Tag: Bruce Willis

Die Hard II: Essential Die Hard Moments and a Mission to Moscow

Die Hard Greatest Moments Jokertoon

McClane Dying Hard 2As the fifth Die Hard film is released for home viewing pleasure, the third and fourth parts of a dissection of a franchise that’s hard to kill. In conclusion, the essential moment of the Die Hard films and where the second trilogy has, so far, fallen down.

FOR THE RELEASE OF A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD IN MULTIPLEXES ACROSS THE GLOBE I CONDUCTED A TWEET NOTE DIE HARD RETROSPECTIVE AND DISTILLED THE 12 RULES OF DYING HARD. These are a set of rules mostly laid down by the definitive first film and then picked up, followed through, used or abused as seen fit in the subsequent four sequels. They become even more interesting when set against a franchise which has gradually diluted its central premise. The box office may not quite register the diminishing returns, but while the series has broadened its scope from time claustrophobia it’s also slided down the ratings. Part Five, A Good Day to Die Hard (AGDTDH) which Bruce Willis himself suggested had hardened up after part four, gained a 12 advisory rating in the UK. It must be said that in America the film was given an uncensored R rating and director John Moore is working on a director’s cut which may well cement its place in the franchise – but in any event, the toughness of the first film is long diminished.

3. Essential Die Hard Moments

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Of the 12 Rules of Dying Hard, Rule 12 may be one of the most crucial. The franchise is called Die Hard. While comprehension about what the name actually means may differ, the clout of the name can’t be ignored. It’s the words Die and Hard aligned in a beautiful piece of Hollywood 80s action nonsense. As examined in part two of this essay, much of the Die Hard franchise has been tacked together through adaptations, something which had added interesting depth and nuance. With that title and that eager star, it was a readymade to form the pinnacle of 80s actioners while injecting enough parody to nail the genre it sat atop. The second film built on the first film’s promise, though not quite reaching the same heights, while the necessarily delayed part three arrived in the mid-90s and set a new template. Shallow 80s films had continued well into the ‘90s with shallower action heroes, but in reality there would never be another classic 1980s action film released without Shane Black’s involvement (1989’s Lethal Weapon 2 or surprisingly, this year’s Iron Man 3).

In a franchise where dying hard is really the anti-objective, there should always be a killer scene in each film. Nailed down to one example per film, these key Die Hard moments have simple rules of their own. They must combine scale, John McClane, fire and one or more other massive jeopardies.  So:

  • Die Hard – The Hosepipe. Evading the exploding roof of Nakatomi Plaza via hose pipe McClane soon meets reinforced glass and then gravity. Truly the ultimate Die Hard moment. Never bettered.
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder – The Ejector Seat. Quickly losing all the advantage he had engineered, McClane find himself trapped in a bullet riddled cockpit surrounded by primed grenades, his only hope is ejector seat from ground level.
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance – The Tube Train Explosion. Separated from Zeus for the first time, McClane cleverly locates the hidden bomb but can’t stop it exploding.  Lt. McClane remains remarkably polite throughout this process.
  • Die Hard 4.0 – The fuel lines. McClane doesn’t understand the internet (as stressed at length throughout the film) but having diffused a kung fu situation with a Jurassic Park homage riff, he quickly understands that he is at the hub of thousands of natural gas fuel pipes.

For the first three films, these Die Hard moments are definitive.  They are  often as promotional clips for the respective films, but Die Hard 4.0 bucks the trend by having its most famous action scene – the helicopter car ad lib – replace the Die Hard moment as its memorable scene.  Nifty it may be, but that stunt is not a Die Hard moment as there is precious little dying hard going on.  that there should have been is another issue.

With AGDTDH, it’s difficult to find a Die Hard moment.  This might be expected in a film where so much publicity revolves not around stunts but the highly grazed father and son standing next to each other. The final Helicopter confrontation may have made the grade, but it feels  derivative. The way it’s shot, the fact there’s a pool underneath, that it’s part of the villain’s rather strange kamikaze run… It just doesn’t make it.

