Review: 'A Good Day to Die Hard' is a Flawed But Very Fun Distraction
by Ethan Anderton
February 14, 2013
John McClane has changed, and by association, so has the Die Hard series. As a sketch from "The Ben Stiller Show" illustrated long ago, the idea of keeping sequels going with Bruce Willis as the titular hero were always going to get more unbelievable. As the faux trailer for Die Hard 12 says, "They say lightning can't strike 12 times, but don't tell him." And after no less than four outings with Detective McClane, the fact that he keeps getting into explosive amounts of trouble is more than a little unbelievable, and the sequels have evolved (or devolved) by acknowledging that, for better or worse. And thus, A Good Day to Die Hard is a fun, wild ride with plenty of outlandish action, but it's not without flaws and some lazy writing.
With a running time just over 90-minutes, the film doesn't waste much time throwing McClane in the shit. The film sets up a somewhat convoluted plot by having Jack (Jai Courtney) walk right into a Russian nightclub and kill someone with plenty of witnesses. But thankfully, it's all part of his plan to get close to Yuri Komarov, who is supposed to help him take down a war criminal whose men are in hot pursuit and have a different agenda. Honestly, it's not really important, because as will be revealed, the real plot is about money. If you can except that the plot isn't really important and it's the mess that McClane creates for his son when he tries to find him in Russia, then it's a good time at the movies.
Of course, the star of the film is the action that comes from McClane's involvement. Honestly, aside from going to look for his son, of which McClane has no information except that he's arrested and has a hell of a criminal record, he doesn't find trouble himself. He just falls into it, and happens to accept it with the grace of a grizzled detective. However, this isn't the smoking, hungover detective we've known from the older Die Hard movies. McClane is trying to be responsible, take a more active role in the life of his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears briefly in the film) and now Jack. He's not just an action hero with barely anything to lose anymore, and that's changed the game. Sure the game has gotten a little more ridiculous, making McClane essentially invincible, but have you really ever felt like he was going to die?
Thankfully, this comes through as he fights side-by-side with his CIA employed son, and there are enough funny and heartfelt moments between McClane (as heartfelt as they can be in a film like this) to lend some weight to their slowly blossoming father and son relationship. Some fathers take their sons fishing, but McClane takes his to "kill some motherfuckers." In this way, I don't think McClane has been ruined, but he's evolved with the times and the age of Bruce Willis. People have complained about Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger still trying to play the same characters all the time, and the lack of success of both Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand over the past couple months proves that. While Willis is doing the same, at least his character show some semblance of change, even if that means the heart of what people liked about the original Die Hard isn't present. Plus, it helps that Jai Courtney is a pretty good counterpart for McClane, and has flares of the young detective from decades ago.
Now this doesn't mean that A Good Day to Die Hard is the perfect action movie. For how gritty the film wants to be, there's a little too much CG work for special effects. I don't mind that some of the action sequences are unbelievable, we have Jason Bourne for the more realistic stuff now. In fact, it's seeing just how McClane and son get out of these situations that makes the film so damn fun. But the real problem is a lack of a formidable and truly intimidating villain to challenge them. Radivoje Bukvic is fine in his role, but he doesn't get enough chances to really stand out like Alan Rickman, William Sadler or Jeremy Irons from the first three films, all prime villains.
Finally, my biggest issue is comes from a lack of varying one-liners and humor. The first couple times McClane gets mad because his vacation has been ruined (though he was never really on a regular vacation to begin with), it's pretty funny, but the next two or three times isn't very funny. Otherwise McClane has some good zingers as only Willis can deliver, and there are a couple of solid funny moments with Jack that make for a good laugh. Unfortunately, the humor level isn't as high as other outings. But the action craziness kind of makes up for it since some of the sequences are so over the top they just make you chuckle.
A Good Day to Die Hard is a pretty mindless action movie that doesn't fit into what people would expect from the franchise after the first three films. But in the scheme of the franchises progression, especially since even Die Hard with a Vengeance got a little ridiculous with truck surfing, it's no more silly than people should expect by now. Thankfully, A Good Day to Die Hard is better than Live Free or Die Hard and the quick running time makes for little resting and exposition, and more action, explosions and entertainment.. For fans expecting a return to the old days, as one of the villains says in the film, "It's not 1986 anymore." A Good Day to Die Hard is big, action fun on a massive scale that makes for a good distraction on Valentine's Day and in this slow season of underwhelming films.
Ethan's Rating: 7 out of 10