A Good Day to Die Hard **
Director: John Moore
Running time: 97 minutes
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
THEY say lightning never strikes twice- they were wrong. It strikes until the cash registers are wrung dry. The fifth installment in the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t completely artless, but it is more or less soulless. The film amounts to not much more than an impressive string of set pieces with little of the charm and wit of the original. John McClane may be difficult to kill onscreen, but it will be interesting to see the fate of his movie franchise.
The set-up for the film is actually good, if fairly simple. There has always been a vein running through the previous films about how McClane’s personal life is taking a beating. The heroic may come naturally to him, but being a husband and father doesn’t. In A Good Day to Die Hard the film opens with shady political dealings in Russia and an assassination by what turns out to be McClane’s son, Jack. So Willis, once more playing the neglectful, guilty father treks out to Moscow to see his son, who is on trial for murder, and mend some fences.
This opening sequence to the film is actually directed with style and skill by Moore, whose previous credits (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) are solid more than spectacular. I was even vaguely reminded of how the terrorists infiltrate Nakatomi Plaza in the 1988 original, but only vaguely. After this point, however, the wheels start to come off.
The courthouse in which McClane Jr finds himself on trial, alongside Sebastian Koch’s Komarov, is bombed and stormed by heavily armed hired guns. Luckily McClane Jr takes after the old man and has already flown the scene, Komarov in tow. At this point the first switch around in the script happens (there are a number) as it turns out Jack McClane is an undercover CIA operate intent on extracting Komarov and recovering a file revealing a high level conspiracy centring around the Chernobyl disaster. Of course the hired guns of dodgy Russian politician Chagarin are after the file too. At this point Willis inserts himself into the mix as well.
What follows is mayhem on Moscow’s road system as a three-way chase ensues between Jack McClane, the bad guys and John McClane. The sequence is actually incredibly choreographed and looks fantastically real. There are numerous plot twists and many, many more action scenes, most involving guns, lots of glass and a helicopter- along the way to a finale in Chernobyl, but the stunts aren’t really what is wrong with A Good Day to Day Hard. The film is symptomatic of what is wrong with a lot of the big budget sequels and remakes that have been churned out dolefully in recent times.
Firstly, the CGI revolution has freed the imaginations of filmmakers and made the art of special effects more or less seamless, but any sense of realism has also disappeared. Before the CGI explosion, the constraints of what filmmakers could actually do to stuntmen or with models forced them to be much more creative and depend much less on spectacle as an end in itself. In this way A Good Day to Die Hard mirrors the difference between the original Indiana Jones films and the 2008 sequel, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. In Die Hard, McClane is a mess, smeared in blood and dirt, hobbling around on his glass-imbedded bare feet. In the fifth installment he totals a car, flies through numerous panes of glass, gets beat up and falls from numerous, numerous heights and there’s hardly a scratch on him, in fact he’s not even weary, which was a real part of the original’s charm.
Speaking about charm, this seems to have disappeared with realism. The filmmakers seem to have completely forgot what made the original Die Hard so good- in fact I can’t be sure they’ve even watched it after seeing this sequel. The early films all had numerous bit-part players who really contributed and had a least wholly defined characters. Reginald VelJohnson’s Sergeant Al Powell, Paul Gleason’s Dwayne T. Robinson and, of course, Hart Bochner’s Ellis all had their moments and at the same time they were integrated into the overall story. Then there was Alan Rickman’s career turn as Hans Gruber. There is nothing even approaching this pleasure and enjoyment to be found in A Good Day to Die Hard’s characters, who are largely po-faced and under-developed. Any brief moments of comedy are wholly dependent upon Willis’ John McClane.
It’s hard to know what screenwriter Skip Woods contributed. Die Hard wasn’t a one trick pony that relied on amazing stunts. Aside from it’s charm and moments of comedy, it was also gripping. The original film has real moments of tension, which most often derived from scenes involving just two people talking, albeit that one of them has a gun- the scenes between Gruber and Takagi, or again Gruber with Ellis and all the scenes between McClane and Gruber are just a few examples. There are no such moments to be found in this fifth installment and the father-son healing process has all the subtlety of a soap opera.
As a spectacle A Good Day to Die Hard is highly polished, but unoriginal. It comes across as a kind of soulless remix of the original film, complete with a helicopter-rooftop finale and a bad guy falling to his doom in slow motion as the filmmakers laboriously tick the boxes what defines a Die Hard movie. Possibly the best thing about the film is it’s tagline, ‘Yippee Ki-yay Mother Russia’, although ‘Should’ve stopped at three’ would probably have been a more accurate one.
Review By Richard Davis