4. The Second Trilogy: Die Rights and Die Wrongs

AGDTDH achieved almost universally bad reviews.  It was the first of the franchise to do so, but a little unfair. In hope that the director’s cut will cement the film’s status as not quite a disaster, the film’s main problem is that it uses the Rolling Stones’ Doom and Gloom as its end credit song. Misplaced irony if ever it appeared in a cinema.  Some people were fortunate to walk out before the end credits when I saw it.  but really, if you accept it’s not going to be Die Hard (which you really should) then it’s not all bad.  Masochistically vewing a new Die Hard film just to hero worship the first film is not only pointless but rather odd.

What A Good Day to Die Hard got right

While AGDTDH is barely a Die Hard film in comparison to the original, it actually manages to tick more boxes than you might think. Having tweet-noted the first four films as seen here I dutifully popped along to see the new film in a refreshingly child-free cinema so I could add it to the DieHardathon Nakatomi Christmas party (not on Valentine’s Day I may add). While tweet notes will have to wait, I was as pleasantly surprised as I was horrified with what unfurled during those paltry 98 minutes. AGDTDH actually registered fairly highly on the Rules of Dying Hard as follows:

  • Literal interpretation of Rules 1, 2, 4, 9 and 10
  • A little reference to Rules 3, 8 and 12
  • Very basic reference to Rule 11 and Rule 5
  • Missing in Action: Rules 6 and 7.

Shoeing in three quarters of the Rules of Dying Hard is more than expected this far into the franchise.  As the middle film in the second Die Hard trilogy it lays out its cards and in doing to, it hopefully sets up part six nicely. AGDTDH is film obsessed with aging gracefully. It’s highly reverential to the franchise itself. Within minutes there’s a joke about Frank Sinatra – of course the actor who had first refusal on the part of John McClane. It’s a joke that also neatly plays on and subverts the McClane and foreigners trope(Rule 4). Later, the rather non-descript villain henchman consciously refers to McClane as a cowboy, earning a wry smirk. This is a very forced return to the Mantle of the Hat that McClane carried three decades ago.  Shorn of its nuances, such laboured scripting may well have earned a wince instead.

Part of AGDTDH’s success within the series is its relocation to Moscow, handled far better than part four’s American vacation.  Moscow and, bizarrely, Chernobyl provide a gritty and ravaged landscape which is a step up from part four’s high tech complexes. I’m not a fan of a Die Hard film that works without a specified time limit, but the multiple location aspect was an unfortunate addition brought by the otherwise excellent Die Hard with a Vengeance. AGDTDH’s twist is alive and well and probably on a par with the third instalment. Extra points are also warranted for using the twist to mirror the McClane family lynchpin.

Because that’s what it’s all about, as the silent final scene proves. AGDTDH wants to resolve all those family issues that have been central to the franchise for years and it sets a bit of a trap for the sixth instalment in the process (Rule 2 s twisted completely).  Inevitably and eventually pairing McClane Sr with McClane Jr there’s the requisite awkward bonding and excruciatingly clichéd  father to father redemption scene, of course overheard by McClane Jr. Those scenes are always going to lull. While it’s always interesting to see the minor stretches in John McClane’s character – uncomfortable and taciturn taking to his son, all cocky machismo when a gun’ s in his face – it makes you pine all the more for when Die Hard’s emotional beats took place in the middle of the action.

And then, at one point, the unthinkable happens. McClane tells his son it’s actually been quite a good day. It’s the fruition of the Die Hard parody, but still resolutely straight-faced. It’s been a good day, and well it might be. The former trope of McClane stumbling awkwardly through everyday boredom (Christmas party, pick up from an airport, collapsed across a bar) is all gone. Here the strange opening scene in a NYPD shooting range is followed by a strangely truncated travel scene before McClane’s off – foot literally to the pedal as he tries to save his son from murder in Moscow. It’s not your average day and there’s no pretence about it. In AGDTDH, there’s no room for the rather reflective sadness of earlier films, where innocents die and the end credits cover a rather pyrrhic victory, where McClane’s body and soul is one of the main losers. Here McClane has rescued his son and together they’ve taken down some Russians.

AGDTDH quickly becomes a simple chase movie, where there’s a simple tipping point where the McClane’s take control setting time constraints of their own  – a far cry from early Die Hard films but allowing plenty of bonding time. AGDTDH’s structure may almost benefit from flashbacks if such things weren’t inherently un-Die Hard.

