Dead on arrival.
I think I have reached the evolutionary point in my movie reviewing career (yes I am starting to call it a career. Suck it if you can’t let me enjoy a little fantasy) where I will no longer allow myself to excuse a crap movie just because I am a fan of the star of the film. I am a Bruce Willis fan. Pulp Fiction, the Sixth Sense, the Fifth Element (what’s with him and number movies?), and the original Die Hard are among my favorite films and to date have carried enough credibility to forgive the occasional Hudson Hawk or Cop Out. Recent movies such as Moonrise Kingdom, Surrogates, and Looper continue to show his acting ability and general movie appeal.
However, as I watch more and more movies I have come to realize that each film is in and of itself a discrete particle that needs to be examined in isolation like lab rats to determine which one had the negative reaction to the massive overdose of hemorrhoid cream and which is just part of the control group. Taken as such A Good Day to Die Hard is the most disease ridden lab animal in the cruelest testing facility in history.
To beat another analogy into this review if a movie franchise could be likened to an aircraft either soaring sedately through the stratosphere or crashing and burning horrible than the maneuver that the Die Hard franchise has been executing for the last four films would best be called a death spiral. Each film in turn gets bigger, more elaborate, and stupider with more explosions and ridiculous plots. The first film was arguably one of the top ten best action films of all time with Bruce Willis playing John McClane, an ordinary cop fighting against a villain bent on robbing millions of dollars and destroying a building in LA. Die Hard 2: Die Harder decided the only way to make a better movie would be to have a bigger set and more evil plot so McClane is in a giant airport trying to stop some mercenaries from releasing a Latin American dictator. In Die Hard With a Vengeance the villain opts to blow up parts of New York as part of some kind of nefarious plot to destroy the US economy (hey, I earn money in the US! I should care about that!). Then, like a drug addict needing more and more smack we are given Live Free or Die Hard and the ultimate evil plot: some kind of computer virus that will disrupt all power, traffic, computers, and possibly even your own home computer (OMG save us!)
Which leads us to the latest installment where the bad guys plan to do…something? Honestly I’m not really clear on what the ultimate plan really was. There was something about killing the rival of some Russian political guy, and later on it turned out to be something about weapons grade uranium but I’m not sure what the deal was. I guess it was implied that they planned to build WMD’s but it’s not really clear (perhaps they left the nuke option out there in case they need an even bigger threat for Die Hard 6. This does not bode well for Die Hard 7. Once they have done nukes what is left? Destruction of the entire world? Perhaps by killing all the whales (which of you got that reference?)).
The vagueness of the dastardly plan is not what is bugging me about this film. In fact, I kind of liked it if only because it felt a little ramped back from the lameness in three of the four previous plots. No, what bugged me was the fact that the director really didn’t want to make a John McClane movie. You see, one of the greatest things about McClane is the fact that he is an ordinary guy prevailing in the face of horrific odds. In the first film every fight is a struggle and he has to use every resource he can to save his wife and her coworkers. He turns his feet into hamburger by running barefoot through broken glass, gets shot, beat up, blown up, and falls off the building. He starts off with his service gun and just improving his armament is a struggle. However as the series progresses he looks less like the lovable punching bag we saw in the first one and more like a T-800, except that even the Terminator could get crushed in a hydraulic press and John McClane is pretty much immune to everything including what should be radioactive water (at least he doesn’t have to worry about hair loss).
This trend is taken to the next level in A Good Day by making John McClane (and his son. More on that later) so indestructible that the combined military forces of the planet couldn’t take him out. This is why Superman sucks and Batman rules. There is no real struggle or bravery for a guy who is pretty much immune to everything on this planet except Krytonite (check out my article on how stupid the idea of Kryptonite on Earth really is) so we can’t care about his fight against 99.99999% of the villains out there. Meanwhile, Batman (comic book Batman, not movie Batman. Batman image courtesy of the Batman T Shirt category) is in constant danger from even the lowliest criminal. All it takes is for one punk to get lucky with a gun and it is all over. Thus is Batman the far superior hero (for other reasons too, but I don’t want to go too far off topic). So when you make it pretty apparent that John McClane (and his son) are never going to really have anything bad happen to them you drain away all the tension in the film and the biggest helicopter explosions, car wrecks, and flying stunts in the universe will not motivate the audience to really give a damn. Guns literally fall out of every cabinet and trunk they open, bad guys apparently trained at the Helen Keller School of Marksmenship and are all equipped with powerful bullet magnets, and injuries heal with nigh miraculous speed.
