Die Hard or Go Home: Saving the Die Hard Franchise
Posted by Trevor Snyder on 02.26.2013
Many fans are understandably calling for John McClane to hang it up after the dreadful A Good Day to Die Hard. But could a sixth film still save the series and allow the iconic character to go out on a high note? 411's Trevor Snyder examines...
"Few fans of the series would disagree that this sclerotic fifth installment should probably be the last." Dana Stevens, Slate
"This would be a good day to kill this franchise for ever." Roz Laws, Birmingham Post
"One of the great action franchises in movie history not only delivers its first bomb, it puts a crater in the franchise so large I fear it can't be rebuilt." Bob Grimm, Tucson Weekly
"The well has certainly dried up for the Die Hard franchise." Julian Roman, MovieWeb
"Loud, insultingly low-concept, and irony-free... today may be the perfect day to take Die Hard out back and put a bullet in its head." Jeff Meyers, Metro Times – Detroit, MI
"This series needs to die here. That would be something to "Yippee Ki-Yay" about." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
"If this is going to get passed off as a Die Hard movie, it's a good day to kill off the franchise." Nolan Woodford, 411mania
"Die Hard is dead." Devin Faraci, Badass Digest
A Good Day to Die Hard is a bad movie. In fact, forget "bad" - it's depressingly terrible, especially if you happen to be a big fan of the Die Hard series. Poorly directed, and written by the worst screenwriter in the business, it's a movie that seems almost DESIGNED to anger fans of the franchise. And this is coming from a guy that quite liked Live Free or Die Hard (most people I know usually agree that, when taken on its own merits, the fourth film was a fun enough summer action movie…I have a feeling its standing in the eyes of fans is about to take a HUGE leap up now that this fifth one has come along).
What A Good Day to Die Hard is NOT, however, is an appropriate end to the Die Hard saga. Or, at least, it shouldn't be, no matter what numerous detractors are claiming. Bruce Willis has been saying for a while now that he would like do six Die Hard movies and then hang up the John McClane character for good. After watching A Good Day to Die Hard, it's easy to look at that as more of a threat than a promise. But here's the thing – no matter how awful that fifth film was (and, again, it was mighty awful), I don't want to dread the next one. It's just not a good feeling not to be excited for a new Die Hard movie. And besides, I sure as hell don't want A Good Day to Die Hard to stand as McClane's final cinematic adventure. We can't really let him go out like this, can we?
In the immediate wake of this travesty, it's easy to question whether a sixth and final film is really a good idea. I remain convinced it could be…as long as some crucial steps are taken in the development of the next movie. Don't forget, Rocky V was an embarrassment, as well, and that series was able to rebound with a much more fitting finale. James Bond has been bouncing back from lackluster entries for years. There's no reason not to believe Die Hard couldn't do the same. It's just clear that, given how this last one turned out, A LOT of work is going to have to go into crafting a truly worthwhile sixth and final Die Hard film (my personal pick for a title – Die Hard or Go Home, or maybe Die Hard or Die Trying). I don't claim to have all the answers for how to make up for A Good Day to Die Hard, but here are six key elements those involved with McClane's next adventure need to keep in mind if they really want to deliver the epic send-off we're all hoping for:
TAKE CONTROL AWAY FROM BRUCE WILLIS
Ironically, the one essential ingredient to a new Die Hard movie is also the most potentially destructive. Don't get me wrong –Willis IS McClane, and we all love him for it. But the Willis of today is arguably not the same Willis we fell in love with back in the early days of the series. Even putting aside Kevin Smith's stories of how difficult Willis is to work with (which is kind of easy to do because, quite frankly, who really wants to take Kevin Smith's side against John F'N McClane?), it's hard to look at some of Willis' recent output and not have doubts about his present motivation. I'm not saying every Willis movie during his prime was a home run, either, but can you imagine Die Hard with a Vengeance-era, or even Sixth Sense-era Willis agreeing to star in films as forgettable as last year's The Cold Light of Day or Fire with Fire? What's that? You didn't hear of those? Oh, that's probably because they were the latest in a string of straight-to-DVD Bruce films! That's right...Bruce Willis is starring in straight-to-DVD movies, as if he's Steven Seagal or something.