Fundamentally AGDTDH is a simplistic take on Die Hard, but one that wrestles with the central tenets of Rules 1 and 2. Again, the travel aspect helps, and the cold war-laden setting for the finale not only harks back to the series ‘80s roots, but also provides an ideology for the film to play with just as the first had seized on capitalism.

Crucially there are two problems with AGDTDH. One is the overt play on McClane. True, in real life he may question why these things happen to him, but then in real life it wouldn’t happen at all.  So, so confront this so obviously? Perhaps it needed to be confronted, but not in the one Die Hard film where McClane actually has to get a plane to his bad day. Along with the cowboy barbs, the film constantly tells us that McClane is the wrong guy in the wrong place. That is simply not true, as anyone who sees him with a machine gun can testify. He’s the right guy in the right place.  The wrong guy in the wrong place is surely McClane at a Nakatomi Christmas party all night if Hans Gruber’ s van had stalled…

Secondly, the fundamental Rule 6 of Die Hard is completely absent. In fact it just gets blown up with the courtroom. There is not only a lack of jobsworths, slease bags or media, but barely any Russian police – even when a Gunship totals a Moscow building. To show how important this rule is, even Die Hard 4.0 gets it right. Often authorities are exploited by the films’ villains to achieve their true goals, often in a very similar way:

  • Die Hard – Standard FBI procedure stipulates a block power shutdown, the equivalent of an EMP that releases the Nakatomi building’s sophisticated safe for Gruber’s lackeys’ waiting hands.
  • Die Hard 2 – Also part of the twist, the escalated response is of course in the villain’s hock.
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance – Procedures are used to the villain’s advantage once again.  The bomb found and then helped to detonate by McClane covers a huge heist in a nearby gold reserve. The police dutifully expect dump trucks to turn up to clear the wreckage while the bank’s alarms are disrupted by the blast.
  • Die Hard 4.0 – Possibly the neatest since the first film, a series of targeted online attacks culminates in an anthrax alert at FBI headquarters, triggering a copy of all America’s financial information to be downloaded to just one ‘secure’ facility.

One, three and four are very neat. In five, the odd high level political wrangling is obscure and its otherwise complete lacking in the escalation of authority the series was previously so dependent on.

So, considering that AGDTDH lacks authority escalation, overdoes McClane’s character parody and even lacks a definitive Die Hard moment, it’s remarkable that it registers so highly on the Rules of Dying Hard. In fact, it’s remarkable that it got so much right when its predecessor didn’t.

Where Die Hard 4.0 went wrong

Die Hard 4..0 was always going to have an upward struggle, coming 12 years after the fifth part. True to form, it was an adaptation of the script for WWW3.com. Returning to McClane so much later was one thing, but tying it to the vast world of cyber crime when its prequels had solely lived pre-internet was a step too far. However, what’s really unforgivable is that Die Hard 4.0 missed

a massive trick that’s central to the franchise.

On paper, translating the action to Washington, is a nice one, but in reality the four states solution comes up short. McClane treks to Washington DC from New York overnight – a rather problematic plot lull – and he doesn’t stay put. He then cavorts to West Virginia and two stop-offs in Maryland,  propelled by the cheap fuel of coincidence.

The series had previously constrained McClane in an LA building, Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and the entire of New York City. There was an escalation, but four states was an odd misstep. Particularly in the view of the film’s MacGuffin:  Although the internet is inherently un-Die Hard (bar the sole comedy hacker), it also captures the essence of the series.

With a foe who can control the (cyber) infrastructure of America, Die Hard 4.0 could have easily provided McClane with the largest playground but the most claustrophobic day of his life. The film does touch on the idea, but fails to deliver on a McClane whose every move is monitored and anticipated. The backdrop of the whole of the US would have neatly referenced Die Hard while continuing the location escalation in a very satisfying way. It really is one of the greatest tragedies of Die Hard; that they continued the franchise but stalled on the idea. True, it was nine years after Enemy of the State brilliantly picked up on a man’s every move under surveillance (while referencing 1970s classics such as The Conversation). But Die Hard 4.0 was also released just a year before Eagle Eye made a fairly decent stab at the same idea. Just think, that film but with Bruce Willis instead of Shia LaBeouf.

