Last week ended with confirmation that the upcoming Die Hard film, A Good Day to Die Hard, would be graced with an R rating, causing many Die Hard fans to jump for joy (myself included). Those of us too fat to jump just raised our hands a little and said, "Yay."
That was fun, but kind of premature. All A Good Day to Die Hard's R rating tells us is that the film isn't an automatic catastrophe. Now that it's an R, we know for sure that it can go either way. It's not a mark of quality. For instance, I'm pretty sure Soul Plane was also rated R.
But now that we're in that sweet spot where this new Die Hard film could either be good or bad, I am making the scary, risky decision to let my hopes soar. I have a feeling this is going to be a Die Hard worth seeing, regardless of the fact that it's already a Die Hard no one asked for.
If you look at the Die Hard series, it's actually a bit harder to define than you'd think. Two main factors unite them all: sidekicks and compressed time frames. Each film sees John McClane team up with someone very different from him, and each film takes place over a short period of time.
The now famous "Die Hard in a ____" line used to describe Die Hard rip-offs doesn't actually apply to the Die Hard series very well. Die Hard 2's "Die Hard in an airport" comes closest, but it's not really all that accurate since McClane goes other places, too. Vengeance would be "Die Hard in New York," while we have to pull back even further for Live Free or Die Hard's "Die Hard on the East Coast." Now we have "Die Hard in Russia."
Even John McClane isn't a constant thanks to Live Free or Die Hard's neutering of the iconic character into a largely unrecognizable version. Part of this was inevitable. With time, Bruce Willis has changed from a funny everyman into a bald sad sack who talks like he's on the verge of crying but way too manly to let you know it.
Of course John McClane was going to take a hit. But instead of letting these changes lay as part of the character's natural aging process, Live Free or Die Hard exasperates them by simultaneously presenting a non-drinking, non-smoking, smile-free, swear jar-savvy version of the character. It wasn't until its absence that I realized the John McClane of the first three films had kind of an accent.
Obviously, I love Die Hard. All the sequels have flaws, but I like Die Hard 2 and have a special fondness for Die Hard with a Vengeance, bad ending and all. Live Free or Die Hard is just awful. This new film has Live Free's new John McClane going against it, but it's also the fifth entry in a series that enjoyed three out of four wins so far. Those odds aren't bad.
I don't know what kind of time frame A Good Day to Die Hard occupies. There are indications from the trailer that it fits within the normal Die Hard standards. But the main thing I like about A Good Day to Die Hard so far is its take on the Die Hard team-up trope, which has potential to live up to and possibly combine the warmth of McClane's relationship with Powell in the original and hilarity of his relationship with Zeus in Vengeance since his team member, for the first time ever, is both a family member and a fellow badass.
Family is another trope that has always been important to the Die Hard franchise. McClane has to save Holly in parts one and two (not just her life, but their relationship as well). His complete lack of family makes its own point in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
They tried to make family an important part of Live Free or Die Hard, but blew it by making Lucy Gennaro McClane a non-character (threatened by a non-bad guy to be saved by a non-McClane in a non-Die Hard). It was, along with nearly everything in that film, a perfunctory adherence to Die Hard form while the elements that received the most care and attention were gleeful betrayals of Die Hard's typically earthbound action aesthetic.
Teaming McClane up with a son who already had a foot in a violent world and needs help rather than saving could be brilliant. Each of the film's three trailers has revealed an increasing dependency on selling the film via McClane and Son's banter, which displays a wide spectrum of emotions -- from fatherly pride, to masculine male bonding, to youthful exasperation, to aged insecurities -- just to mention a few.
If A Good Day to Die Hard is going to be a worthy entry in the franchise, this is the entrance it will have to take. Based on everything I've seen so far, the film appears to know this. Live Free or Die Hard offered us a rescue conflict we have seen in countless other action films, not to mention two previous Die Hard entries. Teaming McClane up with an equal who is also a family member offers us something we haven't seen before.
Granted, some things will never be quite the same. A Good Day to Die Hard's trailers also reveal a film a million miles away from a movie where the most important piece of tension comes from the hero's bare feet. Even worse, no one seems interested in selling us the film's villain. The first Die Hard featured one of the greatest villains of all time. The next two Die Hard villains weren't quite as good but they seem like Iago compared to Live Free or Die Hard's limp Timothy Olyphant. Based solely on the trailers, A Good Day to Die Hard appears to hold with this unfortunate new Die Hard trend.
And yet I have hope, not just because I'm stupid, but because this father-son relationship could take on a life of its own that overpowers any blandness inflicted by the film's conflict. It won't be as good as the original or probably even Vengeance, but if A Good Day to Die Hard achieves Die Hard 2's standard of quality, I will be more than satisfied.