done with all that good will. Same goes from Die Hard 2 — this is not a bad movie. It’s just doesn’t have the John McClane feel to it and it’s the first one that feels like a money-grab. Die Hard 2 was a money-grab, but at least McClane was McClane. Here, it seems like Willis had to go back and watch the first three to re-teach himself how to be McClane. He does plenty of John McClane things and spouts a bevy of John McClane one-liners, but very few of them land in the right spot. Even though my man crush on Timothy Olyphant normally would force me to believe otherwise, he can’t hold the Gruber brothers’ jocks. On the other hand, it has the best stunts of the franchise, has just about the right amount of Kevin Smith-iness and would easily survive and thrive on its own as a non-Die Hard movie. GRADE: B-