In the event, the family element of Die Hard 4.0 feels quite stuck on – and undermines the overall danger in a way his wife on a plane in part two never did. It’s as if they remembered some off the Rules of Die Hard mid-script; too late to save it. Another miss is Matt Farrell, a poor addition to the strong line of McClane allies. While Zeus’ problem solving and links to a particular school in Die Hard with a Vengeance is a stretch, in the world of cyber crime it’s all far too contrived. That’s Rules 2 and 5 diluted while Rule 1 just leaves a massive crater. McClane’s fish out of water essentials are reduced to puzzled grunts whenever firewalls are mentioned. History now records part five as the weaker and lower profit film.  While it didn’t make up for Die Hard 4.0, it showed that the Rules of Dying Hard can be massively diluted – and some pretty definitive parts of Die Hard ignored – but it can still stay on track.  That that may come to bode well.

What Part Six needs to do… Die Hardest

Willis has signed on for the sixth part of the franchise, which you can only hope will be the final instalment – and so the chance to redeem the second Die Hard trilogy and do the whole series justice. It’s a tall order, but it’s essential that the film’s creators go right back to basics, taking cues from the Rules of Dying Hard and ticking as many boxes as possible.  References to earlier parts of the series are essential, but without dipping further into parody and Bond style-invincibility. Early rumours suggest a Japanese setting and the promise of a return to a Nakatomi building is a tantalising one.  Family has to be there as does really a tip of the hat to New York. A fiendish plot and jut one location.  And it must be Christmas.  It’s been a while.

My punt?  A retired John McClane, one Christmas Eve searching desperately to get his grandson the hottest kids toy in New York’s newest state of the art mall.

Call me Fox, yippee kai call me.

Die Hard: The 12 Rules of Dying Hard and the Mantle of the Hat

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As Die Hard 5 sludges towards the mid $200 million in box office takings, just about demonstrating its immunity to the law of diminishing returns (and making life easier for its guaranteed sequel), a four part dissection of a franchise that’s hard to kill. First up, Die Hard’s literary roots and the rules it tries to live by (freely).

I watched four Die Hard films in a day.  Here’s the proof in the form of Storified Tweetnotes of Parts One to Four. And here’s the result:

1.         The 12 Rules of Dying Hard


There’s lots to love there. As of this year we’re up to the fifth instalment, with Bruce Willis doing his neat trick of sandwiching it in between Looper and GI Joe 2. The brilliantly definitive 1988 original muddies the response to its continued appeal a little; while it’s a shame to imagine a limp line of continuing sequels, it’s also hard not think that there may be life in the grizzled old cop yet. There’s certainly little hope that the heady heights of that first film will be reached again. But I’m always loath to can a franchise that’s happily lumbering towards double-digits, especially one that’s retained its leading man and seemingly ‘reboots’ hard. After all, it’s difficult for any sequel to diminish the reputation of an original or earlier film after 25 years.  Even George Lucas couldn’t damage the original trilogy that much without actually reshooting them.

With the sixth entry apparently a done deal and Bruce all signed up, it looks like the franchise may now settle into two trilogies, albeit separated by a 12 year gap. It seems odd that one of the most defined franchises (quite ‘jump the truck-proof’ in many ways) has found its yippe-ki-way to five sequels… But then it did start with supreme quality. The first film not only redefined the action film, but also laid down a set of rules that would prove definitive for the franchise. Subsequent sequels have worked within or against the confines of these rules, but for the most part they remain. If you’re looking for the perfect part six, these are the rules to follow:

The 12 Rules

1. McClane’s a fish out of water

Yes, McClane’s having a bad day. But by the Rules of Die Hard this bad day is exacerbated by his already being in an unfamiliar situation (see also Rule 3). First, this situation must be far from his comfort zone – an unknown city or better yet a large corporate tower block or airport. He’s on edge already, but crucially he’s in a jurisdiction that’s not his own, and worse at the whim of someone else. This is particularly Die Hard if that someone is a jobsworth (see Rule 6), villain or if the controlling mechanism is something that he just can’t comprehend, for instance the technology of a giant airport or the world wide web (see Rule 4)

2. McClane’s a family man

And he’s not very good at it, apart from crucially in Part Two. Importantly, it’s not until Part Four that McClane is officially divorced.

