Twelve years after he last wore the white vest in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Bruce Willis stars as John McClane again in this unabashedly retro blockbuster. As cyber-terrorists led by Timothy Olyphant (Justified) threaten to hack America to a complete standstill, McClane is once more the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Willis returns to the role that made him an action star with unexpected ease, striking up a witty, odd-couple partnership with Justin Long’s cowardly hacker.
Meanwhile, a rollicking selection of over-the-top set pieces – including the jaw-dropping sight of a fighter jet playing chicken with an 18-wheel tanker truck – puts the $100-million budget to explosive use. Aware of its own ridiculousness but unwilling to slip into outright parody, it instead channels the laughs into some immaculately polished quips for its ever-lugubrious hero. Loud, relentless and thoroughly entertaining, it’s an enjoyable throwback to the 1980s.
Daniel Craig makes an assured return as James Bond in the first direct sequel in the franchise. The action picks up one hour after Casino Royale left off, with Bond looking for answers after the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd. This leads to Quantum, a mysterious organisation that has infiltrated the world’s corridors of power, and, through the front of eco-campaigner Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), is backing regime change in Bolivia. Shifting loyalties and outright betrayals force Bond to defy his paymasters and team up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman equally motivated by revenge.
Director Marc Forster (World War Z) succeeds in balancing the globe-trotting excess of the series with a paranoid and engaging storyline. And although the drama does feel subservient to the stunts, that’s a minor quibble given their sheer quality and variety (as well as the noisy chases on land, sea and in the air, there’s an artfully mounted gun battle at the opera and a brutal one-on-one encounter in an anonymous hotel room). The close-up camerawork employed to such exhilarating effect in the The Bourne Ultimatum also works wonders here, but never detracts from the performance of Craig, whose focused take on Ian Fleming’s hero goes from strength to strength.
The body-swap comedy gets a mighty shake-up here, with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman cheerfully breaking all the boundaries of taste. As single, bed-hopping stoner Mitch, Reynolds makes pal Dave (Bateman) question his own life choices – changing nappies and doing “dialogue night” with the missus (a brilliantly dry Leslie Mann). The stars are cast in familiar roles, but the beauty of the genre is that they mostly play against type, and actually become more likeable when lost in each other’s bodies. With a script from the writers of The Hangover, the gags often go below the belt, seeing each man fumble with a different routine and different women. Fortunately, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) has a knack for such silliness and, though he can’t resist a final tug on the heartstrings, it’s the laughs that’ll make your eyes water.