A Good Day to Die Hard

Article by   February 2013
When someone is known by one name only, it can mean a few things: memory loss, a screaming coach, or the person in question has become a pop culture icon. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Willis. Three names that are synonymous with explosions, guns, and one-liners. Three men who are aging, but seemingly doing greater stunts than they did back in the eighties. And three men who are currently on the silver screen doing what they've always done.

Schwarzenegger stars in The Last Stand, Stallone can be seen in Bullet to the Head (date night!), and Willis can be seen in the fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard.  Either we've stepped back in time or these films are telling us something that's intrinsic to human nature.  Before I deal with that, let's take a moment to go back in time.

I can still remember my first R-rated movie to see in the theater, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Of course I still had to cover my eyes in many scenes, but it was a big day for me. I was growing up. I had always been the kid that didn't get to watch anything, even though everyone else got to see everything. Exaggeration? Probably. To be honest, I'm very thankful my parents exercised a great deal of caution towards what movies my sister and I could watch. In all likelihood, the forced abstention only enhanced the moment I finally got to watch Arnold promise me that [he] would be back.

Even though T2 was my first R-rated film in the theaters, my first edited R-rated film on television was Rambo: First Blood part 2. While I liked watching Stallone maintain the exact same expression on his face through all the dialogue, gunfire, and revenge, he didn't stick with me like Schwarzenegger did. And, it wasn't until later that I became acquainted with another hero: John McClane a.k.a Bruce Willis.

Willis possessed something different than the aforementioned justice-producing heroes. For one, I guess you could say he was working with a certain level of deficiency. He didn't have biceps the size of a Volkswagen bug, arrows that exploded on impact, or even a cyborg under his skin.  He was just an average cowboy.

John McClane took on highly trained killers and terrorists from all over the world, even though he was just a cop. That's no offense to any policeman; I think it is this element of the Die Hard franchise that has kept the films going. McClane was a hero we could identify with. He was a hero who had weaknesses. His feet actually bled when he ran across glass - something some Hollywood heroes cross unscathed.

And we continue to see this in A Good Day to Die Hard. Yes, McClaine often does the seemingly supernatural in the fifth Die Hard film, but he is still your bruised and busted hero.

In this recent tale, McClane travels to Russia to search for his son who's gotten himself in a good bit of trouble, which tends to happen when you're a spy. Through explosions and gunfire, the father and son reunite but it isn't a happy reunion. Although McClane has excelled at defying death, he has failed at being a father to his son. However, without much story or dialogue to carry the film, the father and son bond as the body count rises - there's just something about killing terrorists together that Hallmark just can't touch.

In the end, the two McClanes prove that it is extremely hard for their posterity to die - even when a piece of rebar has punctured your spleen - while it's all-to-easy for the villains to bite the dust. Unsurprisingly, what the movie lacks in storytelling and quality, it more than makes up with violence and language. I was looking forward to A Good Day to Die Hard, but this installment will prove to be enjoyable only to the extremely die-hard fans of the franchise.  

Disappointingly, the story was poor and the action was lackluster. A few times the script tries to create some endearing moments between father and son, but such moments are forced and cheesy at best. This is especially true since John's son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has such an intense hatred and disrespect for his father for two-thirds of the film.

Even for a fan of the franchise, this film is going to be a hard sell. Still, a big-budget action flick, like A Good Day, tells us something infinitely deeper than the storyline itself. Without being too cliche, films like A Good Day remind us that everyone wants a hero. Whether you're eight or eighty, we keep coming back for more of these kinds of films because the heroes in them so often let us down. We need a Savior. So we substitute saviors like McClane but, deep down, we know hecan't save us.  The world is broken. One only has to turn on the nightly news, visit the cinema, work in ministry, or commit to a local church for the long-haul to see that.

A hero must possess protection, security, power, strength, and sacrificial love.  Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis have all possessed these, in varying degrees, at some point in cinema history. They have been our heroes. Although they are nothing more than fictitious characters, they have been the ones that seem to provide us a certain level of security and hope.

Even though most of these action superstars have overcome just about every enemy, there is one they are still battling. One that is continuing to prevail. That enemy?  Time. That is one enemy showing up on all their faces. Each of these heroes may be lobbing grenades and slinging one-liners left and right but they can't escape the fact that they are older. Stallone is 67, Schwarzenegger is 66, and Willis is the youngster of the group coming in right under sixty at 58 years-young.  

However, Hollywood's current weapon against their age is not botox or plastic surgery, it's simply mocking the obvious. Each of these heroes have begun to take cracks at their own age; jokes about their cholesterol, aching joints, and even the cliched phrase, "I'm getting too old for this." The first scene for Willis in A Good Day has another character calling him "grandpa." But, joking about their age is merely a temporary solution. After all, Schwarzenegger and Stallone's recent films have bombed at the box office. And even though, in terms of box office draw, Willis's recent outing seems to be doing better, critics aren't a fan of the aging McClane. 

In the end, these again heroes remind us that we still need another Hero. While these heroes have created quite the spectacle on screen, they have proved they aren't the same yesterday, today and forever. There is only One who has accomplished that and his blockbuster is coming soon.

Rev. John Perritt is a graduate of RTS and is Youth Pastor at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS. He blogs regularly on film & theology at reel-thinking. He and his wife Ashleigh have three children.

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