3. McClane’s in the wrong place

Contrary to villain assertions in Parts Three and Four, not least countless promotional material, McClane is the right guy, but granted, he is most certainly in the wrong place. While his presence may often be coincidental, there are often compounding factors. A tower siege for instance, is far more likely to put McClane at ease than a Los Angeles corporate Christmas party. There are also secondary levels of being ‘in the wrong place’: in Part One, it doesn’t help that the tower is also still under construction.

4. McClane’s an everyman

McClane’s reaction to everyone and everything is consistent: He is a solely English speaking, technophobic everyman.  An important part ofthe franchises appeal (see also, Rule 11)

5. McClane has allies

McClane is always able to assemble a group of allies, though necessarily they often lack any authority (see Parts One or Two) or are thrown together and have to overcome previous difficulties (see Parts Three and Four)

6. McClane versus jobsworths

Similarly, McClane will be constantly hampered by jobsworths while caught in a prolonged escalation of authority. Best personified by the escalation of Part One where it plays straight into the villains’ hands: cop to precinct to SWAT to FBI (strongly linked to Rule 1).

7. Music

Die Hard is a franchise distinctly aware of itself, even in Part One. Music that switches between the score to be a diegetic part of the film, whistled, sung or just heard by the film characters is an important part of the franchise conceit. It’s almost as crucial as McClane, with increasing irony, wondering how lightening can strike the same guy so many times. When a music refrain may be referenced in the film by hero or villain, it is likely to later link to a key part of the villain’s plot (see Rule 10) at a crucial moment. Particularly interesting in Part One where Beethoven’s Ode To Joy was chosen for its use in A Clockwork Orange.

8. Cause and effect

One of the vaguest rules, as cause and effect of this type is in most film narrative. However, a Die Hard film should use this masterfully and more than the average actioner(a crucial part of establishing Rule 3). There will be prominent foreshadowing: setting plot points early that will prove crucial possibly hours later. Exemplary examples are the jetlag shoe device in Part One or very early and throwaway reference to missing dump trucks in Part Three.

9. Creeping dread

There will be an extravagant villain master plan swinging into operation from the off. This is not Italian Job; the villain is established, or later shown to have been in full control from the beginning. The audience becomes aware of the plot as McClane does or sometimes just before him. The revelation will slowly and leisurely be revealed in mounting tension often against the backdrop of McClane’s personal issues, until…

10. Twist

There will be a gigantic twist, usually with a number of small twists accompanying it. Often a villain will be shown to have obscured their real objective with another crime. Unfortunately it is that first crime that ensnares McClane. Part Three played with this by making McClane the distraction.

11. Humour

McClane is an everyman, and responds to situations in a naturally humorously way. Despite the self-awareness of other parts of the films, his aren’t fourth-wall breaking one liners. McClane is no Deadpool; he is simply a wry and gnarly cop having a bad day. One who expects foreigners to understand his English swearing perfectly. A fine line must be drawn between superhero and cocky: in Part One this is neatly defined as a cowboy, something which continues through the franchise despite McClane’s protestations. This is often helped by the international part of the plot. A cowboy persona encompasses McClane as the definitive American everyman, but also a specialised maverick. As The Dark Knight franchise sees actors taking on the mantle of the Bat, the Die Hard protagonist must take on the mantle of the Hat. In some films, while McClane denies that he’s a cowboy, Willis almost drawls like John Wayne. Humour’s main presence in the franchise comes from the fact that the Die Hard film conceit is innately humorous – and not simply because of its ridiculousness. The hosepipe sequence of the first film is a effectively a tripartite joke with a structure that could be lifted from a number of Lloyd or Keaton films.

12. The Franchise is called ‘Die Hard’

Die Hard. Yes, a statement on its single-minded hero, or villains… But also I’ve always thought, simply about being bloody hard to kill despite the situation. Violence is a key part of this as you might expect, as are high death rates and very visible blood. Although the franchise has seen a steady decrease in rating (it currently stands at 12A as of part 5), violence is crucial.  If Part Six is called Die Hardest then it should be a winner.

