The title may be overstating the fact; while the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise has a lot of fun explosions and cool stunts, it is definitely the weakest entry in the series. John McClane has completed the transformation from determined everyman with a cowboy streak to a full on cartoon character that can walk away from anything. While there are moments of excitement, the movie kind of falls apart whenever the action pauses and the story has to take over. A better name for this film would have been “An OK, if slightly disappointing, day to Die Hard.”
Twenty five years ago, Bruce Willis made the jump from television actor to movie star when he originated the character of John McLane in the original Die Hard film. Though he was fairly well known for his role on Moonlighting, it was the role in Die Hard that really launched Willis’ career. When Willis was immortalized in the cement in front of the Mahn Chinese Theater in 1995, he wisely paid tribute to the franchise that made him a household name:
Though Die Hard is an action movie, it is also a very solid film. In many ways, it became the standard by which later action films would be judged. While the film was blessed with a good story and excellent direction, the real standout was Willis’ portrayal of a regular Joe going toe to toe with the villainous Alan Rickman. There was a heart to the film that you don’t always see in this genre of movie; Willis made John McClane a relatable character – an average guy thrown into a less than average situation. His delivery of smooth one-liners – including his classic catchphrase – only elevated the performance. It was, in short, a great movie. Even the critics agreed; the original film hovers around 94% approval on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
Flash forward to the current incarnation, A Good Day to Die Hard, and it just isn’t the same kind of movie. It ticks of some of the necessary Die Hard boxes – estranged McClane family member (check); said family member in peril (check); McClane family member refusing to use the McClane name or refusing to call John “Dad” (check); “Yippee-ki-yay, MotherF*cker” (check – and restored to its R-rated glory). But the heart and the soul of the franchise has slowly withered away.
The 5th installment of the series finds John McClane heading to Russia to assist his son Jack, whom he believes to be in peril. However, upon arriving in the former U.S.S.R, John discovers that his son is actually a C.I.A. agent and John’s sudden appearance bungles the younger McClane’s mission. Father and son are compelled to team up to survive a full on assault by criminal forces. Double crosses abound and the McClane men are forced to address some of their long simmering issues. Or something.
The plot of the film doesn’t really matter; unlike the previous films, A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t benefit from anything close to an interesting or fully developed story. It’s all really an excuse for all sorts of mayhem, guns and destruction of property. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but when the movie does take some moments to catch its breath, it is clear how boring and flimsy the supporting story is. I never really 100% understood what was going on and I didn’t really much care. The story was so convoluted and non-essential to what was going on that I didn’t waste much brain power trying to keep it all straight. It was mostly just filler until the next explosive action scene occurred.
The one thing that is clear from A Good Day to Die Hard is that John McClane is no longer human. While the previous films all had sequences that stretched some credibility, especially as the franchise has evolved, there was always some loose grasp on reality. In this film, that is completely gone. Willis is now closer to Wild E. Coyote than action hero veteran, to the point where it is distracting. McClane is now completely indestructible – he walks away from crashes and falls that would kill a mortal man without even a scratch. I don’t know what is in the water in Plainfield, NJ but it apparently makes people super human.
More problematic for me was that this older version of McClane is kind of an arrogant jerk. His main way of communicating with his estranged son is to constantly berate and bait him. You kind of understand why this kid might not have called home very often. John Sr. is such a hardened man that all the traces of humanity that were so important to the earlier films are basically erased. The writers have also made sure that Willis is right in every single situation; while he has the benefit of life experience, I’d like to think that C.I.A. agents are a little more prepared and intelligent than poor Jack who is constantly bested by the old man (and reminded of the fact by his father). This interpretation of John McClane is a lot less relatable and pleasant than the previous iterations of the character.
The actual action sequences, however, are still a lot of fun. When the film is just firing on all cylinders, you can forget a lot of its problems and just settle in for some excitement. The stunt men definitely earned their keep working on this film; the car chase at the beginning of the film and the final showdown stand out as particularly jaw dropping. These are the moments when A Good Day to Die Hard had my full attention. These scenes almost made me forget how flimsy the rest of the film was.
Some other thoughts:
- The one lesson I learned from the action sequences is that my next car should be a Mercedes. Seriously, those cars are indestructible based on what I witnessed (with lots of nice shots of the Mercedes logo thrown in to remind you what kind of vehicles these were). Russia’s economy must be doing better than I thought if there are so many Mercedes around. Fun Fact – 132 cars were destroyed and 518 were damaged in the making of this film to the tune of $11 million.
- When I was around ten years old, I wrote letters to a bunch of celebrities. All the teenybopper magazines, to which I was already obsessed with, used to list contact info in the back for various actors and actresses. I must have written dozens of fan letters and the only person I received any sort of response from was Bruce Willis (obviously not Bruce himself, though at that age I wasn’t so sure). Somewhere floating around my parents’ house is the “autographed” photo that I received. This is really apropos of nothing, but I was so bored during some portions of A Good Day to Die Hard that I was able to access this memory from the dark recesses of my mind rather than pay attention to what was on the big screen. That also cemented my life-long membership as a Bruce Willis fan.
- Willis has become less verbose in this film – Vulture has rounded up some of the more monosyllabic utterances he has in the movie. A Good Day to Die Hard comes up short in the quotable department.
- The best thing about the Die Hard franchise is the increasingly ridiculous titles that they have come up with for the films. Vulture decided to have some fun with this and created a “Die Hard Sequel Title Generator.” I don’t even want to tell you how much time I spent playing around with this thing. I came up with a few of my own, again during some of the boring parts of the movie: “Die, Die Hard My Darling” (a spin on a song by the Misfits), “Live and Let Die Hard” and “A Die Hard Day’s Night.”
- Paste Magazine looks back at their 10 favorite moments from the Die Hard series.
- Key and Peele celebrate their favorite scenes as well:
- If you want a quick refresher course on all things McClane, NPR has you covered.
- One complaint I don’t have about A Good Day to Die Hard is lack of eye candy. Even though Bruce Willis is almost 60, I still think he’s pretty dreamy and relative newcomer Jai Courtney is nothing to sneeze at either.
- In a recent interview on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Willis said that he owed a debt to former co-star Cybil Shepherd for his fame; her pregnancy allowed Willis to take the time off from Moonlighting to do the original Die Hard. He really should buy that kid – now an adult- a present. (As an aside – that was not one of Jimmy’s best interviews)
- I’m always astounded by the terrible communication within the McClane family – while Jack may not have been in touch with his father, he didn’t mention to his mom or sister that he was in the C.I.A. or that he would be out of pocket for a while? The whole bunch of them needs to go to therapy.
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead briefly reprised her role as Lucy McClane, but sadly there was no Bonnie Bedelia sighting. I’m constantly confused by the status of the McClane marriage.
A Good Day to Die Hard is occasionally amusing, but it is but a poor imitation of the other Die Hard films. I think this franchise may have run its course, but I’ve heard rumor that Bruce Willis is already on board for a sixth installment (which is unfortunate). A Good Day to Die Hard has lost pretty much everything that made the earlier chapters so great. The new film has its moments of fun, but there was always more to Die Hard movies than explosions. Now that is all that is left.