Review: 'A Good Day to Die Hard' is a Bad Day for Fans of the Series
by Jeremy Kirk
February 14, 2013
Long ago, NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) made a deal with some supernatural being. He would find himself in some hairy situations, in which he would get pretty banged up in the process of taking out villainous terrorists. But everything turns okay in the end. His home life is a shambles, but he’s a hero to most. This deal made for some classic action movies, the best action movies in a few cases, and the latest, A Good Day to Die Hard, is the blandest of them all, mediocre action wrapped around a John McClane family dramedy. It’s a sign the series has lost all its charm, and it’s time for John McClane to hit the trails.
This time around, McClane finds himself in Mother Russia after he hears his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), is in trouble. What McClane doesn’t realize is that his baby boy is now an international spy, his latest assignment pitting him against some of Russia’s most corrupt officials. Jack, and now John, end up getting chased through the streets of Moscow, the cold countryside surrounding, and other interesting landmarks while trying to keep a whistleblower safe. They also learn to act as father and son once and for all, helping mend those family ties with a flurry of bullets.
There aren’t just certain trademarks that should come with any entry into the Die Hard series; the charm and wit of its lead character, villains who are as flashy and well-versed in the arts as they are sadistic, and mindless, gut-wrenching action. To some extent, all the films in this series have something from each of those categories. Until now.
The John McClane wit is dulled, thanks in large part to the Skip Woods screenplay working here. It could also have something to do with Bruce Willis, who, now in his late 50s, is showing signs of not necessarily fatigue but definitely a certain apathy. He isn’t having fun with the role any more, and quips and funny lines that come out of his mouth now sound like written dialogue instead of the natural defense mechanism the character used to switch to effortlessly. The McClane-isms seem forced in A Good Day to Die Hard.
Actually much of A Good Day to Die Hard feels forced. Back to the screenwriting. This is Skip Woods first screenplay for a Die Hard film, and though a few aspects find their way in (McClane’s home life being a pertinent one) the central motivations and overall design of his villains is a mess. Chief problem in this mess being the flip-flopping on who the main villain is. There’s no Alan Rickman chewing scenery. There’s no naked William Sadler doing Tai Chi in his hotel room. Believe me. Those days are missed. Now we get Radivoje Bukvic eating a carrot talking about how much he hates cowboys. He’s a cool villain in A Good Day to Die Hard, but not even he’s allowed to ever be McClane & Son’s main antagonist.
Taking direction duties for this mess of a screenplay is John Moore, not the best action tool in the filmmaking shed. Flight of the Phoenix and Behind Enemy Lines, his earlier films, were good examples of decent action that never completely resonates. Unfortunately, the action in A Good Day to Die Hard is more on the level of Moore’s more recent work, Max Payne the worst and blandest among these. He overuses slow motion, shaky camera, and CG to the point where it doesn’t even feel like a motion picture any longer.
Where the fourth film, Live Free or Die Hard, felt like an episode of "Die Hard" the TV series, A Good Day to Die Hard feels like a video game spinoff of the franchise. And any amount of lens flares cinematographer Jonathan Sela can throw in to emulate Jan Debont’s look on the original Die Hard is quickly undercut by all the CG. See, these are the benefits of computer effects. Bigger, louder, more vibrant explosions that instantly take the viewer out of any sense of reality the screenplay and characters might be drawing them in to. It’s at this stage where it becomes evident that nothing about A Good Day to Die Hard is working at peak performance.
There’s energy in an early chase sequence, a seemingly nonstop demolition derby through the streets of Moscow, that shows how bombastic and grand Moore and company are allowing this film to be. The action is relatively nonstop, and at 97 minutes (the shortest runtime in the series by a long shot) it zips by in a breeze. But, again, this shortchanges the characters, characters we’ve been developing camaraderie with through four previous films. Just seeing John McClane getting thrown through a plate glass window doesn’t have the same excitement it once did, especially when you know nothing can kill this guy.
It’s the very minimal amount of downtime we get with he and his son where A Good Day to Die Hard could easily win itself back into our hearts. Sadly, not even this brings out any real emotion. Jai Courtney, playing McClane’s hero son, Jack, doesn’t give much, but he’s not given much, either. Jack is a hard-headed, take-no-BS, bad-ass just like his father. But where John McClane accidentally gets wrapped up in his predicaments, Jack seems to be a thrill-seeker. That doesn’t bode well for his empathy with a viewing audience, but it actually does make sense for his character. The whole time, though, you’re just watching how much better Willis does the glare stare than the younger actor, try as he might.
But even Willis seems done with the franchise. 5 films and 24 years after Nakatomi Plaza, it might be time for John McClane to hang up his spurs. It seems that everyone involved in the franchise has given up, showing up just to keep the Die Hard train a’rolling, collecting boatloads of money just to have a new McClane adventure in theaters. For the sake of action lovers and for the sake of this series’, star’s, and character’s legacies, it’s time to send McClane towards the sunset after the effort put in for A Good Day to Die Hard. Granted, nothing will tarnish the Die Hard series up to a point. We will always have those finest adventures earlier in McClain’s career, just after the deal was struck. We just didn’t know the bastard would live so long or get so slow.
Jeremy's Rating: 3.5 out of 10