Bruce Willis has proved himself to be an ageless wonder. Although the roles he has chosen of late (“RED,” Old Joe in “Looper,” “The Expendables 2” and playing the original G.I. Joe in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) suggest he’s playing the “aging action star” card, his box-office draw has been consistent if not downright reliable.
So why, exactly, does the fifth “Die Hard” movie make him share the screen with John McClane’s until-this-point-non-existent son? Did 20th Century Fox think it needed to pass the torch to a younger, blossoming action star in Jai Courtney? The answer is essentially irrelevant, because “A Good Day to Die Hard” offers plenty of reason for this to be “a good time to let this franchise die…hard.” I was a fan of 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard” despite its obvious shortcomings, but “Good Day” neglects the very reasons the franchise has survived to this point. The only thing making it akin to its predecessors is McClane surviving absurd falls and copious gunfire, but as the franchise has shown us before, there’s a fine line between exaggeration equaling entertainment and exaggeration undermining a film’s credibility.
That fine line is simply a matter of how good the rest of the movie is. That’s “Good Day’s” problem. Writer Skip Woods shoulders much of the blame. Honestly, anyone who had a writing credit on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” should be blacklisted, but what can you do? The plot exists completely independent of the John McClane character, for one, meaning that it could’ve been a generic action film featuring just about anyone, given a different title, and not caused anyone to bat an eyelash. Admittedly, part of the character’s shtick is that he’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the script has to practically shoehorn him into the film.
John ends up in Russia where his estranged son, Jack (Courtney) has been arrested. He plans to testify against a man named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) for a shorter sentence. Komarov is a political prisoner believed to have valuable information with damning evidence of corruption against a politician named Chagarin. Truth is that Jack is C.I.A. and the U.S. has an interest in protecting Komarov. John, however, distracts his son with his presence and consequently blows Jack’s operation. Together they must figure out Plan B.
So John’s just along for the ride this time and also to get some bonding in with the son he was never there for. The tension and humor that arise from their dynamic prove anywhere from frustrating and pointless to slightly amusing. Overall, it’s extremely cliché.
Great action scenes can heal all narrative wounds, at least for die-hard action fans of the literal and figurative variety, but for a franchise known for pushing the limits of creative stunts and flying shrapnel, “Good Day” offers very little to “ooh” and “ahh” at, just a lot of John and Jack jumping through glass and falling several stories. The film’s grand finale has potential, but director John Moore ruins it with slow-motion (and CGI doesn’t help).
Moore (“Max Payne,” “Flight of the Phoenix”) makes a few shots looks really great and he’s generally competent in this film, but the final action sequence involving a McClane helicopter escape leans hard on digital effects and given the film’s other failures, proves totally anti-climactic. And yes, that bloodcurdling slow-motion… All these criticisms seem irrelevant when you take the time to consider how this fifth “Die Hard” movie does nothing for the John McClane character.
I think an “old John McClane” movie, a satisfying final chapter, could exist and reconcile aging and badassery, but this film was downright afraid of the subject. I’ve never been less excited to hear “Yippee Kay-yay” come out of Bruce Willis’ mouth. He’s just an accessory in this movie and it’s almost upsetting. Sure, he proves to Jack that sometimes Daddy knows best, but the humanity of John McClane, the first action hero to get beaten and bloody and do it the hard way, he’s nowhere to be found. In a franchise this long-running, that’s not acceptable.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Directed by John Moore
Written by Skip Woods, Roderick Thorp (some characters)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir