John McClane just can’t catch a break. Who else has had worse luck than this guy? With A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), he has now had the worst day of his life for the fifth time in a row. When a movie has the title Die Hard attached to it, there is a certain standard that it unfortunately has to live up to. The first one is an action classic, with an ingenious premise, interesting characters, sharp dialogue, and memorable set pieces. Each sequel, regardless of financial success, has dissipated in quality to varying degrees. Unfortunately, I believe this series may have finally hit the wall. This is a shell of its predecessors, with the lead actor being the only link. I walked in cautiously optimistic, but halfway through I realized it was exactly what I thought it would be.
Each outing has expanded in its setting—from a skyscraper, to an airport, to Manhattan and the entire Eastern seaboard. This time we find McClane (Bruce Willis) traveling to good ol’ Mother Russia to bring his son Jack (Jai Courtney) back to the States. John learns that Jack has become imprisoned, and heads to Moscow in an attempt to set him free. Forget sending lawyers or political liaisons—you know, people who can actually accomplish something—let’s send a New York cop who can’t speak a lick of Russian to do the job. (With the kind of track record he has, I’m surprised he’s let out of his own house!) What John doesn’t realize is that Jack is imprisoned for a reason: he’s actually a CIA operative in the middle of a deadly mission. But that doesn’t stop John from meddling, with plenty of explosions and mayhem accompanying him.
This set-up accentuates an issue that has increased with the last three movies. What made John McClane such a remarkable character was his “lone wolf” persona. We attached to him because he was this one blue-collar guy trapped in a dire situation, with only his guts and smarts to save him. The fact that he has been grouped with a partner/sidekick for the third film in row does not sit well. Samuel L. Jackson was fine enough, but Justin Long and Jai Courtney show the filmmakers’ hesitance to let Willis carry the franchise on his own. Even worse, in this movie (directed by John Moore, written by Skip Woods), John is no longer the driving force—his son is. While Jack tries to move forward and develop a plan of action, John tags along absent-mindedly. Often times he doesn’t even know what the hell is happening. But boy can he fire a machine gun good!
There were moments I liked. Certain shots and camera angles captured the action well. I appreciated Moore’s attempt at practical effects early on (too bad he abandons it for overused CGI in the second half), and one particular moment near the very end of the film caught me by complete surprise. You’ll know which one I’m talking about when you see it; it’s the solitary highlight of the whole movie. With that said, the biggest fault is in the writing. At 97 minutes, this is the shortest film in the series. The plot is streamlined to the point of being one continuous chase scene. It’s never allowed to settle and breathe, the pace is so hectic to get from one action beat to the next. Whatever character development there was felt forced and awkward, as though it was added in after the fact. The antagonists were generic and forgettable, and the main conflict was muddled beyond comprehension. We’re given a story involving Jack’s contact Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a Russian mercenary named Alik (Rodivoje Bukvic), and some secret data files stored in (of all places) Chernobyl. But the constant twists and backstabbing negate any clarity we might to get out of it.
What’s left are never-ending chase sequences that don’t establish the stakes at hand. I checked my watch, and noted that it was 40 minutes into the movie when we finally got a character providing some narrative direction. Everything else is simply mindless action. A bigger scale is not enough to make A Good Day to Die Hard an effective movie. The suspense generated between McClane and the villain (in previous installments) made for compelling drama—to see how they would try to outdo one another. Some of the best scenes in Die Hard were the simple conversations between McClane and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). We get none of that here. Instead, John and Jack become cartoon characters as each action scene becomes more and more absurd. I’ve read that the producers (along with Bruce Willis) believe that each sequel needs to be larger, and I shudder to think what the rumored 6th one will involve. Don’t be surprised if we see John McClane (along with some arbitrary sidekick) take a trip into space one of these days.
Final Grade: C