Sigh. 980 words in and I haven’t even started the story recap. I’m going to be pretty generous with the spoilers in a minute but honestly if you are going to this film to be astounded by the story why don’t you just slam you head in your refrigerator door for 98 minutes? (Incidentally, this film had a $92,000,000 budget and hired the guy who wrote the Wolverine movie. Are a million monkey banging on a million typewriters really that hard to find?) John McClane (Bruce Willis but if you didn’t know that what cave have you been living in?) has a grown son and daughter. Like most families the son (Jai Courtney-Jack Reacher, Sparticus: War of the Damned, Boys Grammer) is a huge disappointment and has been arrested in Russia for something(?). John flies to Russia to do something (really, what has that about? Is John McClane some kind of expert on Russian law? Was he going to go in guns blazing and bust his son out of the gulag? Hypnotize the judge with the spot of light reflected off his head? What?). Meanwhile Russian billionaire Komorov (Sebastion Koch I think. I might have these two guys reversed. If you see the movie you see why-Unknown, the Lives of Others, Suspension of Disbelief (ironic)) is in the same prison waiting for trial for something (?). He is the main rival of bigwig Anton (Roman Luknar-the Garden, Panelak, Lidice) who wants him killed because he has some file that will destroy him (again, very vague deals. Everyone kept banging on about this file and then later it meant nothing).
Here come the spoilers. I hope this doesn’t drain your excitement to the point you fall into a narcoleptic coma. Anton sends a hit team to kill Komorov in the middle of the courtroom where he and Jack McClane are sitting in glass boxes. Turns out Jack works for the CIA and is there to rescue Komorov. They escape in a truck and nearly run down John, who was on his way to the courthouse. Then we get the stupidest chase scene ever (I’m not kidding. It made the escape scene from 2012 look like Bullitt.) with McClane literally driving over other cars. They escape from the main henchman (Radivoje Bukvic-Taken, Three Worlds, Armed Hands). Kamorov has to pick up his daughter and the file before leaving the country.
You know, twists in a movie plot are like nuclear power; they can be used for both good and evil. In some films they greatly enhance the story and keep you really engaged, but in this one it seemed like they were throwing twists in whenever the writer got bored, which was like every 10 minutes. The daughter betrays the father and gets him captured. She then betrays the main evil dude and was secretly in league with her father all along, who instead of trying to atone for his sins and bring a bad man to justice had some secret plot to do something(?) with weapons grade uranium. The story thread ends up looking like the biggest string of Xmas lights all piled up in a big incoherent mess.
So stuff gets blown up. John and Jack kill about a million guys with each spray of their guns. The end.
The stars. I will give one for Bruce Willis doing his thing, but honestly since that is what I expected it’s like awarding a gold star to the best oxygen processor in 2nd grade. One star nevertheless. There was some attempt at character development between John and his son Jack, so I will award a star in the A for Effort category. One star. If you like guns, explosions, and pointless plot twists than you have found your Nirvana. One star. Total: three stars.
The black holes. The plot could be considered a Crime Against Fiction. Two black holes. I think I have found a way to accurately describe the action in this film and that is it looked like Bruce and his buddy were playing a video game. Even they looked bored and nothing seemed a challenge (easy mode video game). Two black holes. The story was needlessly labyrinthine and hard to follow. If they had given me a reason to care I might not have resented the work it took to keep track of but they didn’t. One black hole. At no point did this film give me a real reason to give care other than it’s John McClane and my nostalgia should carry me through. One black hole. A chase scene that literally hurt my brain. One black hole. I’d say the explosions in this film rate 8/10 Micheal Beys. One black hole. I am going to hit them for drinking the “We must make things bigger in each film or else!” punch. One black hole. Crowbarring in a son and then have John show all the paternal instinct of Cronus (there’s a test of your education). Is there any father in the world who is OK with sending his son into a fight against trained mercenaries and his plan literally is to go in guns blazing? One black hole. Finally one more for being so wrapped up in the name Die Hard that they created one of the stupidest movie titles ever. One black hole. Total: eleven black holes.
