A great collection of non-costumed superhero films that combine absurd action, smart humour and carefully crafted tension into a terrific package. These films wear their formula with pride, there is no attempt to disguise it or to update it. They solve the problem that superhero comics struggle with, how do you stick to the basic premise yet manage to provide enough fresh details so that the stories satisfy expectations and are crisp and fresh at the same time. These films also show just how hard that is to do also, none of them are less than really enjoyable, the first and the last are significantly more so than the second and third, the reasons are to do with getting the formula balance correct.
The plot is the same in all four outings, John McClane, a New York policeman finds himself entangled in an ambitious plot by a vicious supervillian and engages in an escalating series of encounters up to an final personal face off. McClane is a reluctant hero, dragged into these situations by chance and having a personal stake in the affair, usually involving a family member being in danger. The action will be loud, very fast, extremely violent and underpinned by a sharp humour. McClane will survive physical pummeling that would reduce any normal human to a bag of mangled bones and charred skin, he will look as though he has been trough the mill however. The supervillians will be truly despicable, nearly operatic in their evil, armed with scorn and savage will they use technology and with to drive their plots, which are always satisfying elaborate.
The second outing lacked the direct confrontations between McClane and the villain that add a key personal element to the contest between them, the third lacked the family element that adds directly to the urgency McClane feels about stopping the villain, the first and fourth films get the balance spot on. Bruce Willis is a charismatic action hero, frequently down, never out, success is always just ahead of failure. The action is always huge and beautifully choreographed, the plots are stoutly constructed, the reveals satisfying and substantial. Best of all there is not a single trace of irony to be seen in any of the films, they take themselves seriously enough to allow the audience enjoy the high energy absurdity to the full. Undiluted fun.