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A Good Day to Die Hard (20th Century Fox, R)

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Tfilm die-hard_smhis barely feels like a complete movie, let alone an actual Die Hard movie.

 

film die-hard 

Here’s a fun piece of trivia: A Good Day to Die Hard is the first Die Hard movie to have been conceived from the start as a Die Hard movie. The first two films were based on unrelated books, the third was a reworking of a script called Simon Says, and the fourth was based (I assume loosely) on a Wired Magazine article. That’s a pretty interesting fact on its own, but it becomes way more weirdly intriguing once you actually see A Good Day to Die Hard. The fact that a writer, Skip Woods, sat down to write a story specifically for John McClane and came up with this is completely batshit insane. If anything, this barely feels like a complete movie, let alone an actual Die Hard movie.

John McClane is in Russia. Why? I was led to believe that he was going to help his son out of a jam, but throughout the rest of the film he constantly makes wisecracks about the fact that he is on vacation. Anyway, he literally runs into his son who is in the middle of some major spy shit. The two form a reluctant partnership and try to stop some bad guys from getting some nukes. I know this is the age of resurrecting ’80s action stars and calling back to ’80s action movies, but seriously? Evil Russians and fears of nuclear war? This premise sucks, but the premise doesn’t necessarily matter. The premise of Die Hard is very simple and by the numbers. What elevates it is the brilliant script, inspired casting, and exceptional direction. So maybe this ridiculously boring premise can be elevated by the writer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the director of Max Payne?

Nope. This movie is garbage.

The real key to A Good Day to Die Hard is the relationship between John McClane and his son, Jack. It’s contentious at best. McClane has been an absentee dad and apparently never been very loving. When they first meet up, Jack holds a gun to his father’s head and seems serious about it. From there, they have to work together and repair their relationship. I get where they were coming from with this. The first Die Hard is all about McClane’s struggling marriage and how he is brought back to his estranged wife, Holly, through adversity. So why not do that with his son? Well, if you’re going to do that, you need to write it better. The events of Die Hard allow Holly to see John as a strong, caring husband, and force John to realize what he has been doing wrong with their relationship. In this film, John and his son kind of bond over killing, and sort of decide to hug and make up, but without any actual arc or reason.

The other purpose Jack serves in this story is to fill the sidekick role. McClane has had a long history of sidekicks, the high point being Samuel L. Jackson, and the low point being Justin Long. Jack is played by Jai Courtney, who was Werner Herzog’s henchman in Jack Reacher. The guy has no charisma, and I would compare him unfavorably to Sam Worthington. I hated Justin Long’s character in Live Free or Die Hard, but he’s a likable guy and I felt he did his best. Here, we have the opposite, a decent character played by an incredibly bland actor.

One of the most important elements of a Die Hard movie is the location. This is a specialty of director John McTiernan, who made the two best entries in the series. He has a way of establishing the geography of a place and giving it an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere, be it as small as a building or a submarine, or as large as a jungle or New York City. John Moore does not have that skill. I have no idea why this movie takes place in Russia, and nothing about the location adds to the movie.

I want to give the filmmakers a little credit, because they clearly try to fix some things with this movie. Personally, I hate all the techy hacker crap that was the focus of Live Free or Die Hard, and, as stated earlier, this is clearly a return to a more old fashioned story. The fourth entry got pretty carried away with its use of CGI and ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces, and there is a conscious effort here to keep the action more grounded, until the end when they do pretty much the exact same stunt that pissed everyone off in the last one. And of course, fans were outraged that Live Free or Die Hard went out with a PG-13 rating, and this one is back to R. Of course, as with Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, fans may realize that the rating isn’t the most important thing after all.

I want to briefly comment on franchise management, because I think this series is a prime example of how not to do it. I like sequels. I like franchises. I like when characters are strong enough to come back and revisit in new adventures. There were a good 12 years where Die Hard was a trilogy, and it was a pretty solid trilogy. Obviously, the first film is an absolute classic. I watch it multiple times every year, and it steadily creeps up my list of favorite movies. At this point it may be number one. Die Hard 2 is certainly not great, but I have some affection for it and Die Hard with a Vengeance is pretty damn fantastic aside from the last few minutes. 

Then they made Live Free or Die Hard, which was a significant step down. Now there’s this film, and the ratio is slipping. The series has gone from a solid two out of three, to about 50/50, to now being two good movies in a pretty shaky series. They’ve damaged their brand. This is the worst Die Hard movie, including the knock-offs like Under Siege and Air Force One. I’m sad to say it, but this is the first time I didn’t even enjoy Bruce Willis as John McClane. It’s a joyless, ugly affair, and this is a very bad day to be a Die Hard fan. | Sean Lass

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