Bruce Willis reprises the role of John McClane that made him officially a movie star way back in 1988 with the original ‘Die Hard’, a movie that set the benchmark for every action film made ever since and became a Christmas/family tradition to watch every year (partly because it’s set at, and aired, every Christmas, and also partly due to a similar tradition set by Joey and Chandler in ‘Friends’). The original film was followed by ‘Die Hard 2: Die Harder’ 1990, ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ 95, and ‘Die Hard 4.0/Live Free or Die Hard’ (also the state motto of New Hampshire incidentally – minus the ‘Hard’ part of course) 07. All four of the previous films were worthy additions to the canon, featuring the world’s hardest cop vs. money grabbing pseudo terrorists, but what of the fifth one? Well, it’s a lot more action focused than even its predecessors, and with a relatively short running time a lot of that action is extremely tightly cut, making it quite fast paced but also at times difficult to make out what’s going on. Perhaps especially true during a huge car chase sequence which is otherwise packed full of impressive stunts, but is mostly reduced to a visual blur and a series of loud metallic crunches. For a sequence that took weeks of filming, all the effort put into it deserved a better final product. Similarly there’s a scene where Bruce Willis’ hands go from being tied to being free to beat the hell out of the bad guy, and I guess you’re supposed to assume he unties himself offscreen somehow, but there’s a constant thread of unbelievability throughout the action sequences, and one of the things that made the previous films a success was that even though they were, quite literally, over the top, efforts were made to make it seem plausible.
A plot does exist here, but so much emphasis is placed on the action that it’s been degraded in the process. John McClane’s kids are alluded to in ‘Die Hard’, but whereas the introduction of his daughter worked with the great story in the fourth instalment, here the appearance of his son, played by Australian actor Jai Courtney (the bad guy in ‘Jack Reacher’), feels a little tawdry and allows for more than one overly cheesy moment, and although the always lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead appears briefly as the daughter again, she only has about thirty seconds or less screen time. If they are grooming Jai to take over the franchise they may be in for trouble as although he has the physique of an action star, he is so far lacking the onscreen charisma that would be needed for the role, in a similar way to the general reception of Indy’s son Mutt in the last Indiana Jones film. The action all takes place in Russia, the latest in a list of Hollywood films to do so (‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, ‘Chernobyl Diaries’, ‘The Darkest Hour’, a tiny bit of the last Transformers movie), although it was filmed in Hungary, and anyone who has played ‘Call of Duty’ will see some very familiar scenes in Chernobyl. Indeed, one can easily imagine the filmmakers sitting playing the game and having a ‘brainwave’, “Hey I know, let’s put John McClane in Chernobyl and have him blow the shit out of it!”. Hmm. The game is actually more realistic than the film, with radiation treated as a minor irritation to fitting Chernobyl into the story.
Despite all this, The Red Dragon still gained some nostalgic pleasure from investing in another Die Hard film, but alas it is a mar on a franchise that had thus far put paid to the widely, and falsely, held notion that sequels only dilute the original. It was a great idea to release the film on Valentine’s Day, but an extremely questionable one to pick a director and a writer (John Moore and Skip Woods respectively) with only a small number of ok-ish films under their belt, including video game adaptations for each of them. It seems that British audiences have been treated with the disdain of being given a heavily cut version so that the film can have a 12A rating (it’s rated R in the states), which is absolutely disgraceful. The fact that the director has already started working on his director’s cut suggests he is far from happy with the released version on either side of the Atlantic, and we can hopefully expect to see a better one appearing on dvd in the future. Good to see the continuation of some of the music from the other films, and indeed a classy Rolling Stones song play over the credits at the end, one knew to The Red Dragon, and one that you can see the video for, featuring Noomi Rapace, below. If Bruce Willis and company can make number six something special, then all will be forgiven.