A teaser for a supposed new Die Hard film was posted online yesterday by Rumer Willis, Bruce Willis’ eldest daughter. It shows very little and barely registers as a teaser for a Die Hard sequel other than Willis’ use of the hashtag #DieHardIsBack and a whistle to the tune of Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 – Ode to Joy – which features prominently as a theme to the original Christmas film.
This short 30-second clip was odd, to say the least, however, it was just enough to send the internet, including myself, into a brief tizzy about the possibility of a new Die Hard film.
And here I was immediately messaging my editor in an angry-film-critic-man fuelled adrenaline surge ready to shout to all and sundry about how a new Die Hard film is the worst possible thing they could do to one of my favourite ever action heroes and how it surely spells the apocalypse of Hollywood franchising twice over if this film was indeed to come to pass.
Somehow the reality of this short #DieHardIsBack clip is even more absurd and frankly damning for the once-great 80s icon; rather than finding himself in an all-new gun-toting quick quipping yippee kay yay mother*****n’ action film, the cavalier cowboy McClane is instead wearily selling himself for a 2 minute car battery commercial.
Yes. A commercial. For a car battery. Called Die Hard.
With the original being one of my all-time favourite action films, the latest McClane news has been a sad indictment on a franchise that has increasingly limped its way on in a more and more embarrassing attempt to stay oh so painstakingly faithful to its name.
As an ode to my favourite film, let us take a step through the history of its franchise and see why, in fact, it may be time to just let Die Hard go down easy once and for all.
WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!
To where it all started, the greatest action movie of all time, John McTiernan’s 1988 original, Die Hard. McTiernan was just coming off the success of Predator and so was brought onto Die Hard as the perfect candidate for the machismo of a film originally conceived of as “Rambo in an office building”.
However, McTiernan was adamant about bringing a bit more levity to this type of film for once, and so as all the major action stars of the moment were passed by to lead- Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Eastwood, Harrison Ford, etc – eyebrows were raised when this relatively unknown soap actor Bruce Willis stepped into the role.
Willis proved to be the perfect casting, however, offering excellent credence to the central idea of McClane as a relatively regular person who just happens to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is this regular street-cop character-centric notion that really pulls together the things that make Die Hard such a perfect film and why it works so excellently against a period where the status quo was muscle-bound steroid toting action heroes.
Allowing McClane the scope to go from the normal guy afraid of flying and facing a marital failure, to the action hero diving off rooftops and gritting his teeth through every possible beating just to save his wife and marriage proved to be the perfectly timed antidote for audiences becoming weary of the superhuman-like hero of Stallone et al, as Die Hard’s impact spurned a new direction for action films in the 90s with the likes of Speed, Under Siege, Con Air, and Executive Decision further following the wrong man-right place formula.
Despite its early mixed critical response, Die Hard has gone on to be widely immortalised as one of the greatest action movies ever made and regularly features on must-watch lists and makes for required viewing at Christmas time in particular.
DIE HARD 2: THIS TIME IN AN AIRPORT
With the success of the original, a newly revitalised 20th Century Fox rushed into the production of a sequel to keep a hold of the buzz of the moment.
Importantly, however, though many of the main cast returned director John McTiernan did not. He was reportedly at odds with producer Joel Silver and the direction of the sequel so instead opted to direct The Hunt for Red October released in the same year, while Renny Harlin (at that point of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 fame) stepped in as his replacement.
Despite having around twice the budget of its predecessor, Die Hard 2 never quite recaptured the same magic that made the first so impactful. The film glaringly re-treads much of the same narrative ground as its original only now porting McClane’s fight with terrorists to an airport instead of the glass-laden offices of Nakatomi Plaza.
The film is largely forgetful since if you ever find yourself in the mood for Die Hard you are undoubtedly going to opt for the more cohesive original over its lesser imitation 100% of the time.
However, the Die Hard buzz in 1990 was very much still alive and well enough to carry this film to double the firsts box office at $240 million worldwide.
THE SECOND BEST DIE HARD FILM – DIE HARD 3: WITH A VENGEANCE
The Die Hard franchise remained in limbo for a few years after 2’s release in 1990 due to a falling out of producers Joel Silver and Larry Gordon with Bruce Willis. Additionally, Willis was continually passing on potential third sequel scripts with the aggravation that everything coming his way was yet another reskin of the original, and the other 90’s hits it had spawned.
Eventually, as Silver and Gordon stepped out, producer Andy Vajna came to the helm bringing McTiernan back with him and an enticing script retooled from an old Lethal Weapon 4 screenplay which in itself was retooled from an older script called Simon Says by Jonathan Hensleigh.
This retooling is evident in the combative buddy cop dynamic between Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance and importantly remains central to the freshness of this third instalment to the franchise.
With a Vengeance is undoubtedly the second-best of the franchise as it keeps itself within the direct conversation to the first film: McClane is still the regular cop-turned-cowboy we know and love, however on account of his past experiences does find himself moving up the ranks and with a certain reputation which proves to be a double-edged sword. The notoriety of Nakatomi Plaza might be nice for career mobility, but there are consequences to pissing off an entire Eastern European terrorist cell.
The film also breaks free of the single location constraints by making it more a more open race across all of New York diffusing several bomb threats and uncovering an insidious vengeance quest on McClane himself.
With McTiernan back the direction and action are far more interesting again and recapture the freshness and ingenuity of the original’s set pieces. Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson, just hot off Pulp Fiction, is an excellent performance and folly to Willis’ cavalier McClane.