A final total of eight black holes. It has been a while since I rained unholy hell on a film like this, but I feel justified doing it here. Die Hard was a masterpiece that should have been left to enjoy it’s success in the sun with a pina colada and a big umbrella. Instead they keep trotting it out of retirement to help move the furniture around and then then everyone acts surprised when it defecates on the carpet and dies. Who is to blame for this trend of exhuming corpses and using their bodies in puppet shows you ask? I am going to blame you, the audience. If you would only stop seeing this garbage then Hollywood would have no choice but to actually make something original and creative. Each Die Hard movie has made more money than the previous one, so why should Hollywood stop? Ugh. Should you see it? If you are a fan of John McClane or just want to kill 98 minutes than sure. If you are easily distracted by explosions and bright objects you will not feel any remorse. Date movie? Hell no. This film is an anti-date movie. Bathroom break? Since this film really only serves at an action delivery system (like the worlds stupidest t-shirt gun) then any of the non action scenes could be missed with ease. You might even enjoy the film more if you made up your own plot to connect the action sequences. If I had to be specific I’d say the scene where John starts off whining about how the whole opperation is blown before they head off to Chernobyl.
Thanks for reading. More to see soon. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Feel free to post comments on this film or my review here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to email@example.com. Thanks and I will talk to you soon.
Watch this and feel taken too.
Headed into this film I felt an unusual level of ennui not normally associated with Luc Besson or Liam Neeson films (for those of you who aren’t uptight pretentious intelligencia (or don’t dream of one day becoming one) ennui is “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest”. In other words, I had a hard time giving a crap). It looked like another miserable retread of an otherwise decent film in an attempt to get another ounce of milk out of the cow that is we the movie going audience.
Fortunately for my personal self esteem regarding my almost psychic ability to predict the suck levels of movies, it was exactly that. I think it now fair to say that Luc Besson has problems with sequels. He is brilliant when he comes up with his original film ideas but like the Piers Anthony of the film world (special geek cred if you get that joke) he falls in love with his own characters and decides they need a sequel when honestly he should have just let them sit in splendor as the brilliant stand alone movies they are. Columbiana was a perfect example, as is this dog.
Thankfully for Luc (and unfortunately for us) there are legions of Hollywood executive types eager to beat any dead horse lying in the street and spread whatever foul ichor spews forth from it’s assorted orifices (orifi?) all over the screen (I am currently looking forward to seeing Citizen Kane II: Rosebud’s Revenge, Godfather Apocalypse, and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial Resurrection. You know it’s only a matter of time). This film is not necessarily as bad as that, but it in no way deserves to be associated with the original Taken (or, for that matter, does Taken deserve to have references to itself crowbarred into this film in every way shape and form).
However, like most issues in films the blame does not reside firmly in Luc’s lap but rather in the lap of the director, candidate-for-stupidest-name-ever Olivier Megaton (he takes his name from his birthday, which was the 20th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Why didn’t he just name himself Olivier Douchebag? Isn’t that about the same? I have a friend who was born on Christmas Day, but she didn’t rename herself Katherine Stigmata). I guess the director of Taken (Pierre Morel) was too talented for this film so they hired the guy who is best known for miserable flop Columbiana. His ham handed approach to action with a complete disregard for story is all over the inside of this film like a frog in a microwave.