Now, I'm not saying Willis has gotten lazy, but…well, actually, I guess I am saying that. Heck, I even wrote an entire article about it last year. I mean, did anyone else notice that in A Good Day to Die Hard, whenever McClane and son were running away while under enemy fire, Willis could hardly even be bothered to duck down? Hell, the most exciting action shots of McClane were either almost certainly stunt doubles, or definitely a CGI Willis.
But, hey, he's playing an older McClane, so I can live with Willis not wanting to do too much crazy physical work in a sixth Die Hard. All things considered, it might even be more appropriate for the character's age. The real problem is that Willis' vision of the series no longer seems to match up with what the fans want to see. At some point after Die Hard with a Vengeance, Willis mistook the audience's elevation of McClane to cinematic icon to mean that they wanted him to turn into a superhero type character. Keep in mind that, at the time of its release, Willis said Live Free or Die Hard was the best film in the series, and that he was personally involved with the development of A Good Day to Die Hard, as well. I'm guessing it's the unfortunate influence of his good buddies Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but whatever the case, Willis doesn't view John McClane as an "everyman" hero anymore. He wants to portray him as an indestructible superman (and, judging by the evidence in the latest film, he wants to do so with the least amount of onscreen effort possible). All this nonsense about the larger stakes of these "21st century Die Hard" movies – a term Willis and the current producers keep tossing around – is even more baffling given that it ignores the fact that the original Die Hard is STILL the one fans keep returning to and re-watching over and over. Can't the man see we want more of THAT?
The good news is, Willis doesn't appear to be a complete lost cause. The potential for greatness is still there. Sure, there were the aforementioned straight-to-DVD stinkers, but last year also saw Willis deliver excellent work in both Looper and Moonrise Kingdom. What did those two films have in common? Both were guided by the vision of a strong-minded filmmaker. Guys like Wes Anderson and Rian Johnson can get great performances from Willis because, most likely, they're not willing to just sit behind the monitor and let him coast by with little effort (like, say, Kevin Smith was). This mentality needs to be applied to the new Die Hard on every level, starting with the producing. Willis himself has been the one consistent guiding hand through all five Die Hard movies, but the sixth movie – at least on the behind-the-camera side – needs to be wrestled away from him and put in the hands of people who actually care about giving this series a fitting finale. For instance, did you know Joel Silver was a producer on the first two Die Hard movies? Why not try to bring him back to wrap it up? Sure, Silver has had his share of duds, but I've got to believe he would never have let a Die Hard movie under his control sink to the depths of A Good Day to Die Hard. Find a strong producer like Silver to steer the pre-production ship, and while you're at it:
HIRE A TALENTED DIRECTOR
You'd think this would go without saying. But Willis and company obviously thought John Moore was a decent choice for A Good Day to Die Hard, so apparently not. Now, to be fair, there was nothing in Moore's previous filmography to suggest he would deliver the sort of incoherent, nauseating shaky-cam action sequences that sunk the movie…but there was nothing to suggest he would make a good movie, either. Moore's career has been underwhelming at best. He's the guy you hire when you have an OK little action script that you want to quickly make for a modest budget and make a nice little return investment on, without putting too much thought into it. He is NOT the guy you give the keys to one of the biggest action franchises in history to. And, while I personally don't have anything against Len Wiseman and thought he did a fine enough job with his Die Hard entry, I think you need to shoot much higher for a sixth and final movie.
The conventional wisdom among many Die Hard fans right now seems to be to bring John McTiernan back for the grand finale. On one level, I understand that thinking, but on the other hand I can't help but wonder how distracting McTiernan's recent legal problems will continue to be in the foreseeable future, and how much it might effect his attention while making a new movie (to say nothing of the fact that he hasn't directed anything since 2003). We had our great times with McTiernan and Die Hard – I think it's probably time to move on.
