In the twelve year span it took for the third and fourth entries in the "Die Hard" franchise to be released, movies changed. Action films became less confined and more bombastic, spanning the globe and destroying it in the process. It got to the point where an action movie was considered slow if there wasn’t an explosion or gunshot for a ten minute stretch. Naturally, fans of the franchise were wary about the way it would go, especially after "Die Hard with a Vengeance" had already upped the ante to the brink of absurdity.
For better or worse, "Live Free or Die Hard" went in a new direction, as far away as possible from the elements that made the original movie great, yet it was still fun, though it was so over-the-top it didn’t necessarily feel like a "Die Hard" film. As a critic friend of mine pointed out, it wasn’t a very good "Die Hard" movie, but it was a great action movie.
Well, this week’s "A Good Day to Die Hard" is neither. It sullies the franchise with poorly staged action, a thin story, ridiculous twists and obnoxious daddy issues that would be more suitable in a tween angst film. If this is an indication of where this franchise is heading, I hope it lives up to its title and spares us from future calamities.
Bruce Willis once again plays John McClane and this time, he’s in Russia to find his son, Jack, played by Jai Courtney. Jack is on a multi-year mission for the CIA, who is hoping to prevent a nuclear weapons heist, when John shows up and throws a kink in his operation. Unable to extract his mission, Yuri Komarov, played by Sebastian Koch, he finds himself on the run from both his father and the Russian underworld. Eventually, Komarov is kidnapped, so he teams up with John to get him back.
The basic plot structure goes like this: John shows up in Russia, car chase, helicopter shootout, final action scene at Chernobyl. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my plot synopsis is more detailed than the actual pitch for the film was; the story exists as little more than an excuse to get John McClane back into the action and throwing out one-liners. Perhaps because American knowledge of all things Russia is so low, "A Good Day to Die Hard" takes the country’s one familiarity, Chernobyl, and structures its plot around it and it doesn’t work. Although an interesting setting in and of itself, it’s out of place here and one quickly starts to fear that the franchise has become so ridiculous it’s going to start introducing hideously mutated creatures for McClane to shoot down.
It never actually gets to that point, but you’ll likely wish it had. The action that is here is so slapdash and overlong that it becomes an assault on the senses. If "Transformers" was loud and stupid, at least the action was competent. "A Good Day to Die Hard" gets it all wrong. Aside from the occasional thrilling moment, like a helicopter blade slicing a man to little bits or the equivalent of a parachute-less base jump down the side of a building, the action is bland, predictable and sloppy.
The time and place of the opening car chase, in particular, change from shot to shot. While some cool ideas are implemented, the part of the brain that deals with logic makes the film easy to dismiss. Director John Moore, the man behind the horrific The Omen remake and the visually stylish, but mostly empty Max Payne adaptation, simply doesn’t know how to stage action scenes. For a movie that relies almost entirely on things going boom, that’s not good.
When "A Good Day to Die Hard" does quiet down for its brief moments of dialogue, it tries to build a meaningful relationship between John and Jack, the latter angry at the former for being a negligent father. These annoying daddy issues pervade the entire movie and their eventual bond is built on the enjoyment they have of killing other people.
Meaning is forced in through sequences that aren’t tailored for such and it results in enough eye rolling to cause a strain and produce a migraine. The "Die Hard" series has had its ups and downs, for sure, but all have been enjoyable in their own way, until now. "A Good Day to Die Hard" is the beginning of the end for this franchise.