Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Bad Film Called Die Hard

Yesterday over dinner, LC noted that she had a lot of work to do. Consequently, I found myself at a loose end. That being the case, given that cinema tickets are cheap on a Tuesday, and also given that I rather wanted to see the film but LC did not, I decided to go see "A Good Day to Die Hard".

My short-version review: this is a terrible, terrible film. It is the worst of the "Die Hard" films by a long way, is worse than at least four of the "Fast & Furious" films (I've never seen "2 Fast 2 Furious"), it's worse than all three "Transformers" films, and is even worse than virtually everything starring Jason Statham. Indeed, it's offensively bad, in the same manner as "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" or "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". In fact, the only good thing about this film is that the running time is 98 minutes, which is blessedly short.

I'm about to delve into spoilers, so if you're still inclined to go see the film and want to avoid them, you should skip the rest of this post.

The plot of the film is at once quite simple and yet unnecessarily complex. John McClane's son has been arrested in Moscow, and will be lucky to get a life sentence. John therefore travels out there to go see his son, only to get caught up in another really bad day. Meanwhile, there's some business about a file of damning evidence, that ultimately turns out to be a front for yet another simple heist, this time of weapons-grade uranium. And there are the usual inevitable betrayals, the quips, and the catchphrases.

Unfortunately, the big problem with the film is that while the characters have understandable goals, the means they use to achieve those goals are utterly nonsensical - either they take actions that by rights should be of no help at all or, worse, those actions only make sense provided the character magically knows that some other character is going to take action first.

But, fair enough. Let's simply accept that the plot is nonsensical, treat it as a big, dumb action movie, and go from there. Switch off the brane, and we should be able to have fun with it, no?

Well, no, actually.

The problem is that the film has two great big action set-pieces, one a chase scene and the other the climactic confrontation at the end. I don't have any great criticism of the second of these, though largely because I'd long since given up on the film - and that was because of the utter failure of the first.

See, there's this chase scene. Jack McClane and an escaped prisoner are in a van, being chased by the bad guy's minions in an armoured truck, and they in turn are being chased by John McClane in a variety of weapons. So far, so good.

The problem is that, like "Bad Boys 2" and the first "Transformers" film, the quick cuts in the film, coupled with the badly-used shakycam, coupled with the director's penchant for moving quickly across the scene with the camera out of focus meant that it wasn't actually possible to make out what was actually happening - it really wasn't clear where the three vehicles were in relation to one another. In fact, there was one bit where I found myself surprised to find they had turned into oncoming traffic!

Now, while bad, even that's not unrecoverable. A chase is a very dynamic scene, with all sorts of potential for injury and death occurring. There's lots of tension in there, which is why films use them: they're an easy way to build excitement.

Unfortunately, by this point the film has already long-since established that the characters are made of rubber. Jack McClane has already survived a huge explosion, protected only by his equivalent of the nuclear fridge, while John has survived a bone-pulping car crash and then been hit by a Chelsea tractor.

The combination of these two things mean that that chase scene is just ten minutes of bright lights and loud noises, and nothing more.

So, even as a big, dumb action film, this one fails.

But actually, I don't think that just being a "big, dumb action film" is acceptable for this film, anyway. See, this isn't "Crank 2", where we know going in that it's going to be utterly stupid. This is a "Die Hard" film. The reason people bother going to see it is because "Die Hard" was good. By trading on the name, they've given rise to reasonable expectations about the film.

And there's the rub. Despite the then-cutting-edge action, the original "Die Hard" wasn't just a big, dumb action movie. It, like the first "Lethal Weapon" film, "The Terminator", "Predator", the first "Rambo" and the first "Rocky" had rather more to them than that. Sure, the action was solid... but so too were other aspects of the film. That's why those films are still amongst the best in their field, and that's why people will go to the sequels - in the hope that a new film featuring the same characters may capture some of the same magic.

Of course, almost all the time, that hope is going to be dashed. And if it were inevitable that that were the case, the rational response would be simple - don't go to see them. But it's not inevitable that new sequels will suck. We know this, because there is one (and thus far, only one) example of a good modern sequel - in "Rocky Balboa", once you get past the absurdity of the premise, you actually have a film that deals rather more with character, and actually addresses its themes, than you might expect. (Actually, "Rocky Balboa" is the film that "Rocky 5" tried very hard, and unfortunately failed, to be. If you haven't seen it, it's recommended - as is the first, and only the first, "Rocky".) That film proves that a good modern sequel actually is possible for one of these films, which just makes it worse when all the others fail.

'Course, the down-side of that is that when "Die Hard 6" inevitably comes to the cinema, it's pretty certain that I'll make sure to go see it. And then write a blog post complaining about it.

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