Movie review: A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard

In our podcast we recently released as part of Die Hard Week, I remarked that, to me, the Die Hard franchise was still creatively viable as it had yet to put forward an installment as creative bankrupt at, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Well, that was then …

A Good Day to Die Hard, number five in the franchise that launched back in 1988 with perhaps history’s greatest action film, is pretty much a mess of a motion picture. I don’t feel like it quite sinks to Crystal Skull-level depths. Maybe that’s because 2007’s middling Live Free or Die Hard already started easing us into this franchise’s sucky golden years. Or maybe it’s because the movie finally finds a bit of life in its final half-hour, offering entertainments that could at least qualify as “somewhat tolerable.” Still, there’s no doubt that when future generations consider exactly when Die Hard ran out of gas, A Good Day is the installment everyone will point to.

The movie fizzles almost immediately, as writer Skip Woods and director John Moore (both Die Hard newbies who don’t seem to understand why people love this series) choose to bypass plot-building in order to spring you into crazy action scenes as quickly as possible. After the bare minimum of setup, John McClane, Bruce Willis’s grizzled New York police detective, is racing around the streets of Moscow in a three-vehicle chase that’s shot so haphazardly it’s damn near impossible to deduce who’s chasing who and what exactly is going on. (And, though it’s assumed rather than spelled out, a fair amount of innocent Russian civilians had to have been killed and/or severely injured as a result of this chase, including those riding in a car that blows up when McClane conveniently dodges an RPG meant for him. But, hey, they’re Ruskies, so who cares, right?)

McClane is in Moscow because he’s tracked down his long-absent son, Jack. who’s locked up in a Russian prison. What John doesn’t know is that incarceration is all part of Jack’s plan, as McClane Jr. is a CIA spy tasked with securing a political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who knows all kinds of dirty Russian secrets. In the movie’s most absurd coincidence, McClane arrives in Russia at the exact same time a crooked government official blows up a courtroom, inadvertently allowing Jack to escape with Komarov.

From there the movie turns into an extended chase for most of its running time (which is odd for a Die Hard movie) with a reluctantly teamed-up John and Jack trying to prevent Russian goons from apprehending Komarov, while at the same time tracking down Komarov’s daughter as well as a mysterious file that can implicate the government official. The plot is never terribly complicated, but it’s also wholly uninteresting and doesn’t play to the series’ strengths. Rather than feature a singular charismatic villain — you know, LIKE IN EVERY OTHER DIE HARD MOVIE EVER MADE — A Good Day instead piles on dumb twists and turns that keep the identity of the movie’s true villain under raps until the film’s final act.

It’s then that A Good Day stops being a chase movie and turns into a mildly effective Die Hard variant set at Chernobyl, the Ukraine nuclear facility that suffered a meltdown back in 1986. The sight of two McClanes storming the still-radioactive facility sans biohazard suits but with guns a-blazing is no doubt silly, but it does prove to be a step up from the interminable first hour. The movie’s secret villain, with motivations reminiscent of past Die Hard schemes, finally steps to the forefront. (“It’s always about the money,” McClane remarks.) There’s a moderately effective shootout, with John using his noodle to cripple an attack helicopter in rousing fashion. And, hey, A Good Day even features a somewhat understated (and thus wholly reasonable) version of McClane’s “yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” battle cry.

Still, all of this is far too little far too late. By this point, we’re already tired of Jai Courtney’s Jack, who glowers mightily but is given nothing to do but say the word “John” at the beginning and end of all of his sentences so the audience is 100 percent certain he’s not comfortable calling his father “dad.” And who can blame him? Truth be told, John is kind of a dick to Jack, especially in a bizarre little scene where Jack needs to pull a metal projectile out of his stomach and John harasses him about whether he’s going to cry over it. This macho bullshit is what Die Hard has been reduced to?! Maybe McClane the elder is just being cranky because he’s finally run out of good quips. Willis spends the movie repeating variants of “I’m on vacation!” over and over again, which makes zero sense as McClane is ACTUALLY NOT ON VACATION. Unless attempting to reconcile with sons who’ve long ago turned their back on you counts as a vacation, in which case I’ve been doing it wrong.

With no memorable supporting characters, nor any well-cast central villain to carry half the load, the movie falls entirely on Willis’s shoulders, and he’s clearly just here to take whatever script they give him and cash a paycheck. The forces that drove McClane in earlier Die Hard movies — to stay alive, to protect his family — are all but absent. At one point in A Good Day, John and Jack are no longer in danger and free to go home, but John convinces Jack to take the fight to the terrorists because what else are they going to do for the rest of the day? It’s the final phase in McClane’s franchise-long transformation from an ordinary-joe detective to an indestructible supercop who takes on terrorists not because he must but because he’s the only one who can. The farther away these movies have moved from the original template, the worse they’ve gotten, and in A Good Day, the McClane from the first film has finally been completely extinguished, leaving behind a bald, fearless nearly-60-year-old who doles out bad-guy punishment in the most boring, matter-of-fact ways imaginable. In fact, A Good Day‘s most inspired bad-guy kill can’t even be claimed by McClane; it’s an act of suicide.

So, yes, A Good Day to Die Hard is the worst of the series. Yes, it’s considerably worse than Live Free or Die Hard. At least that movie is entertaining in a dumb-generic-Bruce-Willis-action-movie kind of way for almost its entire run time. (And, I’m telling you, Courtney will make you miss Justin Long. It’s crazy but true.) A Good Day is a failure in both concept and execution that waits until its final third before it starts resembling the movies that preceded it and, even then, doesn’t begin make a case that this is a sequel that deserved to get made. So maybe, finally, this series is dead. Even if he still cared about the character, Willis is aging past the point of action-hero believability. And after A Good Day, I can’t imagine anyone much caring where McClane finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time next.