PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

'A Good Day to Die Hard': Reagan is Dead, Long Live Reagan

Since Die Hard, the "Ode to Joy" has signaled the pleasures of action movie excesses and one more thing too, namely, the ever-rightness of John McClane.


A Good Day to Die Hard

Director: John Moore
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yulia Sniger, Rasha Bukvic, Cole Hauser
Rated: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-02-14 (General release)
UK date: 2013-02-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

The "Ode to Joy." Since 1988, when John McClane (Bruce Willis) first encountered the terrorists who weren't terrorists in Die Hard, Beethoven's final symphony has held a special place in action-movie fans' hearts. Splendid on its own, and amenable to some mildly surprising permutations, the "Ode to Joy" provides a musical and emotional theme throughout the uneven sequels, sometimes subtle, sometimes gaudy, always linked to the triumph of John McClane.

This despite the initial premise, that the "Ode" was a favorite of Hans (Alan Rickman), marking the occasion of his Christmas present to himself. For what the "Ode" ends up meaning in the Die Hards is not the joy of holidays or brotherhood, family reunions or choral exultations, but instead, the delights of action-movie excesses, explosions and shootouts, car flips and helicopter crashes, and villains' spectacular FX-ed falls from great heights. Since Die Hard, the "Ode to Joy" has signaled all this and one more thing too, namely, the ever-rightness of John McClane.

Being an '80s action hero, John's rightness is pretty much assumed, of course, but Die Hard underscores it in all kinds of ways, from his good instincts in fighting Hans as well as the LAPD and the FBI, to his super-good shooting at Alexander Godunov, to his recovery of his estranged wife at film's end, so transformed by his exploits that she sees her own previous error, having moved herself and their kids to LA, when John is and always will be, as he puts it more than once, a New York Cop. More than a career, John's identity frames his rightness in all the sequels too, no matter where he goes and which "scumbags" he kills.

All this rightness is associated with the "Ode to Joy," barely discernable at the start of A Good Day to Die Hard, which introduces not John but Russian entrepreneur Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a seeming Russian dissident seemingly on trial for the murder of midlevel Russian official. Amid the noise of international TV reports, courtroom shufflings, and other expository nonsense, the low-range strains of the "Ode" indicate John's imminent arrival. Supported by his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, returning from Live Free or Die Hard), John heads to Russia to save her brother/his son Jack -- that cute kid in pajamas watching dad on TV in 1988 and now grown up to be played by Jai Courtney -- who is involved in Yuri's case. That is, he's working for the CIA to bust him out of the Russian legal system.

Apart from the CIA mucking around in Russian conspiracies, the plot reprises a number of other clichés, most emphatically, explosions and shootouts and car crashes. John's participation seems incidental: he says again and again, that he's come to Russia "on fucking vacation," a mantra that indicates his lack of investment in the entire affair. That affair, as always in John's oeuvre, looks like one thing but is something else. Another mantra here is more familiar, and bound up in John's identity as a New York Cop, that he has a special gift for killing "all the scumbags." Here, he and Jack, long estranged, apparently, because John spent too much time on the job when his children were young, now bond over exactly that job, founded on that gift. (And yes, the other mantra, "Yippee Ki-Yay," pops up as well.)

Thus: John and Jack and Yuri escape the trial and Russian security, then confront a whole lot of other Russian weaponry, while also picking up Yuri's daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) and a ticket to Chernobyl too, yet again serving as ground zero for all Russian malfeasance. A Good Day to Die Hard includes the requisite references to terrorism and weapons-grade uranium, global finance schemes and even “Solzhenitsyn,” apparently to note generic Russian dissidence rather than suggest John has read a book. But the rationale for getting John to Russia or even back together with his son is of less interest here than ensuring that John -- for all he's done wrong regarding his children or the cities whose blocks he decimates or the governments whose laws he breaks -- is right, again. What makes him right is less his might, per se, than his cowboyish joy in exercising his various rights, to do damage, to smite Eurotrashy villains, to explode everything in sight. Along the way, his own injuries, his bloody cuts, his bruised eyes, confirm again what Susan Jeffords characterizes as the "hard bodies" of '80s action pictures.

And so, if the father-son bonding makes for creaky sentiment by this point, it also reaffirms the franchise in this sense, in recalling and ce-celebrating the Reagan '80s. The movie is not entirely unaware of the creakiness, and even enlists one of the thugs to articulate it: “It’s not 1986 anymore," announces Alik (Rasha Bukvic), standing over Jack and John, trussed up, on their knees, and beaten to matching bloody pulps. “Reagan is dead.” It's John's cue to start trouble, of course, and the scene devolves immediately into violent excess, John and now Jack too demonstrating that the daunting cowboy model is not even close to dead... and still right.

3

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.