‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ Review
The McClanes are a weirdly demanding family. They refuse to love husband and father John until he saves each of their lives from vicious terrorists: first his wife Holly (‘Die Hard’ and ‘Die Hard 2′), then his daughter Lucy (‘Live Free or Die Hard’) and now his son Jack in ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,’ the latest and exponentially worst film in the ‘Die Hard’ franchise. How many more bad guys does John McClane have to kill to get his family to see that he really does care? More, it seems; the answer is always more.
Initially, that tension between the private and the public, between the demands of home and the workplace formed the core of the ‘Die Hard’ series. It was its whole reason for being. Now it’s basically just an excuse for mayhem. This time, John (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia to find black sheep son Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for murder. John arrives just as Jack is about testify against war profiteer Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), when suddenly the courthouse is bombed and attacked by unidentified bad guys and Jack escapes with Yuri, with John in hot pursuit. When they meet, Jack is none too pleased to see his father, but after an interminable car chase — which feels like it takes up a full fifth of the movie’s 97-minute runtime — the pair reluctantly agree to team up to protect Yuri, find some file he’s got stashed somewhere in the city, and stop the guys McClane repeatedly calls “the scumbags.”
“Scumbags,” “bad guys,” that’s about all John and Jack have to contend with here: generic, faceless, military dudes led by a weasel named Alik (Radivoje Bukvić) whose sole defining character trait, mentioned in a single scene, is his love of dance. What these men want and why is barely addressed — as is anything outside the main thrust of the McClanes wreaking havoc around Moscow. If you thought ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ was mindless, beware. ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ makes the last sequel look like ’2001: A Space Odyssey.’
A lot of ‘Die Hard’ die-hards hated ‘Live Free,’ but even if it that movie abandoned much of what made the John McClane character endearing in favor of cartoon super-heroics, at least they were fun cartoon super-heroics. ‘A Good Day’ feels like a weak sauce version of ‘Live Free’ – the same lack of character and plot, but with even fewer stakes, smaller setpieces, and less chemistry between McClane and his sidekicks. ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ is almost an action film in name only: it’s busy but surprisingly inert. Besides the aforementioned car chase there’s one brief shootout followed by an escape via construction scaffolding — the movie’s sole highlight — and then a bewildering anticlimax at a bizarre random location. That’s it.
For his part, Willis doesn’t help matters. In recent years, he has become increasingly incapable of masking his contempt for movies he does strictly for the paychecks. When his material’s good — ‘Looper’ or ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ — he’s great. When it’s bad, like here, so is he — and worse, he barely seems to care.
That might work for some characters, but not John McClane. In contrast with his fellow ’80s action heroes, who acted like invincible demigods, Willis’ McClane was almost heartbreakingly vulnerable. His persona was defined not by his muscles but his unstoppable determination, his willingness to literally walk across broken glass to get the job done. At this point in the series, that man is completely gone, replaced by a Titanium-coated imitator who cannot be stopped and feels no pain — or, seemingly, anything else. Coming to grips with the ravages of age would be a perfect conflict for a blue collar hero like John McClane. But at age 57, Bruce Willis acts even more invulnerable than he was at 32 in the first ‘Die Hard.’
That wouldn’t matter too much if he was placed in a decent action movie with memorable stunts and viscerally entertaining sequences, but he’s not. Jack McClane’s feelings toward his father are resolved with laughable simplicity, and the villains’ schemes are laughably complex. Director John Moore doesn’t even pay off his set-ups — he spends an excessively long shot following this random, bald, topless, sweaty, muscled Russian henchman as he walks from the location of the final act shootout to a nearby helicopter as if to signal “Get ready, audience: this big beefy dude means business and he’s come to mess up your heroes!” But, no; after barking few orders and exchanging a few bullets with the McClanes he’s eliminated as easily as any other flunky. So why bother introducing him? Just to disappoint us, apparently.
I still like Bruce Willis. I still like this franchise and this character. But this is not the finest hour for either. It’s a poor excuse to ‘Die Hard.’ Which needy member of the McClane clan will John save next? I’m betting on his dog.‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ opens in theaters on February 14.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’