Saturday, May 18, 2013

One Too Many - Die Hard Edition

There can, indeed, be too much of a good thing.  Especially when it comes to movie sequels.  The most recent example is the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise.  I think we can all agree that the original Die Hard is a classic action movie.  It changed the genre.  It gave us the intelligent villain, the everyday Joe hero, and it still holds up today.  It's quotable, it had great characters, exciting action, a cool plot twist, and proved that Bruce Willis could be a star.  We'll forgive it for doing that stupid 80's trick of having the supposedly dead bad guy suddenly come back for one last scare.  At least it paid off when Powell shot him and brought his character full-circle.
The second one, Die Harder, was kind of lame.  I mean, the title alone should have been enough of a red flag.  It took everything that was cool about the first movie and tossed it out the window.  Well, everything but Bruce Willis.  He was the only legitimately good thing about that movie.  We were expected to believe that, even in the Die Hard universe, John McClane could go just about anywhere in Dulles airport.  And that the entire airport had only one maintenance guy.  And that no one really cared about that one plane five minutes after it crashed.  It may have seemed that the second installment was one too many.
But the third movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance, made up for it.  It wasn't as great as the first movie, but it was a lot better than the second.  It brought back a lot of the elements of the first movie, particularly an elaborate heist plot.  The revenge plot against John McClane seemed like an afterthought and completely contrived with its whole cat-and-mouse game around New York, but it worked because McClane had Samuel L. Jackson as a reluctant partner.  Yeah, that's pretty much what made that movie.  Samuel L. M. F. Jackson.
When the fourth movie came out in 2007, Live Free or Die Hard, it proved that there was still life in the franchise.  It didn't shy away from the fact that John McClane was older.  Instead of having to save his estranged wife, whom we realized was useless character in the first act of the second movie, he had to save his daughter.  Not just save her, but save his relationship with her.  Justin Long wasn't half bad, either, and it kept his career alive a little longer.  The action was still Die Hard campy, but this time it was more inventive and fun.  Sure the plot was ridiculous and it had Kevin Smith in it.  But it also had Maggie Q.  Win.  Of the all the movies, this one is my second favorite.
Then this year, they went one too far.  A Good Day to Die Hard took everything that was good about the earlier movies -- even the second one -- and tossed them.  It tried way too hard to play up the estranged father and son story line between John McClane and is son, Jack.  When Jack turned out to be a CIA agent or some such BS, it was obvious they were trying to pass the mantle on to someone younger to continue the franchise.  But the plot was thinner than the hair on Bruce Willis' head.  The action was little more than car chases and fight scenes.  And talk about phoning in performances.  On second thought, let's not.  People who have wondered when Die Hard was really going to die just witnessed the flatline of the franchise.  Die Hard 5 was one too many.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the Fourth Be With You

So I know the new Star Wars movies are coming out in a couple of years.  I wish I could say I was more excited.  I LOVED the original Star Wars - now called Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope - and The Empire Strikes Back still holds up as a fantastic movie, even though it doesn't stand on its own.  Then Return of the Jedi came out in 1983.

I was 13 years old and so excited.  People cheered whenever a familiar character appeared on screen.  I enjoyed the Sarlaac pit, the Endor hover bike chase, and the big climactic battle of the Death Star that was basically a retread of the original Death Star battle, just with a bigger budget.  And of course, being 13, seeing Princess Leia in the slave girl costume ... sorry, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  So I left the theater after seeing Jedi and thought, "That was fun.  Now when does the REAL movie come out?"  It just didn't seem like a solid follow up to Empire. And I was 13!

Fast-forward some twenty-six years and the first prequel was released - The Phantom Menace.  The ads looked great.  And I was so excited to get a new Star Wars movie.  And then I saw it.  Here's how well it went over.  Remember that scene where Jar-Jar Binks gets his hand caught in the engine of Anakin's pod racer?  Everyone in the entire audience shouted, "Turn it on!  Turn it on!"

As much as Menace tried to deal with heavy themes, Lucas went too far the other way in terms of silliness or "comic relief" to balance it out.  And his writing was so stilted, particularly the dialogue.  Lawrence Kasdan's script for Empire was brilliant.  Simple, easy, fun, weighted, and balanced.  What ticked me off was how much Lucas just seemed to either forget about everything he established, or just decided to say, "Hey you know all the cool stuff?  Forget it.  I'm doing this now."  I mean, I thought the Force was something anyone could get in touch with.  It is, after all, "an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together."  No.  You gotta have little microscopic midicholorians in your blood.  What the ... ?  Oh, and remember how Ben said that Yoda trained him?  Nope.  Who the hell is Qui-Gon?  Okay, sure Yoda may have trained Ben as a "youngling," but come on.  You're reaching.  Admit it.

The prequel sequels didn't fare much better in my mind.  Clones had its moments, but as a whole bored me to no end.  I hated Hayden Christensen almost as much as I hated Jar-Jar and the kid who played young Anakin.  In retrospect, Hayden may have been brilliant, but I haven't decided.  And I can sum up my reaction to Sith in one word ... "Nooooooooo!"

So now the new movies are coming out.  I think Disney will do a good job and I have faith in J.J. Abrams.  But knowing that Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammill are attached makes me wary.  I don't mind referencing their characters' legacies in the story, but bringing them back into it - even if only as a cameo - just seems like too much of a stunt.

I remember seeing an interview with George Lucas once.  It was just before Jedi was going to be released in theaters.  The interviewer asked him if there would be a lot more effects and eye candy or the like.  Lucas responded that there would be, but they wouldn't be the focus.  He said, "The story isn't the effects.  The story is the story."  He seems to forget his own words a lot.  I hope the new Star Wars movies are good.  But those hopes aren't high.  Maybe the writers will follow Patton Oswalt's advice ...