Unlike later sequels, the film works once again by reminding us that McClane is entirely vulnerable and his only superpower is really just the ability to take a beating through gritted teeth and keep going right through to the blood-soaked vested end.
And so audiences responded in turn, with the film coming in at $366 million worldwide to make it the highest-grossing film of 1995.
DIE HARD 4.0 – DIE HARD’S AGING BALD YEARS
Now we enter the “Why?” years of the Die Hard franchise as the series disappeared quite contently for over a decade until it came trudging back in 2007 with Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard in the US). And let me tell you, in the years away Willis isn’t the only thing that’s come back more bloated and head-bare.
It was a series that seemed perfectly resigned to its 90s success until this point, and quite honestly that was more than perfectly fine. But 4.0 attempts to drag poor old John McClane into the technological modernity of the 21st century, the result of which largely consists of Willis sneering about anything even remotely technical and spending half the film confused by the wizardry of the “youth” (read: Justin Long).
The conceit of 4.0 isn’t necessarily terrible; having an ageing action icon suddenly having to contend with modernity completely passing him by and finding that the usual point and shoot game is no longer a complete solution is at the very least novel enough to warrant the reintroduction of McClane to the silver screen.
However, the issue of 4.0 stems from its abandonment of the grounding that made John McClane an interesting action hero in the first place. By now McClane borders on the superhuman with his ability to ramp police cars into the air to blow up helicopters or make huge leaps of faith to escape jet explosions by the skin of his teeth.
Gone is the wrong guy in the wrong place, and in his place is an immutable bald terminator.
It is by no means a terrible film – in fact it is generally quite mindless fun – but its incongruity with the rest of the franchise announces a complete departure for the Die Hard of this century from the Die Hard of the last, and sets a precedential paint-by-number-of-action-set-pieces blandness for further instalments like A Good Day to Die Hard to later stumble and ultimately die on.
Where the original Die Hard redefined the action genre, 4.o finds itself swept up in the superhuman hero blandness of the mid 2000s moment and doesn’t attempt to wade its way out.
A GOOD DAY TO END THIS FRANCHISE PLEASE
Somehow, within my so far relatively short writing career, this is my second time writing about this goddamn film which I guess is my own unfortunate cross to bear.
But alas, yes, we come now to the fifth and most recent instalment to the franchise – the Willis/Jai Courtney power duo in A Good Day to Die Hard. The film so dull and so entirely forgettable that it ended before even starting the plans to hand off the McClane name and franchise to Jai Courtney as John’s son – he’s also called John so you won’t even notice when Bruce is gone.
Like the aforementioned issues with 4.0, Courtney himself is already a 6” something muscle god with so little character beyond “does shooting good” that he flies so far past the billing of a new McClane that audiences might want. He is instead the same generic military white guy with an uncanny superhuman-adjacent strength that has become so wearisome over the past decade.
What’s more baffling is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead reprises her role as John’s daughter from 4.0 where she was quite clearly being pushed toward being the next capable McClane to take over the mantle. However here she appears for maybe all of 5 minutes and is actually entirely cut from the Extended edition.
A female Die Hard lead may have actually been worth a franchise resurgence, but instead, we are left with the wooden plank character that is Courtney’s John “Jack” McClane.
A Good Day was universally panned for its entirely lifeless direction and mind-numbing action set pieces that merely wash right over you without any lasting imprint. At the very least it made back 3 times its budget at a worldwide gross of $304 million, however, this is less than both the last two iterations in the series, and with inflation is probably less than Die Hard 2 and barely scrapes above the first film too.
IS THE OLD DOG MCCLANE FINALLY DONE?
With the failure of A Good Day to Die Hard the franchise looks to be dead in the water. Sort of, anyway.
Willis had previously expressed that he would like to retire the character in the final sixth film. And rumour has been for a number of years now that a prequel-sequel type film titled McClane has been floating around which would see a timeline jump back and forth between a young pre-Nakatomi John McClane and his present-day old grizzled self.
This story is partially based on the prequel comic Die Hard: Year One which charts John’s adventures as a regular New York street cop.
Now, there is something inherently wrong with everything I just said: the very idea that John McClane has any kind of film worthy adventures preceding Nakatomi Plaza goes against the very point of his character and arc in the original Die Hard.
I know it is often trite to ruminate over the ruining of original film legacies with further sequels (e.g A New Hope isn’t any worse now because TROS was an unadulterated mess), however in this very specific instance it quite literally is changing the very legacy of an iconic character by repositioning his very specific origin as a hero in the first place.
Fortunately, it seems as though at least someone in the industry also shares such doubts since the script has merely floated around from room to room with very little suggestion that it is ever moving forward as a real film.
And with the Disney acquisition of Fox it seems like any potential plans have been quashed outright, however, a tv series adaptation may be on the cards for streaming although I find it very difficult to picture famous industry grump Bruce Willis jumping through hoops on Disney+ anymore.
Although this whole thing did start because he did a goddamn car battery advert, so I guess anything is possible at the right price…
Which incidentally brings us finally to the sad resting ground that John McClane now stands precariously over. This advert signals that the character may not be fully gone, as much as he probably definitely should be at this point, and that there is still the ever-present danger of a further catastrophic fall into self-parody as Willis and some studio exec look cart out McClane’s already limping and wearied body for one final cash out.
For a series that stood perfectly in its late 80s and 90s genre-redefining age, Die Hard would be remembered far better if it had only ever remained there. And yet here he is, the all-American cowboy hero, being dragged out by his heels yet again to his embarrassingly sad and hard earned death.
Yippee. Kay. Yay.
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