The first thing you need to understand about A Good Day to Die Hard is that it isn’t really a Die Hard movie. In the same way that instant coffee and espresso coffee share a name but are in fact entirely different beverages, you’d be wise to go to a Good Day screening with modest expectations – expectations that would already have been lowered if you’d seen 2007’s dismal Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free and Die Hard).
Bruce Willis plays Detective John McClane for the fifth time since 1988 but this time there’s no smirk, no glint in his eye and none of the recognisable human frailties that made the original character so appealing. Instead, he’s just what everybody always said he was – an asshole. When his son is arrested by Moscow authorities for what looks like a mob hit, McClane heads to Eastern Europe to try and save a boy he hardly knows. As usual, McClane becomes “the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench” and he immediately lands in the middle of a CIA operation to extract a rebel oligarch hiding information that could bring down the government, his untimely intervention destroying most of Moscow’s traffic in the process.
It’s American election year and those mealy-mouthed Hollywood liberals have fired the first shot in their attempt to influence the result. In The Campaign, Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell playing a four-term US congressman from a district so safe district no one will run against him. The mysterious Moch brothers – John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd – are billionaire industrialists (loosely and lazily based on the nefarious real-life Koch Brothers) who decide to bankroll another candidate, one who will be more easily influenced by their money and power. It’s hard to imagine anyone more easily bought than Ferrell’s Cam Brady but evidently it’s time for a change and they place their bets on lovable local tourism boss Zach Galifianakis, playing another of his trademarked limp-wristed-but-heterosexual naifs.
Back in 1968 the world was amazed to see a simian-looking creature displaying rudimentary (and yet clearly) human qualities. But enough about my birth, I’m here to talk about Planet of the Apes, the nightmarish vision of a world turned upside down: apes that speak, humans that are mute and enslaved, orangutans doing “science”. And of course, the big shock back then was that “it was Earth all along” – we’d caused this catastrophe ourselves with our environmental pig-headedness and our nuclear arrogance. The success of that blisteringly effective original prompted several sequels to diminished effect – although the sight (in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) of Charlton Heston pushing the final atomic button to destroy the planet in disgust at the whole sorry mess was seared on to my childhood brain forever.
In 2001 the series got the re-boot treatment courtesy of Tim Burton, a miscast Mark Wahlberg (when is he ever not?) and the final triumphant display of latex ape mask technology. Now the apes are back and there’s no sign of rubber anywhere to be found – except in some of the human performances perhaps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes serves as a prequel to the Burton film rather than a total from scratch effort – although there’s no equivalent in the original series – and the film does a terrific job of setting up a story that many of us already know as well as fondly honouring many details from the original series.