"He's a New York cop with a nose for trouble,
a knack for making enemies,
and a talent for beating the odds.
On a good day he's a great cop.
On a bad day he's the best there is."
In reference to John McClane from the trailer for "Die Hard with a Vengeance".
This is not a "Die Hard" movie. It may say it in the title, it may feature one Detective John McClane played by Bruce Willis, he may say "Yippie-Ki-Yay motherf*****" and it may even share some familiar tropes of the storied franchise such as terrorists, double crosses and plenty of explosions, but ultimately this is a far cry from what many would consider to be a true "Die Hard" film. This shouldn't come as a surprise to any fans of the long running series of action movies since it has been heading down this path for a long time now. Starting back with the second film in the series, "Die Hard 2", we have been seeing a shift from what made that 1988 action classic so unique and groundbreaking into these films that have become nearly unrecognizable as anything other than some obscure action movie riddled with cliches.
First there was the ever expanding playfield, going from a secluded skyscraper, then to an entire airport, then to an entire city, then to the entire East coast and now finally(?) to an entire country. The environment has changed so exponentially over the course of the five films that on those points alone these films no longer resemble even a sliver of the formula set up by that original film. You might even say that all the clones that came after it such as "Cliffhanger", "Under Siege" and "Sudden Death" better understood what made that first film so refreshing than any of it's proper sequels. But the premise is only a piece of what made that original film work so well, quite possibly the single most memorable part of that first film was the character of John McClane.
He wasn't some super human cop like a Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, he didn't really have any sort of special skills beyond his simple job as a police officer. He was a normal guy, an everyman, someone that was flawed, could easily be wounded and way in over his head when faced with a dozen bad guys that only he could deal with. It wasn't just the circumstances neither, his attitude made him stand out from nearly every other action icon of the time. Often times playing games with them, verbally toying with them whenever he got the chance and genuinely acting surprised and/or excited when he beat the odds and killed another bad guy. This was a guy backed into a corner who at every turn faced almost certain death but due to his tenacity and ingenuity he was ultimately able to emerge victorious, albeit usually completely wrecked from head to toe, but still alive somehow.
The sequels then (with the possible exception of the third film) started down path of no return where McClane started to survive not only impossible situations but ludicrously over the top events such as a cockpit filled with live grenades, surfing a tidal wave atop a dump truck, surviving a fall from a bridge to a boat below, killing a helicopter with a car and driving a car into an elevator shaft and surviving. Even more telling is how he would often come out of each of these situations bloodied and bruised but still able to function somehow. That opening quote, which was taken from a trailer for the third film "Die Hard with a Vengeance", spells out perfectly the difference between the John McClane from the first film and the John McClane we have now. It never used to be about taking on everyone and everything, it used to be about him getting caught in the middle with no way out. But now he seems to look for trouble and that is just all kinds of wrong.
Now we finally come to the newest entry into the franchise, "A Good Day to Die Hard". You know you are in trouble when not only 20 minutes into the film there is a 10 minute long car chase filled with impressive stunts and destruction galore and you are already checking your watch. This was clearly meant to be a showpiece of the film, where we the audience are supposed to be glued to our seats in awe of these crazy maneuvers being pulled off, "Wow, did he just drive over all those cars?!", "Oh man, did you see how many times that car flipped?!", "That exploded real good!". But instead of amazement we are left thinking, "Who are these people and why am I supposed to care?".
While restraint is no longer a word associated with the "Die Hard" name, this film could have used a little. We are literally thrown into the action with barely enough information about each of the characters to keep track of them all before being thrust into this overlong and poorly shot action sequence. It gets even worse when you attempt to put into context why McClane is even there. In an early scene we see McClane at a shooting range receive some paperwork from some other guy about McClane's son being arrested in Russia for murder. Not knowing anything other than that he heads on over to the motherland immediately to help him. How exactly was he going to do this? Was he going over there to break him out? He doesn't even speak Russian so how exactly was he going to help anyone let alone his son? He doesn't even know the circumstances of the case since the documents he was given are all in Russian!
