So far, I’ve learned only two important things in 2013:
- Die Hard 5 (A Good Day to Die Hard) was a truly god awful film
- Olympus has Fallen would have made a great Die Hard 5
Let me be clear, I’m NOT saying that Olympus has Fallen was a great movie. It was mediocre, laughable and poorly thought out, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been a great Die Hard. To understand why I think this we first have to understand what makes a great Die Hard movie and why the actual Die Hard 5 is such an abysmal failure.Die Hard at its best hinges on the fact that John McClane is a reluctant hero. He’s a city cop, out of his jurisdiction, pushed into an extreme situation by circumstances out of his control. It’s only through grit, wit, and killing a lot of Europeans that he manages to save the day. You can count on him going it pretty much alone too because the actual cops are led by arrogant, foolhardy, squares who can be counted on to miss the forest for the trees. It’s great. If you haven’t seen Die Hard, or Die Hard 2: Die Harder, or Die Hard with a Vengeance, you are missing out on some of the best action films in cinema. Die Hard 4 is where things start to get a bit… off track. In Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard), we start getting into many of the problems with plot and character that derailed other films in the action genre. Even so, Die Hard 4 can be forgiven because it still managed to entangle John in a situation that he did not want to be in but was the only one in a position to do anything about.
Die Hard 5 throws that convention out of the window then blows it out of the sky with an RPG. In Die Hard 5, John entangles himself in a situation that was A) beyond him intellectually and B) beyond the scope of his skillset (which, if you recall, consists of shooting Europeans until they are all dead). This movie finds him mucking up covert operations in Russia, a country he knows nothing about and doesn’t hide his disdain for even though he is visiting there. He also attempts to crack wise throughout the movie with a one liner (“I’m on vacation”) so forced and nonsensical that the audience I watched it with audibly groaned each time he recited it (which was about six times too many). The plot is a betrayal of John McClane’s entire character, which we learned over the course of four previous movies, is made up around “not my problem if I can avoid it”. Here is a situation he totally, completely, absolutely can avoid and he does the exact opposite of what he would and should do and jumps headlong into the action, accidentally mucking up everything in the process (another betrayal of story convention). That’s why Die Hard 5 sucked. It sucked not just as a standalone entry, one that could simply be ignored but somehow time traveled back to the previous classics and ruined the character in those ones as well. Watching Die Hard again, you almost have to pity him for what he will one day become. It’s depressing and I hate it.
Now with Olympus has Fallen, you have a script that reeks of unabashed plagiarism. So flagrant is the copying of Die Hard into the story for Olympus has Fallen that if it were a better movie you might think it was intentional, a sort of homage to the classic that kick started the reluctant hero action sub-genre. It probably isn’t. But what if instead of stealing the source material and running with it, they embraced the source material and went all in. What if “A Good Day to Die Hard” was set in Washington, DC during a terrorist attack on the White House? The Secret Service have been neutralized, but what the North Korean’s didn’t expect was to look for the unassuming tourist whose visitors pass reads “John McClane”? I want to see this film already. The bad parts of Olympus has Fallen would fall away, as the clichéd and forced back story of a disgraced Secret Service agent coming back in (by inexplicably running full sprint towards the burning White House as bullets explode all around him) is unneeded. The reluctant hero piece of the puzzle would fit nicely as John McClane is actually on vacation and only saves the day because literally every Secret Service agent is killed or captured. There could be great scenes where the Speaker of the House (still Morgan Freeman, of course) could be asking his advisers if he can trust this hot headed, smart-alecky, New York City street cop with the delicate task of saving the President of the United States from assassination. Now that’s drama! As an added bonus, the wince inducing scenes Olympus has Fallen shamelessly stole from Die Hard scripts can remain in there, but now they are throwbacks to the old films! Fans of the series would delight in matching up events from the first or second movie with the latest installment. It’s criminal that they squandered this opportunity on a mediocre original story.
It’s interesting to juxtapose these two films because they suffer from inverse problems. The writer of Die Hard 5 had no appreciation for or knowledge of the source material he was supposed to be writing about. On the other hand, the writer of Olympus has Fallen clearly loved Die Hard but was stuck writing a mediocre Gerard Butler vehicle. If they had taken the time to see what they had on their hands with the story, the producers could have staged an incredible coup and pulled off one of the best comebacks in movie history with a film that really brought the Die Hard franchise back to its original glory and not simply a hollow shell, Die Hard in name only, in order to squeeze some money out of a skeptical fan base.
It’s probably Gerard Butler’s fault.