To Die Hard or not to Die Hard: that is the question now before me.
Anyone who knows me well is aware that — even at my advanced, increasingly prudish age — the original Die Hard remains my unqualified favorite movie of all time. None of them understand why because I’ve never outlined the many reasons. Suffice it to say it’s my incontrovertible opinion. I’ve seen all four movies even though they varied in worth. For the record, the correct ranking is 1, 2, 4, 3. I can understand arguments for and against Renny Harlin’s Die Harder, but I question the wisdom of anyone who ranks Die Hard with a Vengeance anywhere but dead last. For some reason I assumed that Len Wiseman’s ludicrous but giddy Live Free or Die Hard would be the series endcap, and John McClane could ride off into the sunset with Gary Cooper. When the fifth one was announced, I had no idea what to think.
As I’m contemplating the post-Oscar movie release schedule, A Good Day to Die Hard is the only non-Oscar film in theaters that’s not an automatic “no”. That doesn’t mean it’s an enthusiastic “yes”, though. As of this moment its Tomatometer rating rests at a paltry 13%. Its director’s oeuvre has never once tempted me into a theater. The main villain, which can make or break a Die Hard flick, is buried in the trailers as if the filmmakers are ashamed of him. Bruce Willis is now 57, younger than Schwarzenegger and Stallone but not exactly in his prime. I’m not optimistic, but I’m torn. Is now the right time to walk away from John McClane?
I blame TV and comic books for keeping me firmly in the completist frame of mind for so many years. Once you’ve sampled a few chapters and kept up with a character for so long, you’re not supposed to give up on them, are you? Not when their story’s still going, right? You might miss an important development in their lives, or an unexpected upswing in quality. Then you’ll regret abandoning your idol and owe them an apology. That’s why you’re expected to stick with them forever, through thick and thin, wherever and for however long their corporate overseers order them to keep marching.
To my own credit, I’ve opted out of an occasional movie series here and here in my life. TV and comics are easier to kick to the curb when the return on aesthetic investment drops below a certain threshold, but that’s because they accumulate chapters so much more quickly. Movies spawn follow-ups at a much slower pace, so keeping up doesn’t require nearly as much effort or waste as much free time.
Some of my successful breakups include:
* Robocop. I always thought the original was overrated. I only saw the second one because comics legend Frank Miller was credited as co-writer. I wasn’t that far into the movie before I realized it was the worst Frank Miller project up to that point in time. Peter Weller’s failure to return for Robocop 3 was the last red flag I needed to warn me away.
* Police Academy. Look, I was young once, okay? I’ve never seen the original uncensored, but I saw 2 through 6 because of youth, even though I’d stopped laughing at least two movies ago. By the time the seventh iteration was given unholy life, I was living on my own, working full-time, and didn’t have the time or money for much movie-going. (Uh, yeah, that was the ticket…)
* Austin Powers. I endured the first two more as a fan of Wayne’s World than as anyone who cared a whit about James Bond. The first was memorable, the second one not so much. To this day I feel no urge to see if Goldmember presented a single new joke.
* Final Destination. Arguably my last horror series. The original — as directed, co-written, and co-produced by two veterans of The X-Files — was an inspired Rube Goldberg homage that contained elements of a vigorous thematic debate about fate versus free will. The second one started strong with a super-spectacular auto stunt show, then grew more pedestrian as it went. By the third I felt bored and dirty. I saw the fourth only as a favor to someone else, and ended up wishing I had reneged. When the makers of the fifth began using the morally disturbing phrase “epic kill” in interviews, I finally did renege. The list of other horror franchises I abandoned midstream in the latter years of my youth is lengthy, but this series represented my not-so-fond farewell to the Ten Little Indians whack-a-teen subgenre as a whole.
* Any number of kiddie franchises. In my son’s youth, so many of these were considered must-see because of family quality time. Now he’s eighteen and I’m officially liberated from the diminishing returns of Shrek (after three chapters), Spy Kids (after three), Pokemon (three), Ice Age (three), and The Land Before Time (six, a once-reigning champ of a series in my son’s heart). If I ever have grandchildren and end up babysitting, Grandpa will be teaching the little ragamuffins about the proven fundamentals of Walt Disney animated classics. If they want to go see Ice Age 25: Immortal Scrat Versus the 40-Day Flood, that’ll be up to their dad. I wish him well.
* The Godfather. I’m not sure if this should count. Part III has been sitting on my shelf for months, waiting its turn in line. I didn’t spend my own money on it, mind you. I won a free DVD in a Twitter-based promotion, and chose that one as part of my quest to see more Best Picture nominees from years past. Someday I’m sure I’ll motivate myself to clear three unwanted hours on my schedule and learn what all the fuss over Sofia Coppola’s acting debut was about. Someday, indeed. Any minute now. Yep.
* National Lampoon’s Vacation. My teen self thought the original was one of the greatest comedies ever. The second one was drastically un-funnier and embarrassing to watch with my mom. I saw Christmas Vacation once in theaters, don’t remember thinking much of it, and remain surprised that so many people consider it a perennial favorite. I drew the line after that and before Vegas Vacation.
* Any series that includes direct-to-video sequels. This is a general principle in my book. Setting aside Robin Williams’ satisfactory encore in Aladdin and the King of Thieves, such lower-budget sequels tend to be aimed at undiscerning crowds that are biologically incapable of quitting a series, and are buying such products more for the labels than they are for the content.
For all my successes at quitting cold turkey, my list of failures is regrettable. I only enjoyed fourteen minutes of The Matrix Reloaded, but saw The Matrix Revolutions through to its sad, analogy-killing end. I was obligated to finish out the mostly brilliant Back to the Future trilogy even though it concluded with a fifth-rate Blazing Saddles knockoff. And my unwavering dedication to the increasingly disappointing Superman series is an essay unto itself (though dropping all his comics was, sadly, a snap). Sometimes quitting isn’t as simple for me as it should be, sometimes for no defensible reason.
The question remains: will I ride alongside reluctant hero John McClane in his fifth adventure? Time will tell. If I do, it’ll either be as a favor to someone else, or as an excuse for more writing fodder. Stay tuned to MCC for future updates, even if it ends with me giving numerous people the right to tell me, “Told you so!”