It was my intention, like many other film buffs out there, to prepare for A Good Day to Die Hard by revisiting the highs and lows of the previous Die Hard films. Between a hectic schedule and early buzz that the latest John McClane chapter wasn’t so good, I wound up passing on watching the other films in the 25-year-old franchise. It turns out that may have been one of the best things I could have done, because A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t even belong in the same stratosphere as the other movies. Not only is it the weakest McClane movie to date, but it’s a generic action piece that feels completely disconnected and forced to fit in with the other Die Hard movies.
Bruce Willis returns, but it’s less John McClane he’s channeling this time and more plain-old-Bruce Willis. It’s almost as he’s forgotten the character and just decided being Bruce is enough. Having previous films deal with McClane’s wife and daughter, this time the focus turns to the problematic relationship McClane has with his son, Jack (Jai Courtney). When John finds a report that Jack has been arrested in Russia he books a flight to try and reconnect with his boy, unaware that Jack is actually an undercover CIA operative on a long term mission to… well, honestly, I’m still not quite sure what Jack’s mission was after. It doesn’t matter since the operation winds up botched (in part due to daddy showing up, although he receives more blame than he deserves) and Jack and John are forced to team up to try and save the mission and themselves.
The Die Hard franchise has treated fans to scenes of Bruce Willis’s cowboy renegade cop sneaking around where he’s not wanted, playing cat-and-mouse with terrorists, running through class, tearing through New York, and taking out helicopters with police cars. By comparison, the action sequences of A Good Day to Die Hard are rather tame. You have a high-speed chase and gunfights, but most of them feel like they could be in any generic action picture. Really the only time the action feels like something in line with the previous Die Hard film comes in the picture’s climactic action sequence, where McClane yet again finds a unique solution to taking out his opponents. Even that, however, is undermined when it’s accompanied by McClane’s signature catchphrase, delivered more in the tone of “I’m getting to old for this shit,” than with the cowboy-style verbal flip-off that it’s been in the past.
Instead of cool sequences where McClane and his son steal insights into the enemy through radio communications or the like, along the way we are treated to a ridiculous amount of scenes that highlight the troubled relationship between the two – because fans of the Die Hard franchise really needed a reminder that their hero has relationship problems. The scenes reiterate a character trait we are already familiar with and bring the story to a crashing halt. More than once I could feel my eyelids start to weigh down as McClane attempted to sort things out with his son – a character who is irrationally detached from his father, who he calls by name instead of familial title. I’m sorry – hasn’t his son seen the first four films or at least heard what happened in them? McClane is a crappy father/husband/friend/whatever. The focus on the relationship, either trying to sort things out or focusing on Jack’s anger is a waste of time. Yes, it helps establish a personal connection once again for our hero, but it drags down the story and lacks any sort of solution, especially since it feels like we’re watching more Bruce Willis than John McClane.
As if the disconnect from the charm and style of the previous Die Hard films isn’t enough, the film also suffers from a boring antagonist. The Die Hard saga has almost always risen or fallen based on the strength of the villain. Give us an interesting villain and McClane has something to react to; give us an uninteresting one and McClane’s adventure feels flat. That’s certainly the truth here. Adding to the “generic action flick” theory, the enemies are Russian. Why? Because Russkies always make great bad guys, right? We are given one over-the-top villain to cheer for (or boo), but he quickly turns out to be a red herring, leading to a lesser-developed, rather boorish final antagonist. McClane has gone up against two members of the Gruber family, a disgruntled Colonel, and a cyber-terrorist. A generic blasé Russian villain just doesn’t hold up to that rogue’s gallery.
A Good Day to Die Hard wouldn’t be a terrible picture if it wasn’t an attempt to add to the Die Hard franchise. On its own, with Bruce Willis just playing another Bruce-character, it would just be a humdrum generic action film. The attempt to curtail it into a John McClane story, however, is a horrible waste of time and energy. The result is something that brings down the McClane legacy and bores the audience with too much time spent focusing on the character’s emotional shortcomings. As an action icon John McClane deserves better than this, and so do we.