Director: John Moore
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
In the 1980s Hollywood was overtaken by blockbuster fever, and a major beneficiary of the studios’ quest for the perfect high concept franchise was the action movie. The 1980s saw action cinema at the peak of its prominence. Films like The Terminator, Predator and the Rambo trilogy had made Schwarzenegger and Stallone among the biggest stars on the planet. But arguably the best movie to come out of the 1980s action cinema was John McTiernan’s Die Hard. Released in 1988 it propelled Bruce Willis into mega-stardom and really raised the bar in terms of quality for action movies. It introduced a blue-print which would be followed by big and loud Hollywood action movie from then on, the one-man army. We were introduced to John McClane, an engaging and charismatic hero, a modern American cowboy who was never short of a witty wise-crack (it is interesting to see the way that McClane’s trademark “yippee-ki-yay motherfucker” starts out with a context, coming out of villain Hans Gruber’s suggestion that he is just playing cowboy, and as the series goes on it is reduced to a simple catchphrase). That hero was then placed in story with a simple but effective premise. He just happened to be in the building that was taken over by terrorists. That building then becomes a labyrinth in which a game of cat-and-mouse can take place. The original Die Hard is a legitimately great movie.
While the sequels released over the 25 years since have steadily declined in quality, the character of John McClane remains, and it is the audience’s goodwill towards this character which keeps them coming back, each time hoping against hope that this one will be better than the previous slightly underwhelming sequel. Unfortunately, this is where A Good Day to Die Hard really drops the ball. In Skip Woods’ screenplay, John McClane is practically reduced to a supporting character in his own movie. The film sees McClane travel to Moscow in order to bring home his estranged son, Jack, who he discovers has been arrested. However, it turns out that his son is actually a CIA agent on a covert mission to rescue a prisoner named Komorov who knows some rather damning information about a Russian politician. After Jack breaks Komorov out, McClane joins his less charismatic son on his mission, and spends most of the remaining screentime following his son around. As a result, the one-man-army which had been the central structure of the previous four Die Hard films is not in place here.
So rarely has a good sequel ever been built around the introduction of a child for our hero. It was worked fine in Live Free or Die Hard (known in some countries as Die Hard 4.0), where the introduced child was his daughter, who mainly served as a motivation for our hero. She was the thing he needed to rescue. But introducing a child to serve as the next generation of hero only ever seems to frustrate audiences, yet lazy writers continue to go back to that well.
Of course, the other staple of the Die Hard series is explosive action, and that is still very much present. John Moore makes sure he gives his audience the requisite amount of carnage, with a major car chase, some quite impressive sequences with a helicopter, and lots and lots of guns. Some of the action sequences do employ digitally generated shots, which can be slightly jarring, not because they are poorly executed, simply that they are stylistically inconsistent with the aesthetic of the other films in the series.
I so badly wanted this movie to be good, or at least good enough, but while it had its moments and there is plenty for the fan of large-scale, explosive action, only the most blindly devoted Die Hard fan will be really satisfied with this one.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean