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Die Hard goes soft

Sam Murray has hard it up to here with the franchise.

The fifth instalment of the Die Hard action series screwed up badly. Really, really badly. That’s not because it’s a bad action film (which it is, with heavy -handed dialogue, a forgettable plotline and generic action sequences), but because it so fundamentally misunderstands the basic pillars of the action series it comes from. To be fair, the fourth instalment ignored the fundamentals as well, and was also terrible for exactly the same reasons, making this film’s failure all the more exasperating.

So, why did the first few Die Hard films work, and why doesn’t this one? The original Die Hard concerned a hostage situation of an office Christmas party. Protagonist John McClane, is only in the building to see his estranged wife, is left as the only one capable of stopping them; an off-duty NYPD cop going up against trained ex-military veterans. The film’s success is all about how the woefully outmatched and outgunned average American McClane needs to outsmart a group of enemies who he has no hope of beating with the traditional ‘action-guy’ shooting rampage. That’s why the initial film cast Bruce Willis, who at the time was known for being a comic actor, to help this idea of the average-guy-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time.

Die Hards 2 and 3 adopted a similar structure, with McClane being outmatched again against different terrorists in an airport and New York City respectively. This is why the films work as original action films: because they don’t portray the protagonist as some unstoppable Schwarzenegger-esque 1980s action hero, but rather as an average Joe way out of his league who somehow triumphs.

Fast-forward to Die Hard 5, where McClane has evolved into James Bond, and has to assist a CIA mission in Moscow to prevent a nuclear weapons heist. Obviously, something has changed from his original “let’s save my wife from being taken hostage” schtick. Compare the first film, where the terrorists immobilise McClane for half an hour by shooting windows around him, so that he has to cripple himself by walking barefoot on broken glass, to the fourth film where he launches a car into a helicopter with nonchalant ease, or the fifth film where he dukes it out with an attack helicopter in Chernobyl of all places. This ridiculous and absurd evolution of action sequences in a series that never had them to begin with, reveals how the series has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

A Good Day to Die Hard will hit cinemas on March 21