It’s not a Die Hard movie. Don’t worry this isn’t the lazy ‘God someone has paid me to sit on my arse and watch a movie and it’s SUCH A DRAG because it wasn’t a heartbreaking work of genius’ bullshit that some critics are especially prone to. A Good Day To Die Hard features Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and the woman with the most anime initials ever, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as various members of the McClane family. There is punching. There is hitting. There is a tremendous amount of shooting and explosions. Blood is spilled. F bombs, 12A be damned, are well and truly dropped. It’s, some wobbly CGI aside, massive fun.
But it’s not a Die Hard movie.
It’s a Mission: Impossible movie.
And I can prove it.
Exhibit A:The Garden Ring
A crucial plot point in the movie is the lousy traffic in Moscow. You get a nice little exchange between McClane and Pavel Lychnikoff as a taxi driver about this, and how the Garden Ring is always crammed with traffic. Later, McClane realizes someone else is lying when they tell him they got somewhere quickly by using the Garden Ring. Hence, traffic saves the day.
But why is it so slow? There’s a throwaway line about how the road’s being renovated in the movie but, why is it being renovated?
Oh that’s easy.
Because of the explosion at the Kremlin in Mission:Impossible:Ghost Protocol.
The Kremlin is at the centre of the Garden Ring and it makes perfect sense that the huge destruction wrought there would still be being cleaned up. It also goes a long way towards explaining the belligerence of every Russian driver we see. They’re driving as fast and as hard as they can because they’re far too used to the city being under attack. Or asteroids falling from the sky…
Exhibit B: The Extraction
The mission Jack carries out is vintage IMF; he’s arrested and works a deal with the authorities to get near the man he’s supposed to be extracting. It’s classic IMF operating procedure for three reasons:
-Misdirection-IMF agents specialize in hiding in plain sight and taking bold, decisive action to stamp an apparent identity on the op. That’s exactly what Jack does, making no effort to cover his face, or lose a papertrail. He’s working to get caught, just like Ethan in Ghost Protocol.
-Using the system. Jack cuts a deal to be put on trial at the same time and place as Kamarov. This way, suspicion is moved away from in two ways; firstly by the fact he’s already in custody and secondly by the fact the decision to place him in the room isn’t in his hands. Oh certainly he manipulates the authorities so they have no choice but to put him there but it’s still their call, or at least, they think it is.
-Reduced Circumstances. The safehouse Jack is forced to reroute to through the interference of his father is staffed by precisely one agent. CIA would have extensive assets in the city, far more than one safehouse, one extraction point and one backup agent. IMF, still reeling from their temporary dissolution, would still be operating out of temporary safe houses like the train in Ghost Protocol and the abandoned house here.
Exhibit C: The Tradecraft
Jack McClane is a ghost, a man clearly trained to disappear into the Russian infrastructure and he does so, more than once. Over the space of the movie we see him set up a hit plausible enough to be real but without any real danger to it, lay down an escape route at minimum 24 hours before he needs it, raid a Chechen thug’s car because he knows it contains weapons and most tellingly, use a Plan C when we’ve been expressively told there is not one. Jack’s back entrance to the safehouse smacks of something only he knows and that self-reliance is absolutely what we’ve seen IMF agents without a field team demonstrate time and again.
Exhibit D: The Lack of a Field Team
We’ve already talked about how the CIA would have more assets on the ground, but IMF traditionally operate in units too. With the Kremlin disaster still fresh in their minds, Russian authorities are understandably clamping down hard on spies in town and as a result the IMF have minimal resources to deploy. Hence Jack is either operating alone, or with a CIA handler.
Exhibit E: The Target
Yuri Komarov isn’t the normal Die Hard villain by any means. He’s not a thief, exceptional or otherwise, a drug lord, a former special forces officer or an unbalanced intelligence analyst. He’s an oligarch, a Russian billionaire who got rich not just off exploiting his fellow Russians but actively killing them. He left a scar on the Earth’s ecosystem thanks to his actions at Chernobyl and his choice to follow up on that and retrieve the weapons grade Uranium shows he’s fully prepared to do it, and worse, again. Komarov is that perfect storm; a clear and present threat to anyone he feels like. An impossibly unpredictable foe. A perfect target for the IMF.
Also, bear in mind how Mission: Impossible 3 revolves entirely around the frantic attempts to secure the Rabbit’s Foot, even though no one knows what it actually is. The IMF, much like Global Frequency, are in the business of diffusing unexploded bombs from the last century, and you don’t get much bigger than uranium from Chernobyl.
Exhibit F: Jack McClane
Jack McClane is the most insanely well trained CIA field operative in recent fictional history. We see him plan and execute a hit, construct an exit strategy, locate weapons and resources in the field, gather intelligence, engage in offensive driving, hand to hand combat, close quarter battle, fire small and heavy calibre weaponry and speak fluent Russian. He’s also clearly in extraordinary physical condition.
He’s not CIA. Or at the very least not the level of CIA he claims he is. Because whilst it’s possible that Jack is a CIA attack dog, it’s far more likely he’s an IMF pointman. After all, that exact same set of skills, and mind set, is one Jack shares with another famous fictional spy; Ethan Hunt. Of course you could also make an argument that, given his background, he’s an offshoot of one of the more humane Treadstone derivatives from the Bourne movies but that’s a whole different column…
A Good Day To Die Hard is a Mission:Impossible movie, or at least, it could be. It’s one of the things I love about modern fiction, its malleability. Die Hard and Mission:Impossible could happen in the same universe as the Bourne movies, which, in turn, take place in the same universe as David Mamet’s various dabblings with espionage fiction, Alias, and of course Chuck as well as some other unusual IMF ‘consultants’. Then on the other side of the Atlantic there’s the legacy of George Smiley, kept alive through the various Ms, the 00 section, D Section, the inimitable Harry Pearce and Tara Chace of Queen and Country. It’s the thing no one remembers about spies. They’re all so busy hiding in the shadows, none of them realize they’re all hiding in the same shadow…