It’s only a marginally Good Day to Die Hard
John McClane returns to the big screen with John McClane Jr. but ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ has finally turned the successful franchise into a cartoon.
The original Die Hard is indisputably one of the greatest action movies ever made. It placed an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation, using all of his wiles as a police officer to save his wife and others being held hostage in a skyscraper by Eurotrash terrorists. It was brilliantly executed by director John McTiernan, and made stars out of the relatively unknown Alan Rickman and TV heartthrob Bruce Willis.
Of course, the film’s success bred a series of sequels with the second film basically aping the plot of the first, but putting Mrs. McClane on a plane, then transplanting John McClane to New York in the third film, and Baltimore/D.C. in the fourth. While each film was a financial success, they strayed from the original concept and turned McClane into a superman who could withstand any amount of pain and injury to take down the bad guys while the effects crews got to plan and execute bigger and bigger action sequences.
Which brings us to A Good Day to Die Hard.
I honestly don’t remember if John McClane Jr. (or Jack, as he calls himself due to his prickly relationship with his father) was ever mentioned in any of the previous movies*, but we do get a brief appearance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane (from Live Free or Die Hard) at the beginning and end of the fifth installment of the series. John Sr. is alerted to the fact that Junior has gotten himself in a whole heap of trouble in Russia, is about to be put on trial for murder, and will probably serve a life sentence in prison. Naturally, dad hops on the first flight to Moscow and finds himself in the middle of a plot that his son, who actually works for the CIA, was part of. Jack was attempting to extricate another prisoner who has a file that they don’t want to fall into enemy hands (and we really have no idea what information this file contains). Of course, the bad guys show up to make sure they get the prisoner and the file, but McClane’s arrival throws the CIA operation off by five minutes … enough time to put them all in danger.
Of course, this plot is merely the slimmest of excuses to get the action rolling, and the film basically becomes one major action/effects showcase after another until the twist stops everything for a minute, and then it’s back to the action. Big, grand, utterly ridiculous, crowd-pleasing action. Willis’ McClane gets tumbled down a highway in a truck, shot at by a helicopter (dodging the ammo reminded me of the scene in the original Star Wars where C-3PO and R2-D2 managed to avoid all of the laser fire in the corridor), plummets through plate glass windows, and dangles off of the hood of a military vehicle … that’s also dangling out of the back of a helicopter … with almost nary a scratch (he does get some blood on his head at one point, but it was probably from someone else). At this point in the franchise’s history, John McClane has officially become Wile E. Coyote. Jack (Jai Courtney) is almost as indestructible. The nameless bad guys … not so lucky.
By the time screenwriter Skip Woods pulls the rug out from under all of us, you’re either going to think the twist was a clever move or just be pissed off that you (and the McClanes) invested so much time in thinking they were doing what they thought was the right thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good plot twist but when the film’s plot is basically two sentences that are used only to set up the action, I just call that lazy writing (and if I had to hear McClane whine, “I’m on vacation,” one more time I was going to throw my popcorn at the screen).
When all is said and done, A Good Day to Die Hard is a terrific showcase for the stunt coordinators and their teams, as well as the CGI artists involved in creating those action sequences. Jai Courtney also makes his mark as a new action hero and could certainly carry the franchise for a few more films. Willis, however, seemed to be sleepwalking through the movie (or was it utter disbelief at what was going on?) and just barely muttered his iconic catchphrase, more out of resignation than anything else. But … my screening audience loved it, applauding as the credits rolled and chanting “McClane, McClane, McClane!” Seriously, they did that. It’s sad to see that a great action film series like Die Hard has become a cartoon that even its star doesn’t seem very invested in, but the studio knows how to please the masses. Unless this tanks as badly as returning action heroes Schwarzenegger’s and Stallone’s new films have (and don’t think the studio isn’t sweating bullets about those failures), we will probably be treated to more of the same mindless, plotless action scenes pretending to be a movie with the name Die Hard wedged into it. If nothing else, they did get to go back to an R rating.
*According to IMDB, Jack has been referenced as far back as the original movie, but this is his first flesh-and-blood appearance in the series.