Better Sequels Through Chemistry

With the recent talk of yet another Die Hard sequel, possibly reuniting Bruce Willis’ John McClane with Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver, I found myself hoping it turns out to be true.  In my mind, the third film is the only great sequel in the franchise and by far the most deserving of an extension.  That hope is tempered by the reality that, without the right writer(s) and director, even a reunion of McClane and Zeus will end up just another missed opportunity.

The recent Die Hard sequels seem to be knee-deep in the Hollywood philosophy that bigger, flashier, and more expensive is the proper path for a franchise.  For superhero, epic fantasy, or sci-fi franchises, this may lead to success, depending on how it’s handled.  For action franchises, however, this path usually leads to louder, dumber, and completely implausible.  Instead of dialogue people still quote over two decades later and scenes that give the audience the vicarious thrill of an everyman surviving the worst day imaginable, we see McClane falling from heights that would kill the hardiest thrill-seeker and smashing through obstacles that would break, cut, mangle, or otherwise decimate him into an early grave.  We see action sequences so full of over-the-top CGI nonsense that the audience has no reason to buy into the experience and thus care about anything happening on the screen.  We also get McClane repeating tired and inane lines I hate to even label “one-liners” because it denigrates that proud action movie tradition.

If 20th Century Fox wants people to reinvest in the franchise, they need to scale it back to what made it great to begin with: brilliant, articulate, bad-ass villains who also serve as McClane’s comic foil.  Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons as Hans and Simon Gruber embodied all of that.  A new film would need an actor with that kind of gravitas and sheer power of presence who can convey more menace with a look than most people can with a verbal threat.  If McClane is going to have a partner, it needs to be someone with whom Willis has obvious chemistry.  Jai Courtney had that kind chemistry with Andy Whitfield on Spartacus, but he had none of the necessary father-son dynamic with Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard, making the bad dialogue even worse.  And while I find no fault with the inclusion of Timothy Olyphant in Live Free or Die Hard, I wish he had been McClane’s partner rather than his adversary.  Anyone who has seen Olyphant’s performance as Raylan Givens on the TV series Justified knows he oozes charisma and has a talent for subtle but potent intimidation laced with dark humor, all of which would have made him an interesting contrast to the more blunt and vulgar McClane.  The Willis-Jackson chemistry has already been established and the groundwork laid, so if the two actors do reunite, a big piece of the puzzle will already be in place.

Otherwise, audiences may be inflicted with Die Hard and Be Reborn Even Harder, watching their beloved John McClane fight robots inside a space station on a collision course with New York City.

No one deserves that.

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