Die Hard 5 was not a Die Hard film. There are loads of reasons for this but the one that stuck out the most for me, particularly in Die Hard 5, was the lack of John McClane. I’m not a person who subscribes to the idea that Die Hard is a film about a close quarters environment, like the building from the first movie or the airport from the second, because I think Die Hard with a Vengeance is the second best film in the series and that took the close quarters element away from the franchise.
I think John McClane is the key to the series. Die Hard introduced us to the wise-cracking, heroic but out-of-his-depth character that every one can get behind. He is best when he is a fish-out-of-water, against the odds and he doesn’t give in or give up no matter what the challenges are. He also makes some ridiculously dangerous choices and decisions that give us some of the coolest action moments in cinema history.
This aspect of Die Hard didn’t seem to be included in the fifth installment. Bruce Willis just cruised through the movie, barely recognisable as the same cop that we had seen in the past four films. No wise cracks, no true heroics and definitely not the John McClane that threw Alan Rickman off a building in the first movie. Its even more disappointing when you realise that there was plenty of chances to bring McClane back to the action.
I wouldn’t change the setting. I like the idea that he has to go to Russia to “save” his son. It means we get plenty of opportunities for him to play the lost and confused tourist. There were hints of this during the movie, when McClane is in a taxi and trying to communicate with the Russian driver, but even this didn’t reach the comedic potential it could have. Some of the best aspects of the fourth movie was John McClane versus Technology and it played to the strengths of an old-fashioned cop, stuck in his ways.
This is another aspect that could have saved the movie. There was a scene where McClane and his son were attacked in the CIA safe house, surrounded by guns and gadgets. While John McClane fought back, machine gunning the enemy, his son grabbed their informer and used a gadget to blow a hole in the wall, reaching freedom. This made sense to me and could have been the focus of the movie.
All the way through the film they play with the idea that John McClane improvises his way out of trouble. If you made Jack McClane much more of an active, gadget laden and Bond/Bourne style spy, you could have had a new dynamic which represented the positives and negatives of both the planned and calculated spy style against the brute force, John McClane style.
This could have the pair at odds throughout the film. John McClane scoffing at his spy sons reliance on the gadgets and tactics and his son annoyed at his Dad’s rushing in and causing mayhem approach. It would also mean we could get some actual chemistry between the two of them, not just the forced, “something happened in the past” conversations that we get throughout the movie.
It could lead to a climax where the two have to mix their styles, John begins to use the gadgets to defeat his share of the enemies and Jack uses his Dad’s techniques to defeat the big, bad villain, who he throws off the building, echoing the Rickman fall from the first. I would even let Jack say the famous “Yippee Kay Yay…” line that was wasted in this film.
This could have been a decent installment in the Die Hard franchise. Die Hard 4 wasn’t close to 1 or 3 but it was still a new adventure with John McClane using his brute force and attitude to defeat a villain that outnumbers and outguns him. It wasn’t as good as 1 or 3 (I prefer it to 2) but it was still a Die Hard film, because Willis was playing John McClane. That’s all Die Hard 5 needed.
Overall, Die Hard 5 wasn’t that far away from being a decent part of the franchise. Make Willis much more John McClane, play up the “fish-out-of-water” aspect where McClane’s comedy works best and make the spy element of his son’s CIA role a much more prominent part of the film. It would give us a movie that would resemble Die Hard much more than this movie does.