It’s perhaps the oddest movie marketing release platform ever conceived, but just in time for Valentine’s Day, Bruce Willis is back to reprise his signature character John McClane in yet another violent wrong-man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time action adventure, A Good Day to Die Hard.
You can be forgiven if you’ve lost count how many times Willis has played this part, as the filmmakers have mostly avoided using numbers in the titles—though they did use a numeral for Die Hard 2, that movie was more widely known simply as Die Harder.
The other four Die Hard movies all earned a sizeable chunk of their respective summer’s box office, so putting this new one out in the middle of winter seemed a perplexing idea from the moment the release date was scheduled (which, lest we forget, was before a director was even announced).
Unlike the last installment—the pussified, PG-13-rated Live Free or Die Hard—A Good Day to Die Hard is rated “R.” I’m encouraged to think that John McClane has reclaimed his salty tongue and ball-busting bravado without being emasculated by the Ratings Board, but we’re treading on shaky ground here: a fifth installment in a major franchise is a rare occurrence, and by the time most ongoing series get to a fifth chapter, the movies have already begun to suck.
True, we’re usually taking about a horror or slasher series or a succession of Scary Movie/Police Academy comedy spoofs nobody gives a crap about, but sometimes a more bankable and respectable franchise continues on for the long haul, and the results aren’t always pretty.
Think Star Wars or James Bond, X-Men or Fast and Furious, Rocky or the Pink Panther movies—all of which continued to evolve to five pictures and beyond, with varying results.
For a while there it looked as though we would see both Lethal Weapon 5 and Rambo 5, but while plans for those continuations are currently stalled, there apparently will be a Terminator 5 and possibly even a fifth Indiana Jones adventure (ideally executed as a motion capture epic a la Tintin).
Early chatter about development of a sixth Die Hard movie is surely pre-release publicity for Part Five, but if it’s got anything to do with how well the new movie scores, color me optimistic that A Good Day to Die Hard will avoid the trajectories of some other major—and majorly disappointing—Parts Five.
After the no-holds-barred splatter-fest of the previous two installments, the producers opted to skimp on the make-up and gore budget. For its comparatively chaste and cartoonish carnage, this one is barely bloodier than a PG-13. Why else did audiences make these movies a smash success if not to squirm at their demented over-the-top practical effects?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Having turned creepy Freddy Krueger into a jokey punster in Parts 3 and 4, The Dream Child succeeds in putting the villain back in the shadows and in creating some truly unsettling nightmare sequences. Too bad the movie’s boring characters and its lazy plot doom this chapter from the start, but the gruesome visual effects make this particular Part Five one of the less egregious offenders of series fatigue—it’s the only “Nightmare” that required trims to squeak by with an “R” rating for gore (to date, the uncut and fully repulsive version is available only on VHS).
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
The less said about any of the Michael Myers sequels, the better.
For a while before its release we weren’t sure what to call this movie—A prequel? Reboot?—Parallel Event?—but even as a loose precursor to the events of Alien, I think it’s pretty safe now to consider Prometheus to be the genuine fifth movie in the series. As such, it shall be scrutinized accordingly, and faulted for its unnecessarily thin characters and sloppy screenwriting. Though it disappointed die-hard fans who felt it didn’t live up to the standard of Sir Ridley Scott’s classic original, it delivered enough goods with its eye-popping production design, its intriguing ideas, and a handful of jump-out-of-your-seat shocks and squishy gore to justify its “R” rating. And—faint praise indeed—it was WAY better than Alien: Resurrection. A frustrating film, yes, but I’ll be first in line if the producers do actually deliver a proposed sequel.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
The one where William Shatner threw a hissy fit to secure the director’s chair, the untrusting studio brass took away his big budget, and the geriatric crew of the Enterprise embarks on a mission to meet the Supreme Being. The chintzy production design and sloppy visual effects make the film look cheaper than any given episode of the original TV series, with Shatner’s road-kill hairpiece and bulging girdle competing for top billing. Contains a few random moments of camaraderie and humor, but mostly this one is just too painful to endure.
Clarification: I don’t consider the Tim Burton cycle of Batman flicks to be part of the same series as the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films, but I do count director Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns as the de facto “Superman V” for its slavish devotion to his mentor Richard Donner’s earlier work in the series, and for continuing the story from Superman II. Even considering all of this, this movie is gorgeous but pretentious, with dull performances by the leads. The coup-de-grace is an ill-thought plot development that makes Superman a father, the most franchise-killing paint-yourself-into-a-corner idea since Midi-chlorians.
The odds are demonstrably against Die Hard 5 equaling the heights of the first film, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about John McClane, its to never underestimate him—especially when he’s armed with an “R” rating.