Director: John Moore
While A Good Day to Die Hard may never truly feel like a Die Hard flick, it isn’t for a lack of entertainment. Fans love the idea of John McClane (Bruce Willis) going above and beyond his duties as a policeman to the point of reckless endangerment, destruction of property, and quite possibly clinical insanity because it leads to high octane action and underdog heroics. So used to the formulaic dealings with foreign terrorists on American soil, however, screenwriter Skip Woods decides to throw McClane a curve ball by making him the outsider on a covert mission way above his pay grade. His aging cop simply wants to see his misguided son Jack (Jai Courtney) one last time before the boy is thrown into a Russian prison for life. What he gets is a chance to once again save the day.
The guys behind the last installment of the franchise—Willis has said he’d like to do one more before retiring the character—already tried to breathe fresh air into the concept by adding a little present-day computer espionage from a homebred villain to show how far the term terrorist has evolved in a post-9/11 world. Live Free or Die Hard was a fun actioner as a result, mirroring the first film’s personal stakes of a family member being held hostage to get McClane’s blood boiling. But despite any contemporary updates and new ideas the blueprint was still one hundred percent about the patriotic honor and duty of a man who seemingly never gives up. Die Hard has always been the everyman using his street smarts to outwit the maniacal genius and that process has now been altered.
We can argue whether this difference in scope is a positive or a negative forever and get absolutely nowhere with diehard fanatics—pun intended—declaring any divergence from what’s come before as a cardinal sin and more open-minded souls appreciating an evolution of storyline in what they may call a tired series. Willis’ McClane is no longer the central focal point and the fact his son is a junior may mean more than the desire to add a little something different flavor-wise to the mythology. Could this be the first step towards passing the torch? Will we accept Courtney’s Jack as a suitable replacement for John once discovering he is a CIA operative under deep cover with years of training and intellect his father’s working man physique never had an opportunity or want to learn?
I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not sure Hollywood would want to keep the torch burning after Willis shelves the “Yippee Ki-Yays”, especially if they needed such an infusion of cash from Mercedes-Benz for this one’s budget that every showcased vehicle is adorned by their tri-force logo. Once you find yourself going towards spy territory and extraction you begin to lose the unique qualities that made the character so popular. We have Mission: Impossible and the Bourne boys to fill cinema’s quota for well-told espionage and globetrotting, Die Hard was sacred due to its unwavering pride in the red, white, and blue. Yes, the McClanes doing what they can to stop Russian nuclear armament does save American lives, but the disconnect intrinsic to such forward-thinking goes against John’s shoot first ask questions later mentality.
Director John Moore does his best to try and keep things relevant to the iconic figure’s mythical stature by staying close-up throughout and letting as much as possible blow-up, mangle, or break in his wake. It’s hard though to make the twists and turns of Woods’ script not seem too sophisticated for what has always been a brawn over brains fight. The fact Willis is continuously finding his “gut feelings” proven right while Courtney’s more systematic, plan-orientated, and idealistic mind clouds his judgment to the messy nature of greed and power isn’t enough. If anything, such lazy writing like this makes things worse because we now must watch John take pause and second-guess himself until his son processes the danger and risks both their lives in the meantime.
It’s as though John McClane is guest starring in someone else’s movie—this to me is the best description I can give A Good Day to Die Hard. Neither good nor bad, it’s just different. We must accept it’s a hybridization of no-holds-barred action and spy thriller and enjoy the Regular Joe quips and street smart actions Willis’ character from the former can bring to the latter’s more plot heavy genre. It is intriguing to watch where the political rivalry of Sebastian Koch‘s Komarov and Sergei Kolesnikov‘s Chagrin takes our heroes, a bit tedious to watch Komarov’s relationship with his daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) mirror the McClanes, and ultimately a ton of fun watching old world and new world collide with John and Jack. Maybe Part 6 will have the two save the day as partners in the private sector.
Whether the Die Hard you know and love or not, it’s still an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride. There’s an extended brutal car chase through Russia containing armored trucks flying and pick-ups driving over gridlocked traffic, unbridled R-rated carnage from a seemingly endless supply of automatic weaponry, and a completely outrageous scene aboard a truck inside a helicopter as both spin towards a crash. The sarcastic humor of the McClanes multiplies with the constant back and forth between like minds, continuity is kept intact with a cameo from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and even one of the “old jokes” aimed at Willis’ senior citizen hits big despite the reference to 1986 being two years before the character original hit the big screen. It’s an action flick on Valentine’s Day—what more did you want?
A Good Day to Die Hard opens wide on Thursday, February 14th.
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