It is what it is.
A Good Day to Die Hard is the runt of the litter, just barely a Die Hard movie chopped down to an incomprehensible ninety minutes or so, and only moderately entertaining for its brainless thrills and bombast.
John McClane has surely seen better days, but is this movie as vomitous as the snarling critics suggest? Hardly.
|John McClane, today|
Was it perhaps a studio-contrived stunt to spin such poisonous early reviews—a rarely-heard-of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes!—in order to lower everyone’s expectations so drastically? If so, it worked for me because, while clearly the limpest of the Die Hard series, Part Five is not so terribly offensive that it deserves such unmitigated venom. It just doesn’t stack up against the other sequels, and isn’t even in the same league as the classic original.
|The John McClane we remember|
I view installments of this series much like the James Bond or Lethal Weapon flicks—their strengths usually reside in the quality of the central villain and in how cleverly the filmmakers subvert their own formula, and even a “bad” one still makes for a decent movie in its own right. By now, after four films and twenty-five years, you’d think the making of a Die Hard sequel would be a well-oiled machine, but this fifth episode feels scrappy and stitched together.
Something’s obviously gone wrong here behind the cameras—inexperienced director with no clue how to stage smooth action choreography; highly caffeinated cameraman shooting in hand-held jitter/zoom style; over-zealous editor with an itchy trigger finger—but die-hards will find something to like about it.
The threadbare plot sees our reluctant and habitual terrorist-fighter John McClane off to Moscow, where he hopes to patch things up with his estranged son, Jack, who’s really a CIA spook recently arrested for shooting a Russian politico mixed up in missing uranium or plutonium or some other such stuff.
|Father and son McClane|
It’s not immediately obvious who the primary villain of the movie is—none of the bad guys have any personality—nor is it clear what they plan to do with the nuclear contraband once obtained. It probably doesn’t matter, either—it’s all MacGuffin, a muddled ploy to have McClane and McClane Junior face off against each other and numerous foreign bad guys who are equipped with a bigger arsenal, while some nebulous nuclear threat hangs in the balance. None of the proceedings here hint at the joy of the monetary heist that makes the first and third Die Hard movies so much more fun than the others.
On the upside, because the story is set primarily in Russia, John McClane is once again positioned as a fish-out-of-water—a frequent Die Hard trope. Further, the action is relatively confined to tight spaces—a claustrophobic device milked to maximum effect in the first two movies but abandoned in the next two sequels.
The movie delivers on action and its expected “bang for your buck” factor: an insane car chase will give you whiplash, a lot of shit blows up, shrapnel flies in all directions, helicopters explode in slow motion, and ballsy stuntmen are flung into the air and, frequently, through plate glass windows. It’s all very noisy and calamitous.
|And although a little battered and beaten, they walk away, as they should|
As a direct rebuke to the watered-down PG-13-rated Live Free or Die Hard, the new movie allows for bloody graphic violence and for our hero to utter colorful profanities, though overall this is one of the tamer “R”-rated movies I’ve seen in a while.
Having proven with the previous sequel that a bald and aging John McClane remains a viable and plausible action hero in the 21st century, Bruce Willis brings the expected amount of smirk and swagger to the proceedings.
If the studio moves forward with plans for a Die Hard 6 (my title of choice: Old Heroes Die Hard), I truly hope the writers work in a little bit more heart next time, because conspicuously absent this fifth go-around is any sense of emotional or physical jeopardy. In the original Die Hard, McClane endures grueling physical pain and is aware of his own vulnerability. He even conveys real fear at one point that he might not make it out alive. Plus there’s the whole side story with his wife, so the emotional stakes for our hero are pretty high. Ditto in the previous sequels, though each sequentially to a lesser degree.
This time, McClane becomes a parody of himself, a wind-up toy that breaks things and bashes the bad guys while wisecracking, but doesn’t really ever get hurt.
Some critics have likened this McClane and his superhuman antics to a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, with our hero constantly in the line of fire or crashing through things but never meeting a bullet and barely sustaining a scratch.
I contend logic and plausibility in the Die Hard movies jumped the shark way back in Die Hard with a Vengeance when Jules is speeding by on the parkway just in time to see McClane ejected from a water spout, but the many suspensions of disbelief required to enjoy a brainless action flick like A Good Day to Die Hard have never felt so strained and precarious.