A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

Starting a franchise is an interesting choice to make if your first instalment is considered hot property. You’re inevitably setting yourself up for a fall when the people return and bemoan the fact that “it’s just more of the same” or “why isn’t it more of the same?” Yes, people are indecisive, unappeasable drones it would seem. Some sequels do pull off the feat though and return even stronger. Some even go on to merit a third instalment, but these are rare beasts. Even rarer is the “threequel” that pulls it off. Look at Terminator – it didn’t fare too well! And time will tell if Iron Man 3 can achieve the hat-trick. But the Die Hard franchise IS that rare beast that produced three stunning instalments time after time. Hell, it even managed to throw in Die Hard 4.0 a few years back and it still hit all the right notes. But how does A Good Day To Die Hard fare? Can it really accomplish the lofty goal of being a smash-hit the fifth time around?!

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

I am a massive fan of John McClane and Bruce Willis. The guy’s a stalwart of the cinema and has been in some of my all-time favourite films and my pick of last year’s releases in Looper. The character of McClane has always struck a chord with me. He’s been the cop in the wrong place in the wrong time all the damn time. Die Hard and Die Hard 2 are some of the finest Christmas movies you’re likely to see and Die Hard With A Vengeance? Well, that’s just pure gold. Pairing Samuel L. Jackson with Jeremy Irons and Willis makes for a damn good time. Hell, in Die Hard 4.0 Willis proved he could still bring the goods, even if it wasn’t quite up to the original trilogy’s heady heights. He smashed a car into a helicopter… a HELICOPTER. Good man. But what of number five? Well… it just isn’t Die Hard is it?

Let me explain this. The things that make a Die Hard movie are the wry one-liners, the world-weary attitude, a nefarious evil-doer and a bucketload of pyro and demolished “things”. A Good Day To Die Hard has some of these, for sure, but not all of them. For me, it’s simply lacking a cohesive plot. It all seemed way too scrappy and all over the place…

Briefly, John McClane (Willis) discovers that his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney) has been hauled into prison in Moscow. So he decides to go over there. I’m not sure why he went over there though – certainly not to free him… he was “on vacation” (a line driven into the ground over the course of the film). But of course, this is John McClane and things fall apart around him and he finds himself and Jack on the cusp of a massive plot involving uranium… OK, it might seem that it has all the necessary components for a Die Hard film, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t…

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

For a start, let’s get the “buddy film” issue out of the way. John McClane hasn’t worked alone in a movie for some years now – he’s had Samuel L. Jackson and Justin Long in recent instalments. But this whole dynamic with Jack McClane / Jai Courtney? It just doesn’t gel. Courtney plays a petulant little git who has real daddy issues. But he stomps around like a 13 year old who’s just been told he can’t stay up past 10 to watch a “really educational show about page 3 models”. I thought Jai Courtney functioned well in Jack Reacher earlier in the year… but back then I said he’s no Tom Hardy (similar build and look), and I’ll say the same now. I’d rather see Tom Hardy as Jack McClane, but then again… considering the poor scripting, I’m glad he didn’t take this dud of a movie…

We have to move onto Willis here. It hurts me to say it, but he just didn’t seem that into it this time around. There were some beautiful set pieces, but the writing left a hell of a lot to be desired. Lines were shoe-horned in, or repeated ad nausem so much that that dead horse was well and truly flogged to a pulp.

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

Alarm bells have been sounding everywhere about this movie even before release for a couple of reasons: 1) why no advance press screenings and reviews before release?, and 2) this interview with Bruce Willis on the UK’s One Show (part 2 is here). This didn’t look like the Bruce that was enthused about a movie… he didn’t want to talk about it one bit. Humble? Possibly. But more believable is the fact he wasn’t convinced of the movie’s worth. If you’ve got a star that’s not sold on a role, then it doesn’t bode well.

So who’s to blame for this sub-standard entry in the franchise? You can spin a bottle like some depressing game of truth or dare where no-one gets a smooch and a cuddle to be honest. People will have different issues with the movie, but for me it falls directly in the writers’ laps. The script is weak and the plot is even worse. This is from the guys that brought you Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team. Not all of them are stinkers, but they’re certainly derided by an equal-to-greater number than the people that enjoy them.

And finally… I need to deal with this furore about the UK version being censored. Over here we have a 12A rating on this film (equivalent to a PG-13 I’m led to believe). In the US, you have it rated R (equivalent to our 15 rating). Can one of our US readers chip in in the comments about the iconic Yippee-ki-yay-mo…..r phrase? In the UK we even lost the last word and it was said so quietly that you could have slept through it. Not that I want to hear swearing in a movie for the sake of it, I’m just puzzled as to why this decison was made…

Ultimately, this isn’t Die Hard. This is some other action movie featuring Bruce Willis playing an action hero… of sorts. I refuse to believe this is the fifth instalment in what has been an immensely successful and enjoyable franchise. If you’re a fan of the series, this will undoubtedly disappoint you. In fact, I struggle to even know anyone that would enjoy this above a level of “generic action movie”. Sure, it has all the whiz, bang and bluster you’d expect… but not much else. He doesn’t even wear a vest.