As long as I am bitching about the direction I am going to take a moment to rail against an ugly trend in action movies that I have coined (and expect a royalty from all you other reviewers out there for) quick cut action sequencing. This is where in a fight scene rather than actually hire actors who can fight and a choreographer who can set up a scene they just film the actors throwing punches, rolling around together, and spitting fake blood and then edit the whole bundle into a series of 1/4 second or less fast shots that simulate action while letting you know nothing about what is actually going on. It is a horrible technique, and all who ascribe to it shall one day eat a turd in hell for movie blaspheme. However, what Megaton did was decide that this technique is so awesome at hiding his inability to direct that he was going to apply it not only to fight scenes but every gun fight and car chase as well. As soon as the action music starts rolling the film starts to look like you are trying to watch it through a kaleidoscope in a shockless car on a dirt road. Even the slow motion car explosion scenes are cut into 5-10 tiny little headache inducing cuts. It is a horrible technique and needs to stop.
Anyway, the story, for lack of a better term. It is now five years past the events of Taken, and ex CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson-Taken, The Grey, Batman Begins) is still obsessively stalking his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace-Taken, Lockout, Lost), who in spite of being five years older than she was in the last movie (when she was 17) still doesn’t have her drivers license. There is some really pointless character development with his ex wife Lenore (Jean Grey from all the X-men movies. X-men image courtesy of the Comic Book T Shirt category) and the meeting of Kim’s boyfriend Jamie (Luke Grimes-Assassination of a High School President, Brothers and Sisters, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) who as a face you just want to stick fists into. In spite of the fact that last time she traveled to a foreign country she was kidnapped and sold as a sex slave to an Arab sheik Kim is totally gung ho to fly to an Arabic country with her mom to hang out with her father (Darwin at work, I guess).
Meanwhile, all the relatives of the guys Bryan killed in the last movie are out for blood. The head guy is Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija-Batman Begins, Snatch, Mission Impossible II), the father of the guy Bryan electrocuted in the last one. They “take” Bryan and Lenore but now (careful or some of this amazing plot twist might get in your eye) it is Kim who manages to escape and rescue her dad (or at least deliver to him a gun). That’s pretty much it except for the shooting, driving, and bleeding. All the great investigative elements and the mad intensity that Liam Neeson brought to Taken are completely missing from this film, leaving the director with a huge gape that he either filled with more bad action or nothing.
The stars. I still like Liam Neeson, and while they kind of spread him too thin on this film like a tiny drop of grease trying to lubricate a giant engine, it was cool to see him as Bryan Mills again. One star. Maggie Grace is pretty hot, and they managed to contrive an excuse for her to run around in short shorts and a bikini top for an extended period of time. One star. That’s pretty much it. Two stars.
The black holes. This film comes with all varieties of plot holes, from marble sized all the way up to Indiana Jones crushing. One black hole. A tired, unimaginative retread in an attempt to draw bored idiots (like me) into the seats. One black hole. No story to speak of. One black hole. Quick cut action editing to drive you nuts. One black hole. If you hadn’t seen the first film you would have had no reason to remotely care about any of the characters in this one. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of three black holes. I won’t say this movie is horrible. If all you want is action and you change channel on your TV every 1/4 second odds are you can enjoy this film. If you are a fan of the complexity and character behind Taken (as I am) prepare to be bitterly disappointed. They took the script from Taken and left in out in the sun too long. Date movie? Meh. Nothing in here will encourage your date to take off her clothes but on the other hand nothing will discourage it. The romance is tepid and tertiary at best. Bathroom break? Any time in the first 35 minutes will work fine. Once the action starts you might as well sit through it as it is the only thing in the film worth viewing. The film is a flaccid 91 minutes long, but if you really can’t hold it I’d say the scene where Kim is watching her cell phone do a 5 minute count down. Some action there but not a ton.
Thanks for reading. Plenty more to see this week, including Frankenweenie (why am I not excited to see this?), Hotel Transylvania (looks cute), Pitch Perfect (there’s never an incoming meteor when you really need one) and Trouble with the Curve (I will probably love this one. I have a thing for baseball movies). Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. If you have comments on this movie or my review feel free to post them here. Any off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great Columbus Day. Talk to you soon.
I know, I know. I’m supposed to write up my review for Cold Light of Day. I’ll get to it after lunch. I don’t expect many of you are on the fence about seeing it so I don’t feel a huge amount of pressure, but I have some funny thoughts to impart so I will get to it.
