jason stives is back in the USSR…
Not many action franchises in this day and age save for the Bond films get me excited the way a new Die Hard film does. Growing up on a healthy diet of the first three, Bruce Willis at a young age became my favorite action star thanks in part to his average Joe looks and his ability to show more range film wise than his peers like Stallone or Schwarzenegger did. I have very rarely come across anyone who looks at the original film as something other than awesome and as an action film it set the bar at a very particular level that didn’t rely on big visual effects moments and an arsenal of machine guns, although each film was never short of one.
But many, neigh most, will argue that the Die Hard franchise starting with 2007s Live Free or Die Hard has seen better days heading into ludicrous territory with John McClane going from every day man in a precarious situation to a would be Superman pulling off Roger Moore-era James Bond stunts. While I’m probably one of the few defenders of the series fourth installment, I can understand completely why such disdain has developed over time. Even my best friend, who normally isn’t fazed by outlandish and over the top stunts, found the notion of John McClane driving a truck through a building into an elevator shaft pretty farfetched.
In preparation of seeing the fifth and latest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, I rewatched the original which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. Immediately I flashed back to why this is one of, if not the most, perfect action films ever. In a time when his contemporaries were slugging it out in jungles with big pecks and even bigger guns, the then star of the hit show Moonlighting came along as just an average guy thrown into a situation that he knew he couldn’t handle. Tonally, the original Die Hard combines thrills with an exuberant amount of humor and one liners coupled with well written supporting characters that stay memorable even if they only have a few minutes of screen time. This pedigree remained the standard through the initial three films to varying degrees but it has since been lost over time. The death nail is sounded definitively in A Good Day to Die Hard; a film that while enjoyable at times feels less like the Die Hard of old and more like a ridiculous attempt to modernize the franchise. To put it simply, A Good Day to Die Hard is the worst Die Hard film in the franchise.
At first the film starts out perfectly fine with McClane cracking lines like old times and a car chase ensues that even I was taking a back by, even if it was a bit hard to follow at times. Detective McClane travels to Russia to clear his son Jack of murder charges after a botched CIA operation goes awry but quickly John finds himself working alongside his estranged son who intends to finish the mission he started. Things quickly with no reason descend into anarchy and while the action stays fresh it has no rhyme or reason to it with a plot involving a secret file held by an ex-prisoner named Yuri having no ground to stand on. The villains are uninteresting, hell, I don’t even remember their names other than one, and the ensuing climax at Chernobyl is incredibly hammy and a unnecessary. If you struggled in the previous film to take to McClane’s sudden Superman like tendencies than you will hate it even more here. He brandishes machine guns at the drop of a hat, and tries to find a way to feel like he should be there even if his son says he shouldn’t be. That was the thing about McClane in the original that worked, he knew he was in over his head, even talking to himself about how insane it was but here it’s all treated as second hand nature. His own son even says that his old man does what he does best and that’s kill people. Sure, John McClane can kill people no problem but he never once goes looking for it.
The real trouble here and it’s the only way I can express it, is nothing makes sense and everyone is uninteresting. One of the things that always made the previous films, including Live Free…; work was you had a supporting character for McClane to bounce off of that was interesting. Jai Courtney, playing Jack, does a very serviceable job of acting as McClane’s kin but the clichéd squabbling about John never being around when he was a kid really doesn’t work and both men act as their own separate personality, not one in the same. It works to an extent but I never once cared about their relationship in the way I did his relationship with his wife Holly or even, to a lesser extent, his daughter, Lucy, who actually bookends the films events with a brief appearance.
Is A Good Day to Die Hard an atrocious film? Not really, I mean, I have seen worse but it is without a doubt the low point in the franchises run and I normally rank Die Hard 2 as my least favorite. There is just no spark in seeing McClane in a situation he even at one point states he can walk away from and quite honestly, the lack of focus on him could have made this any other film. Uninteresting supporting characters combined with a convoluted plot, some ridiculous stunts, and a lack of care seems to indicate that this series should be put to rest. However, with Willis announcing that talks of a sixth installment is in the works, the series will no doubt continue to leap further bounds away from what made it so fun and exciting to begin with.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Very Disappointing)