I have no problem with A Good Day To Die Hard, the fifth installment in the legendary Bruce Willis franchise. I had no problem with the last entry– I rather enjoyed it, in fact. I have no problem with taking the action to Russia. I have no problem with McClane teaming up with his son. I have no problem with the action getting more extreme than the franchise’s origins. I don’t even really have a huge problem with the barebones script, or the relative non-entity of a villain, or with anything that takes place during the film. In fact, I think the ground work for a thoroughly enjoyable action flick is present and on screen, despite its inferiority to the rest of the franchise. However, I do have a big problem with John Moore, the director. He takes action sequences with impressive-looking stunt work and squanders them with his horrendous incomprehensible non-style. His car chase, presumably big-budget, looks direct-to-DVD. While the film settles in and becomes relatively fine after it leaves its car chase behind, and it’s nowhere near the disaster that critics are calling it, you still will find yourself wondering what it could have been.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is headed to Russia. His estranged son (Jai Courtney) has been locked up in Russia, and McClane is dead set on bringing him home. However, once again, he finds himself unknowingly getting caught in the middle of a terrorist plot. His son is a CIA agent attempting to bring down a destructive villain (Radivoje Bukvic) by protecting the only man (Sebastian Koch) with information that can bring down the bad guys. When McClane shows up, he unwittingly spoils his son’s mission, leaving them to both run around Russia, bicker with each other, and dodge a seemingly endless supply of henchmen. When the fight makes its way to Chernobyl, they realize that this fight isn’t only for Russia… it’s for the entire world.
The car chase which kicks off the action was so offensively composed that I debated walking out, but instead started checking my email on my phone for a bit so that I didn’t have to see any more of it. It’s not just the shaky camera work– it’s the completely absent sense of geography. We should be able to tell while watching a car chase who’s in front, who’s chasing, where they are, and what dangers lie in all directions. All we get are rapid-fire second-long cuts of gritty-looking cars, people yelling, and an occasional McClane one-liner, none of which hit because we have no idea what’s going on. It’s unfortunate, as the practical stunt work is clearly impressive, but none of it has any impact. It’s even more unfortunate that such an ugly sequence kicks off a film in a franchise that is known for its terrific stunt work. If you compare the car-smashing action here to sequences in the third and fourth film… well, there is no comparison. Those other sequences are competent and this one is disgusting.
After they leave their automobiles, however, the film improves significantly. The banter is basic– you sense that most of the character work was left on the cutting room floor– but Willis and Courtney have an easy chemistry. The villains don’t have much to do, which is certainly a disappointment for this franchise, but the pleasure comes from the henchmen arriving in waves to get knocked down. Willis and Courtney get bloodied, and the return of the R rating is a nice touch; there are even a few unforced callbacks to previous franchise entries that are welcome. The shaky cam is somewhat ditched as the film presses forward, although the gritty visuals lack the franchise’s traditional relative brightness in color and light: it looks more Bourne than McClane. You’re probably sensing a theme in this review. A Good Day To Die Hard isn’t necessarily worse than most action fare nowadays, but it’s definitely the worst of the franchise by a landslide. John Moore is to blame: with John McTiernan or even Len Wiseman at the helm, the action sequences excel and this movie’s grade is elevated probably a whole kernel. Coherent visuals go a long way in this genre. A Good Day To Die Hard doesn’t kill or ruin the franchise by a long shot, but it makes instant anticipation of a new Die Hard… hard.