From its Valentine’s Day release date to its 97-minute run time, A Good Day to Die Hard has “cash grab” written all over it. It’s on deck for a major opening weekend, but it’s not likely to last long in the theaters after that. Apart from a few action sequences–including a mildly arousing climax–this is a Die Hard only in name. There is no hostage crisis, no race against the clock, no story-long wrestling match with a bad guy, no way to get intellectually invested in John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) latest adventure–and no riddles. The latest Die Hard is a run-of-the-mill action film, complete with more money spent on the stunts than the script, countless faceless henchmen, and what has become the norm lately, an obligatory car chase that runs way too long without any consequence. And would you believe it, those pesky Russians are up to no good again!
McClane travels to Moscow to pull his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney, Spartacus‘ Varro) out of prison. He discovers Jack works for the CIA and McClane tramples on what is an important operation, rescuing a former political figure, Yuri Komaraov (Sebastian Koch, The Lives of Others) who’s been jailed over 25 years for being largely responsible for the nuclear meltdown the disaster that turned the city into a ghost town overnight. Komarov is scheduled to testify against his old partner, Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) who has since become a powerful politician with suspected ties to terrorists. The CIA needs to protect Komarov long enough for him to access his files hidden in the vaults of Chernobyl, to lock up Chagarin for good.
With their reunion not going as McClane planned, he turns to Komarov for advice between fathers. Komarov has a daughter (Yulia Snigir) whom he’d like protected, except she’s one of the terrorists working for Chagarin. Further attempts to explain McClane not being there for his son lead to quips and insults throughout. Mary Elizabeth Winstead returns to play Lucy, McClane’s daughter, the only apparent one left to care about either one of these men but only bookends the story with her presence.
So what left that still resembles a Die Hard film? There are some winks and nods to recycled Die Hard bits, some clever, others are in your face. All of them though fail to connect them as important pieces to the story. We all remember how John magically pulled a large piece of glass from the bottom of his foot and like a miracle showed no effects in his battle with Hans Gruber? This time son McClane gets a piece of rebar lodged in his gut and after its removal his mutant healing power kicks in. “Hope you got your tetanus shot!” Like father, like son. Willis brings the spirit of McClane, and like in all of the other films prior, his presence is not welcomed. That’s where the similarities stop.
Some suspect this was the first attempt at stretching the franchise beyond Willis. If so, then it didn’t work, as all of Jack’s protocol is undercut by McClane’s gut and stubbornness. Jack’s nowhere nearly as charismatic or as bat shit crazy like his father. He misses the creativity to freelance when under fire and is quick to quit the mission when things don’t go right.
The most disappointing element missing from A Good Day to Die Hard is a memorable villain. McClane has always stood up to grade A, money-hungry terrorists of European descent. We’re talking bad guys on a monumental scale with a plan so grand that it should take an army to get the job done. It’s under those odds that we like to see John McClane, not in witness protection. Yet these are middle men in the vast network of global terrorism. John McClane wouldn’t normally waste his time these guys; he eats their type for breakfast; he waits for these guys to sell their war games toys to even worse people, and then goes after those guys.
For all of the reasons above, A Good Day to Die Hard takes one of the more exciting action franchises and sucks it dry of its soul. Let’s face it, this is as simple a formula to follow. John’s new catch phrase is that he’s “on vacation,” but the only one who was on spring break was writer Skip Woods, who also gave us that memorable X-Men Origins: Wolverine script so many of us comic book fanboys are still trying to forget. Shame on director John Moore too for not understanding the franchise and giving fans the adrenaline rush and thrill ride experience they expect, for playing it safe and not embodying the franchise’s “Yippie Ki Yay” tagline from beginning to end. This Key and Peele sketch is encapsulates how excited people are for this film. But I can’t wait to see the follow-up sketch.
The biggest compliment would be to hear audiences leave the theater excited, and counting down the days until they can say “Die Hard” one last time. Unfortunately, all I wanted to say was, “Die already, John,” because this cowboy deserves a better ride into the sunset.