However, I wanted to take a moment to wish an icon of the nerd world, Mr. Adam West, a happy birthday. As any nerd with his salt should I’m sure you are aware of the fact that Mr. West played Batman in the 70′s TV show. This show was a big part of my childhood as it was in syndication on about 1,000 channels and you could find it anywhere. That being said, it was awesome, mainly due to Adam’s super campy portrayel of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. A huge number of modern cultural ideas and concepts were derived from this show, and as it started three months after my beloved Star Trek TOS it has that same niche appeal.
By the way, if you have never watched the series but want to absorb the culture of it in 105 glorious minutes rent the Batman movie. It features all the best characters, including the very hot Lee Meriweather as Catwoman and Cesar Romero as a mustached Joker. It also features the infamous worst shark attack scene ever (and by worst I don’t mean realistic or horrific, if you know what I mean) complete with Bat Shark Repellent. It also has the Batcopter and the Batcycle (with side car). Plus, the shark explodes.
The cars and money image I pulled from the Batman T Shirt category. Review later today I promise.
By the way, big spoiler coming in so if you have not yet watched the film better bail out.
Anyway, at one point Bruce Wayne is at the bottom of a prison pit. The only way out is to climb up the pit wall and make some kind of jump or something. They tie a rope around his waste so he won’t die when he falls. He then has to attempt the climb over and over again.
Here’s the question. If there is a rope that goes all the way up to the top of the pit wall why didn’t he just climb up the rope? Or just use the rope to walk up the wall in relative safety. They even did that in the 70′s Batman movie. For that matter it looked like the rope was on some kind of pulley that a big dude held the end on. Why didn’t they just pull him up to the top? Dumb.
The image I got from Dave’s Batman t shirt collection. He has a lot of them.
A film of many surprises.
This film did indeed surprise me in many ways, both positive and negative. There were aspects I expected to suck that exceeded all my expectations. Then there were aspects I thought were going to rule that ended up sucking. There were also stealth surprises, in that aspects of the movie I had no opinion of one way or another jumped up and bit me on the ass.
The big positive surprise was Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I have said several times that I didn’t think she could really play either the Cat or Selina Kyle. I didn’t think she had the role in her. I could not have been more wrong. She inhabits the role like she plans to raise six generations of Hathaways there and more or less dominates every scene she is in. Her portrayal is superlative and I honestly will have a hard time seeing anyone else in the role. Also, I have always had a thing for her (even when she was doing garbage like One Day I found her a real turn on) and no matter what she is doing in this movie she is dead sexy.
The big negative surprise was Bane. I really expected to like him as a villain but honestly found him to be really kind of boring. He suffers in comparison to the Joker in the Dark Knight of course, but even without that bar to hold up I would have found him boring and two dimensional. His plan seems vague and a little pointless, and he just doesn’t have the dialog and compelling nature of even Two Face or Scarecrow from the other movies. He more or less translates as slightly better than a muscle bound thug. (Bane image courtesy of the Batman T Shirts)
One of the surprises that really caught me off guard was Bane’s voice in the movie. Somehow they made him sound suspiciously like Alfred Pennyworth with a mouth full of loose gravel and spoken through 100 yards of steel pipe. It was really, really disconcerting. Honestly the whole time I felt like his voice had been dubbed over, really robbing his dialog of any import or strength. Plus I spent about half the time trying to understand what the hell he had just said. I’d like to not say “I’m not saying the voice doesn’t work but…” but honestly, that’s exactly what I am saying (without the but).
I have seen other critics call the story and plot ludicrous and to be fair to them, it pretty much is. The story borrows but from but does not really tell the stories from Knightfall, Breaking the Bat, No Man’s Land, and a half dozen other Batman comic story lines and as a result fails to tell one complete story. It definitely feel fragmented, convoluted, and lacking in continuity. Months of movie time are covered in the space of a few minutes and very little motivation is given for any of the supporting characters to do pretty much anything. Excellent supporting characters such as Catwoman or Alfred disappear for huge swaths of time only to reappear when the plot needs them. However, I saw the Batman Marathon at the local Regal and saw this movie after watching Batman Begins and the Dark Knight and I can say that while TDK is a brilliant story with amazing character interaction Batman Begins is ludicrous with a capital L. Ra’s al Ghul’s plan, if you recall, was to spend months injecting a fear causing hallucinogenic into the water supply and then microwave it into steam to cause the city to self destruct and teach the world a lesson or something. It doesn’t get much hokier than that.
