What’s better than an adventure movie featuring a rugged, two-fisted hero? An adventure movie featuring a father and son team of rugged, two-fisted heroes, of course. Today’s competitors are a pair of sequels, each of which brings either a progenitor or an offspring into the proceedings. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the third Indy movie and last one before that set of films’ loooong hiatus and better-forgotten, 2008 finale – everybody’s favorite archeologist is joined by his grumpy dad Dr. Henry Jones Sr., played by Sean Connery (you did know that Indy’s real name is Henry, right?).
It’s a Russian family reunion in A Good Day to Die Hard, with the apparently immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis, if you’ve been living in a cave until now) journeying to Moscow to connect with son Jack (Jai Courtney), a visit which immediately triggers nearly two hours of Die Hardish firefights, chases and explosions.
We’ve got two iconic action movie characters facing off in this one, and what’s more, they’ve brought relatives. But after the smoke and noise fade away, only one pair will claim this Smackdown family feud.
After nearly dying hundreds of times in four bruising films, John McClane decides to retire and become a philosophy professor at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Hah! Just kidding. No, he’s off to Mother Russia to visit his estranged son and near-namesake Jack, a troubled young man who’s landed in jail.
It turns out Jack is actually a deep-cover CIA operative tasked with protecting a government whistleblower named Komarov (German actor Sebastian Koch, co-star of the much quieter The Lives of Others), who’s going to serve as a witness in a high-level criminal case.
Komarov also has a file that can provide information on the whereabouts of a cache of weapons-grade uranium, and a group of bad guys want to get their grubby little bad-guy hands on it. So they blow up the courthouse where he and Jack (also called as a witness) are contained in a pair of bulletproof cages. But Jack is a McClane, after all, and he manages to squeeze out an escape, dragging the reluctant Komarov along. The father-son reunion happens at the most inopportune time – when the fleeing Jack and Komarov steal a van in a desperate attempt to drive away from the villains bearing down on them in a heavily armored truck.
John and Jack have a strained and very testy relationship. Regardless, no dirty Russkie is going to hurt McClane’s kid, and our durable cop joins the chase. Before long, the two McClanes are teaming up to discover who the real evil-doers are. This leads them to Chernobyl, of all places, and a showdown with some viciously determined criminals, a fully-armed helicopter gunship, and more than a few references to earlier movies in the series.
Once a man has unearthed the Ark of the Covenant, what’s the next whiz-bang religious souvenir available on his Christmas list? Come on, think New Testament. And King Arthur, for the helper hint. Ding! Yes, the Holy Grail. That shiny vessel is the money prop in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which sees you-know-who journey to pre-World War II Europe for a rendezvous with the famous cup.
Indy’s initial target isn’t the goblet at all; rather it’s Henry Sr., a Grail scholar who’s been kidnapped by Nazis. Indy and Sr. get along about as famously as, well, John and Jack McClane, but family is family. Besides, our hero can probably score a free flight with all those air miles he’s accumulated by now, so off he goes to the Old Continent.
It would be a great vacation if Indy weren’t busy coping with treacherous Nazis and racing against the clock to locate his missing dad. He starts in Venice, makes his way to the Alps to rescue Sr. from a castle prison, than together, father and son hop over for a brief stop in Berlin before doing a zeppelin-to-plane transfer to Turkey. The Joneses find the Grail but the baddies find the Joneses, and our heroes have to figure out how to keep that valuable drinking vessel from falling into evil hands. And they also need to stay alive, as Junior must be available for future sequels.
Both the Indiana Jones and Die Hard franchises give viewers – literally – plenty of bang for their entertainment buck. By the time the third (Indy) and fifth (Die Hard) installments of the two series hit the screens, their creators well knew their respective audiences and what they were paying money to see. Neither film strays too far from the formulas that made the originals such blockbuster hits; Indy schemes and journeys and outwits, and John scraps and brawls and sets off massive explosions.
The filmmakers freshen things up a little by inserting a key family member as a major character. This is a smart move that works effectively in Indiana Jones but less so in the new Die Hard. Connery is an engaging, charismatic presence in any movie, and in this effort his cranky, hard-to-please Henry Sr. serves as a good foil for the diligent Indy. The actors have a sharp, easy chemistry, and their numerous scenes together are fun to watch and spiked with lively dialogue.
While creators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas never stray too far from the Indy franchise, Die Hard director John McTiernan made a hasty exit after only the third (and his second) film in the series, which may help to explain why, by the time Number Five rolls around, John and Jack’s pairing feels more labored than the easy flow between their Jones rivals. The McClane relationship, as written by Skip Woods and directed by John Moore, is a fairly straightforward estrangement with no interesting elements to make it compelling. They bicker, Jack snaps at his dad a lot, and John fires back with his quips, but it all feels rather standard. What doesn’t help is that Jack is a fairly bland character, an undistinguished government op with little color. The initial Die Hard stood out to a great degree because of the personality of its lead; the two protagonists in this episode aren’t as flavorful as John alone in the first few movies.
Indy’s story in Grail is also more interesting. How can you go wrong with a globetrotting archeologist trying to outmaneuver Nazis? Plus, director Spielberg is an ace at keeping the pace brisk and the action involving. A Good Day to Die Hard has some thumping chase scenes and firefights, all of which are well choreographed by Irish director Moore. The writers also map out an interesting story with a few unexpected twists and plot curves, but they are hurried along too quickly in order to get to the next action sequence. The bad guy turns out to be the person we didn’t expect… but this character’s motivation feels weak, and the plot transition isn’t as clear as it could be. Maybe these elements simply got drowned out by all the fire and destruction.
The two Drs. Jones have impressive academic degrees and a knack for finding antiquity’s greatest treasures. As well, they’re a lot of fun to watch as a team – greatly more so than the monosyllabic McClanes. And Indy and pop make their way through a story that is not only twisty and engaging, but also very well-delivered. So in this dual-generation Smack, the duo taking home the chalice is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.