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The Die Hard Series

Die Hard (June 25/07)

There's little doubt that Die Hard remains one of the most entertaining and flat-out thrilling examples of the action genre, and one would certainly be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of overt faults within the film's 131-minute running time. From John McTiernan's stylish direction to the uniformly effective performances to Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza's sharp screenplay, Die Hard is rife with positive attributes and - unlike some of its '80s action-movie brethren - the film still holds up surprisingly well today. The now-infamous storyline - which finds Bruce Willis' John McClane forced to take on several terrorists (led by, of course, Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber) within the confines of a towering skyscraper - is packed with memorable supporting characters and a whole host of unexpected twists, though it's clear right from the get-go that Die Hard's success is due primarily to Willis' star-making, thoroughly ingratiating performance. Rickman's turn as the smarmy yet charismatic Gruber is equally effective, and it's certainly not difficult to see why the character now ranks among the most memorable villains in cinematic history. A slight case of overlength notwithstanding, Die Hard is undoubtedly deserving of all the kudos and critical acclaim it's received over the years and - given the current state of the action genre - it seems highly unlikely that it'll be topped anytime soon.

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Die Hard 2 (June 26/07)

It's not terribly difficult to see why certain Die Hard aficionados remain less-than-enthused with this first sequel, as the movie - entertaining as it is - often feels just a little too much like a carbon-copy of its predecessor. Many of the elements that defined Die Hard and made it such a success have been replicated here, and the film ultimately comes off as a far more mindless and silly affair than the original. Director Renny Harlin proves to be an adequate replacement for John McTiernan, though the filmmaker's penchant for overtly stylish shenanigans - ie slow-motion - does admittedly lend the proceedings a fairly dated vibe. And although Bruce Willis' John McClane generally comes off as a much more jocular figure this time around - unlike the first film, there's never a period in which he's afraid and unsure of what to do - there's certainly no denying that the actor has infused the iconic character with just the right blend of bravado and humility. The inclusion of several genuinely exhilarating action sequences - with the scene in which McClane must eject out of an exploding cockpit an obvious highlight - ensures that Die Hard 2 remains a cut above most similarly-themed efforts, and there's little doubt that the film is as accessible and satisfying a sequel as one might've hoped (McTiernan's absence notwithstanding).

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Die Hard With a Vengeance (June 26/07)

John McTiernan returns to director's chair with this third Die Hard outing, and although the film is grittier and far more cinematically polished than Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance is ultimately a far cry from the almost flawless original. That Bruce Willis' John McClane has been transformed into a grizzled alcoholic is nothing short of baffling, as the character was in a much happier place at the close of part 2 (he had transferred into the LAPD and everything). Such concerns quickly become moot, however, as the plot starts to kick in and McClane - along with Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus - is thrust into a series of increasingly precarious action sequences (some of which certainly rival anything within the series in terms of pure excitement). But McTiernan - working from Jonathan Hensleigh's screenplay - tries just a little too hard to replicate the original's emphasis on the central villain's exploits, and there's little doubt that most scenes revolving around baddie Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) fall completely flat (ie the guy just isn't that interesting, nor are his many cohorts). The uneven vibe persists throughout much of the film's admittedly overlong running time, with the shockingly anti-climactic conclusion certainly leaving the proceedings with an unusually bad aftertaste. Still, Willis remains as compelling a figure as ever and the movie is ultimately closer in spirit to the original than the first sequel.

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Live Free or Die Hard (June 26/07)

As it turns out, re-watching the first three Die Hard films in anticipation of this new one is absolutely the last thing one should do - as the movie has exceedingly little in common with its predecessors and instead comes off as a cinematic cousin to such watered-down, egregiously slick contemporary action movies as xXx and Bad Company. Stripped of anything even resembling grittiness by filmmaker Len Wiseman (who, based solely on this movie, is undoubtedly one of the least creative directors currently working within the action genre), Live Free or Die Hard will surely confound and anger longtime fans of the series - although, admittedly, the film does benefit from the inclusion of several engaging yet all-too-short-lived moments (ie there's a fairly poignant scene in which Bruce Willis' John McClane laments his penchant for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time). And while Willis does a nice job of slipping back into McClane's shoes, screenwriter Mark Bomback has essentially turned the everyman into an invulnerable cartoon character - something that's particularly true of the sequence that finds McClane forced to battle a Harrier jet (it's a ludicrously entertaining scene, certainly, but it absolutely does not belong within the confines of a Die Hard movie). That the absurdly over-the-top storyline generally feels as though it'd be more at home in a James Bond adventure (and not even a good James Bond adventure; a bad, Lee Tamahori, Die Another Day type James Bond adventure) certainly doesn't help matters, and Live Free or Die Hard is ultimately a pointless and thoroughly misguided sequel that tarnishes the series' overall effectiveness.

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A Good Day to Die Hard (February 26/13)

The desecration of the Die Hard series continues with this shockingly underwhelming entry, in which Bruce Willis' John McClane travels to Russia after learning that his son (Jai Courtney's Jack) has gotten into trouble - with the movie primarily detailing the McClanes' ongoing efforts at thwarting a nuclear-weapons heist. It's worth noting that A Good Day to Die Hard gets off to a relatively promising start, as filmmaker John Moore kicks the proceedings off with a briskly-paced opening that succeeds despite its lack of Die Hard-like qualities (ie this stretch could've been plugged into any number of contemporary actioners). Moore's pervasively (and aggressively) misguided directorial choices slowly-but-surely drain one's interest and enthusiasm, however, with the movie's uncommonly ugly visuals - ie the image has been desaturated to the point of greyness - compounded by an emphasis on shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing. There is, as such, little doubt that the film's various action sequences fare especially poorly, as it's virtually impossible to tell just what's happing during the majority of such moments - with an incoherent early car chase emblematic of everything that's wrong with Moore's direction (ie the viewer isn't even entirely sure which characters are in which cars). Far more problematic is A Good Day to Die Hard's almost total absence of compelling elements, with the one-dimensional, bland characters forced to make their way through a narrative that's almost astonishingly underdeveloped. The subsequent absence of forward momentum ensures that the movie grows more and more tedious as it progresses, with the culmination of the mindless atmosphere an interminable and absolutely disastrous third act that is, to put it mildly, somewhat anticlimactic (ie it does, for the most part, come off as over-the-top, context-free noise). It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what Willis is thinking with these last two installments, as both films bear few elements in common with their vastly superior predecessors and it is, in the end, clear that the Die Hard series should've concluded with the above-average third entry.

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© David Nusair