You have probably already assumed that the fifth Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard (how psyched do you think Joel Schumacher is that the most memorable line from his Flatliners is making a comeback?), is no insta-classic. Indeed, you would be correct there, but then, none of the sequels has been. This is a franchise that imagines itself star-driven when originally, it was concept-driven. People flocked to the first to see one guy trapped in a skyscraper against terrorists, more so than they came for that guy from Moonlighting trying to be serious. For the second, the same guy got trapped in an airport, which is bigger, but still, both movies were trashing places we, the viewers, felt trapped in at one time or another – an office building and an airport are both places we’ve dreamt of losing it and busting shit up, are they not? But once part three opened it up to all of New York City, it became just another action movie, with one signature catchphrase always saved for the end.
Expect less, and ye shall receive. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead, returning as John McClane’s daughter Lucy (wife Bonnie Bedelia having long since become either uninterested or uninteresting to all involved), says to him, at the start of the story, “I wish I could go with you,” I was inclined to agree. From that point on, pretty much all traces of estrogen disappear, unless you count one treacherous siren in a skintight motorcycle outfit who isn’t even as fetishized as the giant armed helicopter which features in much of the movie’s action – basically, two of the three big sequences.
If you put the lack of women aside, many of A Good Day to Die Hard’s tricks feel like a flashback to the Roger Moore era of James Bond, with John McClane heading to Russia to save his son from jail, hopelessly screwing up a CIA operation that his kid, Jack (Jai Courtney) is responsible for, then stealing cars willy nilly and crashing them into everything in sight, because apparently in Russia, there are no police or military to keep you from exploding, smashing, and taking without permission anything your heart – or the momentum of a car chase sequence – desires.
That McClane is the one who basically sets the big mess in motion by blundering in is the film’s nicest touch – in an era where we still venerate our senior-citizen action heroes, it’s fun to have one behaving like an actual aging parent, so determined to do things the old way that he won’t listen. But if you think this is a film that says anything more about fathers and sons, it doesn’t. It would like to believe that it does, and there’s even an obligatory, “We named the dog Indiana” moment. That it comes at the end of something so disconnected to reality makes it irrelevant.
Everyone involved with the production will probably tell you that John McClane’s whole appeal is that he’s a regular guy in extraordinary circumstances, and that’s true if you’re talking about the first movie. In the mind of director John Moore, this actually works out as having McClane and son doing impossible stunts, but it’s “realistic” because they then wince for a moment and bleed all over their shirts. By the end of the first Die Hard, you really felt like Bruce Willis was in pain. In A Good Day to Die Hard, you never feel like he hurts for more than 30 seconds.
And having spent all these words ragging on the film, I will continue to semi-recommend it anyway. Why? Well, I happen to like big dumb action, and as long as that’s all you’re expecting, that is a thing that you shall receive. It’s not as Michael Bay-esque as the trailers implied, and its constant reversals regarding who the real villain is are more annoying than intriguing, because it doesn’t allow you a whole movie to get pissed off at one guy you want Bruce Willis to kill. Also frustrating is how the movie credits make a big deal of Cole Hauser being in it, and then he barely is. That’s a guy who was born to the big bad, and he’s a minor throwaway who deserves better instead.
But, but, but…car chase that trashes nearly every vehicle in Moscow. Helicopter versus two barely armed guys. Guys later hanging off of said helicopter as it circles a compound full of terrorists and nukes. Hilarious retconning of a pivotal Cold War event that will induce any history students in the audience to enter into an epic facepalm. Jai Courtney kicking ass better than expected. “Yippie kai-yay” line delivered mildly differently than you expect (but not too much). And in the right theater, the Dolby Atmos sound system whose demo trailer got the biggest applause at the screening and will make your inner ears itch.
Did I mention the movie begins with an overture on black screen, which combines police sirens with Beethoven’s Ninth? Because it does.
It’s just that kind of movie.