'A Good Day to Die Hard'
The original Die Hard (1988) is such a perfect expression of the ideals of American manliness that it has become something of a cultural artifact. At the least, it is enjoyable B-movie fodder. At the most, it is a confident, intelligently violent, masculine missile launched into the heart of an increasingly weak-kneed world. Centuries from now, historians will study it to learn about us … and accidentally watch it four consecutive times. You know, for research.
The plot was simple, potentially xenophobic and symbolic. A cynical, pragmatic cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis), rolls into town to save his marriage with his attractive, corporate-ladder climbing wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Eventually, foreign terrorists show up, McClane systematically and ingeniously kills them all, the attractive businessman who hits on Holly gets his head blown off and McClane gets his wife back. Jackpot.
Fifteen years later, John McClane is no longer the everyman. He has stopped everything from rogue U.S. Special Forces to cybercriminals on his way to becoming a terrorist killing machine.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007), the last entry in the series, forced me to realize that I can’t punish any new Die Hard films for not echoing the original. Die Hard was a tightly knit, practical-effects-filled actioner (and my favorite Christmas movie). But that era is over. We’ve traded out stunt guys for computers and handguns for automatics. And it isn’t fair to punish these new Die Hard movies for belonging to their generation, even if I prefer the original.
But it is fair to punish these movies if they aren’t very good as action movies. And, unfortunately, A Good Day to Die Hard falls into that category.
Honestly, I’m not sure why I was expecting more. DH5 (sorry, AGDtDH is just too ridiculous an acronym) is directed by John Moore, whose last effort was the infamously bad Max Payne, and is written by Skip Woods, who almost killed my love of X-Men with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Bruce Willis is close to 60. And rarely has the fifth movie of any series been any good.
Ultimately, I think the allure of the Die Hard was just too strong. If they tap into that ethos even a little, I thought, I’m bound to enjoy myself.
Unfortunately, DH5 misreads all the reasons why we love Die Hard and serves up action devoid of context. Much of this blame falls on the shoulders of the middling story. Essentially, there is a large, Russian conspiracy involving a political criminal that eventually comes to involve McClane and his son, Jack (Jai Courtney). Underneath the convoluted political drama (one hour in, and I couldn’t name the villain) the true story is the father-son relationship—but even here the dialogue feels forced and awkward.
One of the great selling points of John McClane’s character is how difficult it is for him to succeed. By the time we get to the end of the original Die Hard, his feet have been cut open by glass, he has been beat up, and he is covered in blood. And we feel that pain. When John sits at the sink, pulling glass shards out of his foot, we wince and empathize. And when he realizes that he may die, we see his most vulnerable moment as a character.
But there is no difficulty or vulnerability this time around. Killing is easy, and surviving insane action sequences is easier. About the fourth time McClane Sr. is launched through a glass window, mostly unharmed, the crowd in my theater actually laughed. It is just too much.
With Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand and Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head both bombing at the box office, many wonder if the national conversation over gun violence has brought an end to the big, gun-driven action flick. A Good Day to Die Hard, with its franchise name and star actor, was primed to be the true indicator of whether or not this is true. But if DH5 does poorly, it won’t be because there was gun violence.
It will be because there was little else.