That being said, the story does seem to lack focus and drifts from story to story, even reprising Ra’s al Ghul in order to give Bane something to do. This is a mistake in my opinion. Bane was always much cooler and more interesting in the comics when he just had a personal axe to grind with Batman. If you read my (brilliant, IMO) post on why The Wrath of Khan is the best of the Star Trek movies you might see what I mean. When the bad guy’s plan is to blow up a city (or the world) Hollywood seems to think we are going to somehow be personally connected to the story and feel some kind of kinship for all the people threatened. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is we connect with a specific character in the movie and feel more involved when there is some kind of personal vendetta going on. This is one of the many reasons the Dark Knight was so cool. Joker wanted nothing more than to screw with Batman. The threats to the city were incidental. When I watch a movie I want to feel like I’m Batman fighting to save my life, not one of the squirming millions of unwashed masses he is trying to protect.
All that being said, this movie is definitely worth watching. It drags at places, and you will feel every one of the self indulgent 164 minutes (mostly in your numb butt and full bladder), but visually stunning and the action is pretty damned good.
I’m not going to get into the story too deep as I expect pretty much everyone reading this to watch it and don’t want to hand out any spoilers. Sufficed to say Batman has been in hiding for eight years since taking the blame for the death of Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has been a recluse until Catwoman pulls him back to reality by robbing his safe. There is a lot of complicated, convoluted non-action in the first 45 minutes until Bane finally takes over the city No Man’s Land style. All hell breaks loose, and Batman is more or less broken. Stuff blows up. There is a massive riot. More stuff blows up. The end.
The stars. Batman movie. Two stars. Comic book movie. One star. Catwoman was pretty damned impressive, not to mention uber hot. One star. Almost all the supporting characters delivered at least a good performance, if not great. One star. Visually stunning. Expect to see some technical Oscars for this one. Two stars. While the pretty much used canon as a doormat, they tried to keep all the characters except Bane true to themselves. One star. I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a really good choice to introduce as a new character, and his role added a lot to the story. One star. The action was pretty impressive all around (not to mention brutal), especially any fight between Bane and Batman. One star. Overall entertaining as hell. Two stars. Total: twelve stars.
The black holes. Long, long movie with non-action portions that seemed to really mire the plot down. Pacing could have been tightened up a lot. One black hole. The main villain was pretty damned boring, which I am going to ascribe to breaking too far away from canon. One black hole. Bane’s voice. One black hole. The story was very much overly convoluted, with myriad sub plots that seemed to go no where. Too much source material in my opinion. One black hole. Some off putting continuity issues, and characters that disappeared for a while. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of seven stars. Decently good, and well worth watching. I will put this one on par with Batman Returns but well below The Dark Knight. It is a good ending to the trilogy, but I honestly did not walk away with the sense of satisfaction I had hoped to have. Should you see it? Absolutely. Spend a few extra bucks on IMAX. This is a must see for any Batman fan and a should see for everyone else. Just don’t expect to be riveted to the seat by a Heath Ledger like performance. Date movie? Only in the sense that even women should see this film. There is nothing going on here that will encourage her to take off her clothes with you, and having you geek out next to her might actually hurt your chances. See it with your friends IMO. I think you will enjoy it more. Bathroom break? Pretty much anywhere in the first 45 minutes would be fine, but if you are looking for a time later in the film I would say any of the the first two climbing out of the pit attempts. You will know what I mean. Not only is Nolan joining the “excitement through repetition” crowd but that whole sub plot adds absolutely nothing to the story except for more continuity issues.
Thanks for reading, and sorry I couldn’t gush more about this film. It was good but not gush-worthy. Worth seeing for sure, but honestly I don’t think I am motivated to see in in a theater a second time. I’d actually rather go see the Avengers again. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Feel free to post comments about this movie or review here. Any off topic comments or suggestions can go to email@example.com. Talk to you soon.