Again, just like I haven't given up on Bruce himself, I think there's still a good chance you could hit a home-run with choice of director here. Consider what Sam Mendes did with Skyfall. I'm not sure any directors of that caliber are interested in a sixth Die Hard, but you can't tell me that a number of talented action directors out there weren't inspired by this series growing up, and wouldn't love the opportunity to put their own stamp on it (as was the case with Mendes and Bond). If this is truly going to be the last Die Hard, put it in the hands of someone who is going to blow us away. My personal choice would be The Raid: Redemption's Gareth Evans, but for a more thinking-outside-the-box choice, why not ask Rian Johnson if he's interested? We've already seen with Looper that he can get good work out of Willis, and a Die Hard film would seem to fit into his apparent desire to constantly try out different genres. Those are just two decent options…I'm sure there are others (if we're going with my idea for Joel Silver as producer, maybe he could bring along Shane Black to write and direct?). My point is, you don't have to aim low and just bring in a journeyman director. Give this to someone with a real vision, and let Die Hard 6 be this series' Skyfall
DON'T JUST IGNORE LUCY AND JACK McCLANE
I bet a lot of fans will be calling for a sixth film to completely abandon McClane's offspring, preferring him return to lone-wolf hero. While I DO agree that McClane should spend most of the film's action scenes by himself, I think it would be a mistake to forget these two altogether. It's too much of an easy cop-out just to dump them from the franchise, even if you didn't like the last couple films. Besides, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has actually been quite charming in her brief appearances as Lucy (and I don't want to meet anyone who would be against more Winstead in anything), and Jai Courtney did his best with what little the script offered him in A Good Day to Die Hard. Neither have done anything to deserve being cut out of the picture.
Besides, not only has the franchise firmly established their characters now, but the fourth and fifth films have also established a new major theme for McClane – repairing his family. This is, thematically, a strong motivation, and one that still works even despite the recent films' failings. For the narrative of McClane's current journey to feel complete, the final movie should not only feature both kids (even if in reduced roles), but should also definitely bring back Bonnie Bedelia as Holly. C'mon, man, think of everything John McClane has given us over the years. Is it too much to ask to let the guy end the series happy, reunited with his wife and children? I don't think so.
By the way, this also means DO NOT KILL JOHN McCLANE!! I know a bunch of fans are going to say it's the only appropriate ending, but that's just typical cynical fanboy BS. I like a depressing ending as much as the next guy, but it's not suitable for every story. I never liked the rumored idea of a fifth Lethal Weapon film that would kill off Riggs and Murtaugh, and I don't like the idea of killing off John McClane. These characters deserve happy endings. That being said…
BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF JOHN McCLANE
I might not want the dude to die, but I damn sure want him beat to holy hell, covered in blood and barely able to walk by the end of whatever ordeals he faces in the next movie.
This obviously goes back to what I was saying about Willis' bizarre obsession with making McClane seem invulnerable. We saw it slightly tip that way in Live Free or Die Hard, though not nearly as much as that film's critics will have you believe (watch it again and you'll see McClane actually takes quite a beating in the movie, before eventually having to shoot himself through the shoulder to save the day). But A Good Day to Die Hard officially tipped McClane over to full Unbreakable mode. In the span of one minute, McClane gets out of a truck that has flipped and rolled numerous times without a scratch on him, and is then immediately hit dead-on by another car…which he also gets right up from as if nothing has happened!! Are you kidding me? This is Terminator shit right here. It's simply not that interesting to watch any hero with that level of invulnerability, and especially not John McClane. In the first Die Hard, some glass in his bare feet damn near incapacitated the man. It felt real, and made us care more about him. This can't really be that tough to figure out, right?
DON'T IGNORE McCLANE'S HISTORY
One of the most frustrating things about the last two Die Hard movies is how they seem determined to distance themselves from the original trilogy…not just stylistically, but also in terms of the character's own history. It might have been a mistake for Die Hard 2 to copy the first film's formula as closely as it did, but there was also something to be said for the continuity of seeing not only Holly, Al Powell and Richard Thornburg return, but also acknowledgment of what McClane went through a couple years ago. That continuity was also felt in Die Hard with a Vengeance simply by virtue of having Simon Gruber as the villain.
