The first film is one of those hallmarks of cinema, a true touchstone and turning point for the way the action genre was approached, one that still resonates to this day. It’s a remarkable bit of lightning in a bottle, the likes of which has never quite been replicated, try and try as countless filmmakers might.
Problems though the second and third films may have (and I will defend the third film to my grave), they at least retained the spirit (to varying degrees) of the first film and kept the character of John McClane consistent within the machinations of the story. Bruce Willis seems to be having a good time, at least, reprising his most iconic role. It’s too bad I couldn’t join in on the fun.
The franchise had lay dormant for over a decade, until 2007 brought us the middling “Live Free or Die Hard,” a film that felt like “Die Hard” in name only. But whatever problems I had with “Live Free” (and they were many), they seem like small potatoes compared to how thoroughly awful a film we get with “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
It’s hard to know just where to start when talking about this film’s problems, as it’s not just a horrible “Die Hard” film, but a poor action film in general. And given how relatively forgiving I can be with entries in the genre (see: my recent reviews of “Bullet to the Head” and “The Last Stand”), that should speak volumes to just how much I hated this movie.
But let’s start with how this fails at being even a decent “Die Hard” movie, since that’s the bigger issue at hand.
I suppose the biggest problem with “Good Day” isn’t that John McClane is nigh invulnerable or that he dispatches bad guys with a simple wave of his machine gun. It’s that the film presents McClane as a massive jerk and a borderline sociopath. He has always been surly and brusque, but he’s never been out-and-out jerk the way he comes across here. For example, in the first major action setpiece, McClane is chasing after the Generic Russian Bad Guys, he’s driving a massive (stolen) truck and quite literally bursting through walls, crushing cars and generally causing even more mayhem in the wake of this already gratuitously chaotic chaos. McClane has always caused collateral damage, but never in a way that seemed so unconcerned for the safety of everyone around him.
I guess it’s just that this version of McClane seems so callous and indifferent to so much of what happens (both in terms of character and action), it makes me wonder if writer Skip Woods and director John Moore have ever actually seen any of the previous films in the series.
Gone is the guy who had a startlingly honest moment of self-realization in a skyscraper bathroom, coming to terms with just how much he’d failed his family. And in his place is a callous, bulletproof, generic action hero who cracks off generic one-liners. Remember when McClane taking out a single bad guy felt like a massive, hard-fought victory? Remember how brutal and hard each punch and bullet impact felt? That’s gone. And in its place is a hero who can take out a half-dozen faceless thugs with a wave of his machine gun.
What set John McClane apart from every other action hero of his day was his vulnerability and his humanity, two things that have now been stripped from him completely. Compound this with one of the most generic villains ever (I can’t even remember if we’re even actually told the guy’s name, remember when the original gave us one of the screen’s most iconic and well-realized villains?) and a level of over-the-top action that shames some Schwazenegger movies and you simply have a film that feels nothing like its namesake.
This might have been assuaged somewhat had functioned simply on a superficial level as a competent action film. It doesn’t.
The premise is that McClane travels to Moscow to help his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), out of some major trouble in which he’s found himself. It turns out Jack actually works for the CIA and is trying to extract a high-profile target.
There’s something in there about Russian revolutionaries and secret files and betrayals and all of this stuff that makes no sense because Woods’ script is one of the most incompetent scripts put to use in years. It dumps exposition at a breakneck pace with nary a consideration given as to whether it makes any sense or if we’re given motivation enough to care.
The result is a film that screams along (the film is, mercifully, a scant 98 minutes long), often literally moving from explosion to explosion, shootout to shootout with little attention given at all as to who is being shot at and why other than this is simply what must happen in an action film.
Alas, we’re instead stuck with a script that can’t even nail the most basic characteristics of the series’ protagonist and a director who is incapable of even keeping an action scene’s basic geography correct. I never thought I’d see the day when “Die Hard 2,” once considered the series’ nadir, would end up looking like a stellar entry in the canon.
It may be too early to call this one of the year’s worst films, but if another action movie manages to sour me more than this, it’s going to be a rough year.