For starters, a recap. John McClane is Bruce Willis' most iconic character. Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis can still rock the "Old Guy as Action Hero" without losing mass audiences. (Look no further to the tallies from the last month to see how reticent audiences are to view sexagenarians defying physics and atrophy. Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand bombed.) The Die Hard movies, however, are hugely successful action movies based solely on John McClane (that is, Bruce Willis), the tough and wise street cop from New York City.
In the first entry, Willis plays McClane as a regular guy with regular problems (marriage, namely) put in extraordinary circumstances to which he rises – through luck and cunning – extraordinarily. In the second, it's the same formula in a different context (airport). Yet, one could sense John McClane was becoming somewhat of a demigod. He could take a beating and keep on coming. By the third, he's becoming Herculean in his efforts and his survivability. Any man that wears a sign around Harlem that says, “I hate n-----s” without dying is part divine. But, even in the first three, there was at least some sense of realism that John McClane is a normal 9-to-5 guy who finds he is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The fourth entry, Live Free or Die Hard, smacked that notion in the face and made John McClane a pure immortal who laughs at his former self. He's killing helicopters, specially trained mercenaries, power grids, parrying Kevin Smith, and making Justin Long seem a likely romantic interest for McClane's daughter. Most people couldn't do one of these, let alone the last. (Justin Long is the “I'm a Mac” nerd. McClane's daughter was the hot, no-nonsense chick from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.) I forgave this entry because it was undeniably entertaining. And, Timothy Olyphant, albeit no Hans Gruber, was still a decent villain. But, here comes A Good Day to Die Hard, directed by John Moore and written by Skip Woods, which has Bruce Willis doing so many un-John McClane-like things as John McClane, I had no choice but to laugh at some of the absurdity even if I wanted to cry as the credits rolled and some of my cinematic peers started clapping at the screen; the screen that wasn't about to take a bow or do anything but be an inanimate object, mind you. Clap away.
In this entry, McClane finds himself in Russia attempting to lend support to his son (Jai Courtney) who's been nabbed by Moscow authorities for offing a witness in what I believe would have been Russian's Trial of the Century. Behind the trial, a political prisoner done-in by his former friend and now leading Russian authority. The entire plot is propelled by a MacGuffin; a “file” that the prisoner has kept secret for five years which could totally erode his friend's career and fortunes. Swirling around this “file” is McClane's son's true allegiance, McClane's ineptitude as a father, henchmen, lots of explosions, a car chase that takes up half the movie, and a double-cross telegraphed from the first frame. It was basically a plot created in a writer's room somewhere in L.A. that started with a circle around “John McClane” with a bunch of arrows protruding out with, I imagine, a lot of intern notes saying stuff like “more explosions,” “Watch Season 8 of 24 for camera zoom-ideas,” and “Ooh, family conflict here, here, and here.” I hated it. I hated this movie and it killed me to hate it since I love John McClane.
So, here's my list why:
1. The plot was terrible. Die Hard movies are, by their definition, absurd, particularly number four, but this one was just all over the place. It didn't even end in a decent climax. It was all so silly, and I'm not even sure the plot would hold up to a decent cross-examination for inconsistencies in the internal logic of the movie.
2. McClane's banter was toned down. Willis inhabits McClane as a New York cowboy, the kind of blue collar-worker who may appear intellectually inferior to his foes, but whose experiences make him beyond formidable. In this one, McClane is “detecting” by asking really rudimentary questions like, “How'd you get here so fast?”
3. The father/son-dynamic. McClane was propelled by family in the last installment. It's lazy to duplicate that here. It's worse since Willis and Courtney don't actually share any meaningful, familial chemistry.
4. Certainly not the last of my gripes, but I'll just say this film insulted my intelligence as a movie lover. I'll give one example: the movie ends in Chernobyl – the site of the famed nuclear meltdown – where people are wearing Hazmat suits to get into the internal vault of some building. They use some kind of device to clear the radiation from the air, so they can take their suits off. Now, I imagine such a device probably doesn't exist, but the filmmaker had to create a reason to get his actors out of their suits and to make sure he didn't have to send McClane and his son into the very same building with a Hazmat suit on. Hazmat suits fighting other Hazmat suits sounds like a Transformers movie, after all, where one cannot distinguish a good guy from a bad guy. But, don't insult my intelligence by creating a device to “clean” a room of radiation and then have people take their suits off. For starters, who would take off any suit in or around Chernobyl even if such a device existed and worked? Even with the “all clear,” a reasonable person would keep the suit on in case the machine malfunction. Anyway, it's clear I didn't enjoy this movie, and I didn't enjoy what they've done to my precious John McClane. So, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give Bruce Willis – who probably has as much pull as the studio that owns the rights to John McClane – the next plot.
John McClane, through five movies, has probably become the most interesting man in the world. He has done it all and squared off against all sorts of enemies. He is basically a one-man Department of Homeland Security. But, he's getting old. He's aged. His priorities have changed. He clearly loves his family, even if he lost his marriage. So, what does John McClane do? He writes a book. He puts all his experiences to paper. In the Die Hard Universe, he's just another cop with a lot of stories under his belt. But, his stories have saved tons of lives. He's met amazing people, but there is one who was his equal. One who formed the basis for the first and third movie: Hans Gruber. Gruber was smart, classy, but devilish. But, Gruber's dead, so John can take free reign in writing about him without fear of reprisal. Shoot, even Gruber's brother is dead, too. So, John writes a bestselling memoir. He does the press junket. He retires from the NYPD and spends time with his family. Maybe even reconciles with his wife. All the while, in the shadows, Gruber's son – in this fantasy, Gruber had an infant son during the first movie – now thirty-ish, plots his revenge. He plots it real good, and he makes sure John McClane pays with the ultimate sacrifice. He does this by kidnapping John's wife and two kids. Now, John has nothing. Time has lapsed and he no longer has police resources, and now he's so known by the press and his memoir that he has notoriety, making the cunning John McClane more of a celebrity schmuck. So, he turns to the only person he can remember who may help him: the dad from Family Matters. So, these two old dudes team up, and now you have a buddy movie. Kind of like Rush Hour. Some jokes are made, and at one point McClane can be like “never touch a black man's radio,” and the dad from Family Matters can be like, “Yippee kai yai, I'm the black man in this car!” So, they confront Gruber's son who puts McClane in a Sophie's Choice-type situation. McClane picks the son, because he can no longer live with the fact that his daughter chose Justin Long, the Mac guy. His wife, disgusted by John's choice, attacks Gruber's son and slaps him and says something like, “Killing my daughter won't bring Hans back. I'm so sorry.” Tears are shed and everyone reconciles. Then, Holly embraces younger Hans, doing a whole cougar thing, and John embraces the dad from Family Matters and utters something about an “alternative lifestyle” and everyone lives happily ever after.
Since Hollywood is intent on ruining John McClane, I thought I'd give them a starting point.