For whatever reason, Live Free or Die Hard didn't seem all that interested in painting John McClane as the infamous figure he almost certainly SHOULD be by now. Heck, there was even a scene where the villainous Gabriel uses his computer hacking skills to peek into McClane's personal life, and he doesn't seem to notice ANYTHING about the previous three times McClane has dealt with this kind of thing. Likewise, aside from some offhanded comments by Jack about how "killing bad guys" is John's biggest talent, the most recent film also fails to indicate how commonplace this is all becoming for the guy. Die Hard is a series that should still feel a little grounded in reality, and for us to accept that reality you need to show us that not only is this is a guy who has lived through all this crap, but that other people are aware of it as well.
What if, in the sixth film, McClane is now retired, but has become a minor celebrity after writing a book about his exploits (a book that Lucy put him up to writing, by the way, since there's no way that would ever be his idea)? It might be fun to see McClane's exasperation whenever he is recognized on the street...particularly if it keeps happening while he's also involved in battling those aforementioned "bad guys." It would be a nice, subtle meta-commentary on the character's iconic status, while also allowing for a few references to the previous movies.
And speaking of continuity, we come to the final crucial element for a successful sixth and final Die Hard:
THE VILLAIN NEEDS TO BE A GRUBER
This is where I suspect I might lose some of you, as I imagine many will consider the idea of yet another Gruber coming for revenge against McClane to be a little too cute. And you know what…I don't necessarily disagree. But in terms of a conclusion to the Die Hard saga, I think it's the right kind of cute.
What started with a Gruber must end with a Gruber, the old saying goes (or at least it will, if they listen to me and make this movie). There's a certain kind of lyrical poetry that would come from ending McClane's cinematic saga with another Gruber as the main villain – it would call back to our best memories of the series, as well as insinuate a sort of (believable) destiny/fate that kicked in for McClane when he first encountered Hans all those years ago. Now, the reveal of yet ANOTHER brother might be a bit of a stretch…but perhaps a sister? Or, better yet…Hans and Simon's father. I know what you're thinking – wouldn't that dude be hella old? Yes, he would…which would make him even scarier. An elderly man in the twilight of his life decides his last act on this earth must be to destroy the man who robbed him of both his sons (but not, perhaps, before first trying to mentally destroy McClane by targeting HIS children…see, I told you there was still a place for Jack and Lucy). For once, it's not at all about money…it's about pure revenge and the death of John McClane. And the fact that the elder Gruber most likely intends to die himself (or is at least at peace with the idea) makes the scenario extra chilling. Just imagine, oh, I don't know…Werner Herzog in this role. Willis vs. Herzog? Can you honestly tell me that doesn't already sound a lot better than anything we saw in A Good Day to Die Hard?
Now, granted, old-man Gruber probably isn't going to be the guy you want running around actually taking it to McClane throughout the entire movie. You'll want a good secondary villain for that role, perhaps a Gruber cousin or just somebody absolutely loyal to the Gruber family for some reason. I'm thinking a Mads Mikkelsen type would be good here. Having two featured villains also gives Jack his own big villain to kill, if you decide to go that route in the third act.
So there you have it – a number of moves that I honestly believe could send this series out with the respect it deserves. You'll notice one thing I didn't harp on was the necessity of an R rating. Obviously, given the more intense, revenge-driven story I'm advocating, I would PREFER an R…but considering how superior the PG-13 Live Free or Die Hard was to the R-rated A Good Day to Die Hard, it doesn't seem like something worth fixating on right now. Concentrate on a compelling story and exciting actions sequences first; THEN we can work out how much swearing and actual bloodshed the movie requires.
Oh, one more…it wouldn't hurt to throw a Reginald VelJohnson cameo in there, even if it's just a mid-credits scene showing McClane and Powell fishing together or something. C'mon, you know you'd dig it.