Maybe it’s time for John McClane to say hello to the Gruber brothers.
Warning: It’s impossible to review this film properly without mild spoilers.
I am a massive Die Hard fan. The original was a classic, and whenever it is repeated on television I will tune-in. Yesterday was the eagerly anticipated return of the vest-wearing John McClane in the fifth instalment, A Good Day to Die Hard. As a single guy on Valentine’s, I was hoping it would cheer me up and help me forget the surge of couples getting sweaty under the sheets.
Sadly, it did not.
The film sees McClane Sr. (an increasingly tired Bruce Willis) travelling to Moscow to find his son, CIA operative Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), who is embroiled in a plot with the nefarious Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch). But fuck the synopsis. The plotting seemed to bore director John Moore so much that he threw most of it away in favour of comic book spectacle, which makes the heroes invincible on a scale so rarely seen by this writer. Some Russian, whose only defining characteristic is that he used to be a dancer (seriously), is chasing McClane Jr. and Komarov over some government “file.” The villain could have been interesting but Skip Woods’ script is so bare and transparent that the narrative barely fills the short 97 minute running time. It all leads to some typical guff about saving the world (read: America) from nuclear weapons. There is no arc or character growth… just explosions.
Does plot coherence even matter? Moore doesn’t seem to think so. He’s got a twelve minute car chase that reportedly took 77 days to film, which consumes the early stages where plot build-up should be. That said, there is room for some touching moments between the two McClanes, which had me breaking out in a few smiles, but its all for naught. The inevitable twists and turns are predictable and boring. The film’s final scenes in Chernobyl are utterly ridiculous, especially when you consider how far Chernobyl is from Moscow. A few tasteless jokes later, and all you’re left with is a film that completely ruins the Die Hard franchise. It could possibly be the worst blockbuster to stink up the big screen this year. The insult is even worse for me, as I paid extra to see the IMAX edition. Credit to Moore where credit is due, as the action scenes look and sound rather impressive, but they are just too long and too plentiful.
What was so good about the the previous Die Hard films was their balance between story and action, as well as McClane’s curse as a man “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The Japanese title for the series is “Reluctant Hero,” which describes the original McClane perfectly. In the depressingly superior Die Hard 4.0, he tells Matt Farrell how being a hero is a lonely existence and that it wrecked his home life. One film later, in someone else’s country, he is gunning down bad guys with a smile on his face like he is playing a videogame. He even laughs with his son about their kills throughout. Did Moore even watch the previous Die Hard films? Obviously not.
In terms of “acting,” Willis looks as nonplussed throughout as he was on The One Show recently, until he has a gun in his hand that is. Courtney actually comes away with his dignity intact, and he deserves better-written roles than this. I hope he gets them. The Russians shown here are just stock bad guys with no depth and spurt out clichèd dialogue. Even they looked bored apart from Yuliya Snigir (Komarov’s daughter, Irina) who seemed to enjoy herself a bit too much by the end.
The film’s certificate has been questioned by fans because the UK received an edited 12A version, while the US got the full R-rated cut. Its 12A rating is questionable, indeed. The “F” word is still heard numerous times, but this seems to be morally acceptable for the 21st century twelve-year-old in the eyes of the BBFC. The inevitable “uncut version” will undoubtedly be available on home video later in the year.
The mess here lies solely at the feet of the director. Moore had one shot at an adaptation of the popular videogame series Max Payne back in 2008, and ruined that (Fox said he was selected for Die Hard based on this attempt, if you can believe it). He has put as many bullets into the future of the Die Hard series as the McClanes put into a glass ceiling. Willis has confirmed a Die Hard 6, but who would want it after this lacklustre sequel? If they do attempt a sixth film in the series, I’d call it Die Hard 5 and find some way to help the audience forget that A Good Day To Die Hard is part of the same canon. Leaving it out of future box sets would be a smart option. This film does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the original movie, and it even has the cheek to reference John McTiernan’s masterpiece on a number of occasions. That only helps to highlight the flaws. Unfortunately, this film is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, and its mediocrity will be etched onto the minds of everyone who sees it.
It is probably time for John McClane to hang up his guns, and for John Moore to fold away his director’s chair and take his plot-less films and tasteless Chernobyl jokes with him. A Good Day to Die Hard? A good day to kill the Die Hard series, more like.
Oh, and because it has already become infamous, here’s the full One Show interview. Maybe the finished film isn’t that surprising after all.