The Other Themes

There are several other themes that run heavily through the franchise, but can’t quite be considered Die Hard Rules. Media parody is particularly evident in the first two, but it quickly loses signal. By Part Three, the media is kept at arm’s length only to be exploited by the villain.   In Part Four there sole purpose is to be manipulated while by Part Five there’s a barely police presence, let alone a journalist (beyond a headline grabbing turn by top ranking anchor women Sophie Raworth).

Location is one key component. The first three films remain resolutely based around three different American cities.  This lessens by the State hopping  Part Four, while Part Five transplants McClane to Moscow.   While not a rule, interpretation of this through the films could be the most important tenet of Die Hard – something particularly important when considering Die Hard 4.0.

But first a filmic and literary detour.

Admittedly most rules were set by the first film – still quite rightly the best action film ever made. Part of that first film’s brilliance was inadvertent: it was made in that crazy unimaginable pocket of non-time: the late 1980s. You couldn’t make that film in America now. Films of the time like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours are destined never to become soft and cuddly Sunday afternoon flicks. A kind of high swearing, semi-automatic gloss-grit that will never be repeated.

Other bullets aligned: They included John McTiernan directing at the top of his game, Speed director Jan de Bont showing why he should have stuck to cinematography, and a nice homeland realism; while Rambo was sillily taking on the entire Soviet army in Afghanistan and Arnie was making Predators bleed before falling back towards the Terminator. Casting also certainly helped. Not only was it human-shaped suaveness of brilliance Alan Rickman’s big Hollywood break, but also Bruce Willis’ first big role. With his five year stint in Moonlighting drawing to a close, he was not only an actor willing to work to make it on film, but also a proven comedy-drama actor. The ingredients were good, but none more so than the source material.mcclane-dying-hard a

2. Die Hard as Adaptation

The first Die Hard set the franchise’s standard for adaptation, but an awkward one. It was adapted from Roderick Thorp’s 1979 thriller Nothing Lasts Forever, itself inspired by The Towering inferno. That book’s title presciently suggested John McClane’s slide into James Bond throughout the series, but on page he is actually called Joe Leland. In one of those wonderful quirks of movie rights, the adaptation of this book triggered a first refusal clause for the actor who had played Joe Leland in the prequel novel’s own film, The Detective. At 73, Frank Sinatra declined and the role eventually fell to another crooner, Bruce Willis.

Die Hard II: Die Harder was also an adaptation, this time translating Thorp’s characters into Walter Wager’s 58 Minutes. It’s probably a good thing that in the pre-24 world, the main plot wasn’t just 58 minutes long. While not a book adaptation, things came full circle with the third instalment, delayed a few years while various scripts were rejected. That the film finally emerged from an original screenplay for a new Lethal Weapon film was not unexpected and ultimately works well. While the Riggs and Murtaugh dynamic is still visible through McClane and Zeus, it neatly complied with most Die Hard rules and neatly bookended the trilogy. It was also a neat spin on the first film’s genesis. When Sinatra had passed, the script was mooted as a sequel to Commando. Though the ‘Die-hardness’ of the third film’s certificate was diminished, the return of McTiernan helped. The film is a lot more violent than memory may suggest, though sadly it was to be the last Die Hard film to feature Bruce Willis’ hair.

Die Hard 4.0 surfaced in 2007, in the rather unfairly unappealing hands of Len Wiseman.  The Underworld helmer should not have been unexpected. This was no Lecter, Alien or Ripley franchise and Wiseman could be seen as an heir apparent to McTiernan and Die Harder helmer Renny Harlin. With Parts Four and Five, the dynamic had certainly shifted, as had Hollywood. Live Free and Die Hard, the name Die Hard 4.0 para-stole from New Hampshire’s state motto, was again an adaptation, this time from John Carlin’s 1997 Wired article ‘A Farewell to Arms’ – which had previously stalled in script form for the proposed film, WW3.com. Part Five was the first to lack an ounce of adaptation. Instead sourced from the mind of the A-Team’s screenwriter Skip Woods. Not universally admired by fans of that Team, not for his Wolverine: Origin’s screenplay – at least you can see the sign of intent with reverential yet twisting previous credits.

The strong tradition of adaptation working within the rules of the franchise has helped steer Die Hard over two decades, but did anyone think that the quality would really be sustainable through five films…

Next: Essential Die Hard moments and where Die Hard 4.0 went wrong and where Mission to Moscow didn’t…

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