It is a general unwritten rule that sequels have to be bigger and better. For the most part, this is a good thing. For the Die Hard franchise… there are hits, and there are misses.
Since the first entry in 1988, the Die Hard films have slowly expanded their scope. From a skyscraper, to an airport, to New York City, to the East Coast of the USA, it was only a matter of time until Die Hard went overseas.
A Good Day to Die Hard does just that. The regular cop with above-average adaptability and survival instinct John McClane (Bruce Willis) has found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. For a fifth time. This time: In Moscow. Of course, all he wanted to do was travel to Russia on vacation, trying to find and reconnect with his son, but the world had other plans for him.
His son in question, Jack (Jai Courtney), is not entirely as he seems. On first introduction he appears to have gone off the tracks. John soon finds out that his son is actually a CIA operative, on a mission to protect and bring in Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a political prisoner who intends to testify against a corrupt Russian official.
Of course, it’s never as easy as ABC when it comes to a McClane, and with two in the mix this time around you know all hell is going to break loose. And of course, it does.
What follows is a feature that is loud, brash, explosive, and more for as much you can get away with on a 12A rating, but what doesn’t follow is a Die Hard movie.
The constitution of a Die Hard movie is one well worn and appreciated. One could argue that the Die Hard formula ended with the second movie, where the first two movies involved the bad guys taking over a location only for the hero to almost single-handedly take it back, while the third movie onwards followed a different path.
And true, Die Hard With a Vengeance was never originally intended as a Die Hard movie, and Die Hard 4.0 was, of all things, inspired by an article, but there was always hope that the next instalment would bring things back on track.
The problem with A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t that it’s a bad action movie (in fact, it’s a passable action movie), but it just doesn’t embody the spirit of the previous Die Hard movies. Die Hard 4.0 already showed that the franchise was slipping with moments like John McClane jumping on top of a hovering fighter jet, but A Good Day to Die Hard fails even more so.
A Good Day to Die Hard is, at best, a movie made by people who appreciate Die Hard and what it did for action movies, but then they swiftly decided that they weren’t making Die Hard. The film is good at making many subtle and not-so subtle nods to Die Hard lore, but they come off more like shoutouts from a non-Die Hard movie than an actual instalment of the franchise.
There is no heart, there is no characterisation, and there is no quotable dialogue. One of the biggest cardinal sins is that this movie has very, very bland villains. The original Die Hard gave us one of cinema’s greatest villains: Hans Gruber. Die Hard With a Vengeance offered us Hans’ brother Simon. Even the second and fourth films gave us villains with memorable moments, but in A Good Day to Die Hard… it is criminally lacking, to pardon the pun.
Willis plays McClane, but a much more toned down McClane. He’s a father now (well he’s always been a father, but now it’s a plot-point) and while that gives material for him and his son’s arc, it gets in the way of anything memorable. The father angle was used in Die Hard 4.0, but that time around it actually led to some effective conflict.
The only real conflict in this movie is between the two family members, and Courtney tries to sell the most generic ‘My dad wasn’t there for me’ story too many times with not enough impact. We all know the resolution, whether we’ve watched the (at times misleading) trailer or not. There are no big surprises here. Even when the film goes for surprise, it fails.
What made the original Die Hard great was actually a lot of things. It was a modern day High Noon where the main character was against the odds, used anything at hand to help triumph, and racked up a body count that only clocked in at around a dozen people.
It had many iconic scenes, all of which built character. From the beginning you learn he doesn’t like flying and is taught to take his shoes off and walk around when he lands. He’s thrown into a dilemma with terrorists taking over the building causing him to ditch his shoes, and as he attempts to replace his shoes after killing a henchman he finds that his feet are too big, and he ultimately cuts up his feet running through glass in one of the climactic shootouts.
John McClane’s feet in the original movie had better character development than the entirety of A Good Day to Die Hard.
Some of the set pieces are good. A lot of the slow motion is bad. The effects are mediocre at times, and the logic is extremely lacking. John McClane is clearly made of adamantium in this instalment, as he is indestructible, and not in the fun 1980s action kind. He’s indestructible in the low-stakes boring video game kind.
We can’t fear for McClane’s fate, nor do we particularly care. The villains aren’t charming or deserving of their punishment and fate, and McClane doesn’t even finish his trademark catchphrase. Again.
12A rating or not, that isn’t really what matters. One can lament the lack of blood and language in a Die Hard movie, it’s already trodden ground with Die Hard 4.0, but A Good Day to Die Hard takes things further in a horrid direction.
Its biggest crime is being called a Die Hard movie. Ignore that fact, and you still have a generic action movie that isn’t particularly special. The first Die Hard movie is the quintessential action movie. It is also a fantastic Christmas movie. A Good Day to Die Hard shouldn’t be put under that umbrella.
It’s a Bruce Willis movie, and if you want a recent good Bruce Willis movie, go watch Looper.
If you want to watch a recent good Die Hard movie, watch The Raid. It’s the best Die Hard that isn’t Die Hard, as opposed to A Good Day to Die Hard, which is the worst Die Hard that is a Die Hard.
Woefully disappointing, give this one a miss. It’s a world where franchises and sequels have overstayed their welcome, but I guess bad habits…you know…
A Good Day to Die Hard is out now in cinemas. It stars Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney, John Moore directs, and it is written by Skip Woods.