The reviews for A Good Day to Die Hard, the latest Die Hard installment, are in, and they’re not pretty, to say the least. As A.O. Scott notes in his take on the film, “everything that made the first Die Hard memorable — the nuances of character, the political subtext, the cowboy wit — has been dumbed down or scrubbed away entirely.”
But how could this have happened? The first Die Hard is not only an action classic, but also a decidedly gritty and clever one, far removed from the bombast of its recent sequels. What happened to the John McClane of the first movie, the wiseass New York cop who cut his feet on some glass, and saved the day with some working class ingenuity? To find out, we decided to track the progress of the Die Hard franchise the most fitting way possible – through Bruce Willis one-liners.
Key One-Liner: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
This is it, right here. This is the Coke Classic of one-liners. The Michael Jordan. The Thriller. The modern gold standard by which all others are judged. Like the film that gave it to us, it’s simple, elegant, badass, and to the point. Vulgar perfection.
Die Hard 2 (Note: The film is sometimes also referred to with the subtitle Die Harder—the film’s original tagline. If this were the subtitle though, it would be one of the greatest ever.)
Key One-Liner: “Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
Now we’re starting to get shaky. Thankfully, Die Hard 2 doesn’t hit the “been there, done that” sequel nadir plumbed by The Hangover Part II and Home Alone 2, but there’s an identifiable feeling of fatigue here, even in the one-liners. In Die Hard 2, everything’s a bit bigger, a bit broader, and all in the service of trying to stretch out why the same shit is happening to the same guy, twice.
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Key One-Liner: “Hey, hey! How ’bout we just skip down to the part where you tell me what the fuck this has to do with me, huh?”
We’re continuing on with the general cartoonishness of Die Hard 2 here, but with more of the spirit and spunk that made the original Die Hard so special. Die Hard with a Vengeance doesn’t quite retreat back to the well like Die Hard 2 did (now, instead of being trapped in a single location, McClane is racing around the city of New York!), but it plays with the fundamentals of the franchise knowingly enough to still feel fresh. You have to admire an action hero who knows his place, and just wants to know what the fuck this has to do with him.
Also, you can’t go wrong with throwing Samuel L. Jackson into the mix either.
Live Free or Die Hard
Key One-Liner: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfu-“ *gunshot*
And this is what it’s come to: What was once cool and irreverent, now sanitized for a PG-13 rating, from the guy behind the Underworld movies, no less.
It was one thing when John McClane entered the realm of a cartoon superhero. By this point, the guy swinging around on the sides of jets and flying cars into helicopters is barely recognizable as McClane. Now, he’s a stock action hero. There’s even a pretty solid action movie in Live Free or Die Hard, it’s just not a Die Hard movie. At least, not without the “motherfucker.”