Then when he does arrive at the courthouse, coincidentally the exact same day and exact same time his son does for his trial, there is an explosion and a group of people we don't know, since they were never properly introduced to us, invade the courthouse which eventually leads into that extended chase. McClane just so happens to be in the street as his son, Jack (Jai Courtney) is escaping and without knowing a thing about what is going on joins in on the chase navigating these foreign Russian roads like it was his hometown trying to stop the people after his son. He does realize his son was arrested for murder right? And that he is an escape fugitive right? How does he know his son isn't guilty?
Once again, this is all in the first 20 minutes! The problems only stack from there, especially when we learn that, surprise! Jack is actually an undercover CIA operative working on a case about the secrets behind the Chernobyl disaster and....who really cares? Since when do CIA agents kill someone to get arrested to break someone out of jail? On top of which, how did Jack know that some bad guys were going to attack the courthouse to allow them to escape? This all leads into what is supposed to be this buddy cop formula where McClane and his son are forced to work together and bond (oh yeah, they had a falling out about something some time ago). Note to future "Die Hard" writers, just because Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson made a good team in the third film doesn't mean that same set up will work each and every time. Much like the unfortunate pairing of Willis and Justin Long in the last film, the film never benefits from having these two working together. It's not really any of the actor's fault, this just isn't what the focal points of these films should be.
While there could have been some potential from seeing McClane work with a younger version of himself, the character of Jack is so underdeveloped and bland that together all they ever do is ilicit a long string of yawns. Their banter back and forth is beyond eye rolling, McClane is consistently saying that he is supposed to be on vacation (since when? Wasn't he there to get his son out of jail?) whenever they get into a firefight and Jack is saddled with such memorable lines as, "That's what you do right? Kill the bad guys?". Even Jack's assessment of how his father somehow managed to ruin his extraction plans makes no sense, the couple of scenes we get of what appears to be a military command center and a drone flying over head during that initial car chase is completely confounding as to how anything got messed up beyond Jack being a couple of minutes behind schedule. Oh and Jack is really bad at his job as well which only contributes to the many problems.
Then there is that super human John McClane. He really is no longer in fear of dying. Often times throwing himself into situations that would have left the 1988 version of McClane lying dead on the floor, he just doesn't give a s**t. He doesn't even let lethal doses of radiation hurt him. Seriously, there comes a moment when John and Jack make their way to Chernobyl and while the bad guys are wearing these fairly major radiation suits, McClane and his son run around the place like nothing. A dose of radiation to McClane is like a breeze of fresh air to the rest of us. Radiation can kiss his a**! This is not the McClane we watch these movies for, this is some sort of mutated version of what director John Moore "thinks" we want McClane to be like and he couldn't be any further off the mark if he tried.
The bad guys in each successive film in the series have also become less and less interesting but this one takes the cake for the most bland villain in any of the "Die Hard" movies. His one stand out feature is that he dances...really? At one point McClane even refers to him as the dancer! No bulls**t. Then in classic "Die Hard" fashion (and one of the only times there is a reference to other films), there is a double cross that takes place that shifts our perspective of who the bad guys really are and what they have been wanting all along. This is problematic though simply because that reveal comes during the final 15 minutes of the film and instead of that twist adding something interesting to the already dull story, it is introduced and dealt with in a matter of minutes (which was merciful in hindsight).
This is not only the worst "Die Hard" movie out of them all, but it isn't even a good action movie. While the production costs for many of the action set pieces were clearly high, they served no real purpose other than to see things get blown up or otherwise destroyed. The limp story, countless plot holes and severely underdeveloped characters all combine to make one of the worst movies of the year, and there have been some pretty bad ones already by this point. This series needs to end, the proverbial cow has been milked to hell and back and it is time for it to come to a close. If Bruce Willis wants to continue making bad action movies then so be it. Just don't drag the good name of John McClane and "Die Hard" through the mud in the process. This is certainly a good day for this franchise to die hard.