So what’s next for Die Hard? Is this is? Is this the final episode? Is John McClane going out with a fizzle? I hope not. Willis has indicated he’d be up for doing a sixth instalment, but please for the love of God hire a good writing team. Ideas for titles? How about Old Habits Die Hard and not How To Make A Franchise Die Hard, which should have been the title here.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

Jack Reacher (2012)

Jack Reacher (2012)

Have you ever had the experience of watching a film and almost instinctively knowing how it’ll progress? I’m not talking about a predictable film with a basic plot, but one where you’re “in” the movie and understand the character and how their actions will play out. This may happen because it’s about your day job. As a Phage, I just knew how my viral peers would act in Contagion – I knew every move that would happen before it did. Maybe you’re a clinically-diagnosed psychopath, which enabled you to see the progress of Seven Psychopaths like some kind of deranged oracle? Well, with Jack Reacher I too felt like I knew about a sniper’s motivations before they became apparent. Not because the film was predictable. Not because I’m actually an assassinating phage… But because I played a pretty similar video game recently.

Jack Reacher is the latest film directed by, and starring, Tom Cruise. It’s another of those oh-so-popular novel adaptations that you see so frequently nowadays. Cruise is Jack Reacher – a decorated war veteran who’s somewhat of a problem solver. The ultimate detective. So when a sniper goes on to assassinate five random people at a riverside in Pittsburgh and is subsequently arrested, he asks for Jack Reacher. Because it turns out the case is not as simply solved as one might at first presume.

Jack Reacher

So why did I feel like I knew some of the plot twists? Well, thanks to seeing countless films and playing video games that deal with a similar premise. Plus a good dose of common sense. That’s not to belittle the overarching plot at all, as it’s still interesting, it’s just that you can see some of the supposed “curveballs” coming at you from quite a distance. Only the unobservant viewer would be shocked by the unfolding revelations. Having said all that, it’s still a solid film.

One of the key assets of the movie is its lead actor: Tom Cruise. Cruise has recently hit a run of form and this easily trumps all his performances of the last five years. He’s broody, he’s intense and he’s witty. It’s this latest point that really hits home throughout the film. Cruise delivers some truly delicious lines throughout the film in a very dry, off-the-cough manner – all of which had the audience laughing as a whole. A great thing to witness in what can be a very serious film. Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but think back to the events in Newtown last week when I saw the opening gambit to the movie. It comes as no surprise that the US release has been delayed by the shooting, as it does cut close to the bone if you’re sensitive to such issues.

Jack Reacher (2012)

So whilst Cruise is on top form, can the same be said of the rest of the cast? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Sure, you have the talent of Robert Duvall and Helen Pike, who are both great. But to be honest, not all of the characters get the fleshing out they deserve; so they appear somewhat one dimensional. This is especially true of David Oyelowo‘s Detective Emerson and Jai Courtney‘s Charlie. Oyelowo‘s detective’s motives are transparently clear from start to end and Courtney‘s thuggish enforcer, Charlie, is just a simple thug. There’s no shock, no surprise, no nothing. He does exactly what you’d expect. I also can’t help but wonder if they cast someone hoping he’d be as good as Tom Hardy in the “menacing bruiser” role. He isn’t. I’ll be interested to see how Courtney acts as John McClane Jr. in A Good Day to Die Hard next year. He’s going to have his work cut out for him to match Willis there. And I’ll probably write that they should have cast Tom Hardy in that too.

Whilst he may look (slightly) like Tom Hardy... he most certainly is not Tom Hardy. Shame.

Whilst he may look (slightly) like Tom Hardy… he most certainly is not Tom Hardy. Shame.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the romantic sub-plot that so often plagues these types of films (spare The Bourne Identity). Director Christopher McQuarrie really knows how to handle sexual tension. It makes for a really refreshing “relationship” and makes the character of Jack Reacher all the more appealing. He’s a man who’s there to get the job done. Not one to waste his time being all soppy and loving.

Although Jack Reacher is a solid action / suspense film, it’s not going to set the world alight. I’m hopeful that we’ll see the character again on-screen in an almost inevitable sequel, much like we did with Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity. It’s clear that Tom Cruise enjoyed the role and I like the character as a whole. He just needs a more meaty task with a more sturdy supporting cast. And perhaps a more novel plot.

I’m pretty sure I could be Jack Reacher. After all, I’ve played a good few games and seen all the episodes of the BBC’s fabulous Sherlock series. I could combine the lethal reflexes I’ve learned with the intellect I’ve drawn from Benedict Cumberbach‘s Sherlock. Though in reality, I’m pretty sure that the only “skills” I’ll have gained are calloused thumbs from the gamepad and a knowledge of the script of the series. So if anyone’s hiring for a case where all I have to do is press a button and spew lines, then screw Reacher – hire The Phage!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star