A Good Day to Die Hard

Posted: March 1, 2013 in Film reviews

Directed by John Moore. Starring Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney.

Die Hard means a lot to me, occupying a special place in my heart (don’t laugh). It was one of the first films I saw at the cinema with my first girlfriend, and though I found the first fifteen minutes a bit slow (give me a break I was 18) what followed was one of the most intense, edge of my seat cinema experiences, EVER. Make no mistake, Die Hard is a seminal film within the action genre, in fact as far as I’m concerned it probably is the best action film ever made, the film that took the genre away from the muscle-bound and/or martial artists of the 80s and dumped it on the shoulders of an everyday kinda guy (a ‘comedy’ actor no less). It’s now more than 20 years since John McClane wandered into Nakatomi Plaza and took his shoes and socks off, and there have been a succession of sequels produced with varying degrees of success. With the arrival of the 5th entry in the canon, it’s time to ask the question; is it a good day to die hard?

In Moscow a political prisoner named Komarov is about to go on trial for corruption, he’s offered his freedom by a corrupt official named Chagarin, his former business partner and friend, but refuses, claiming he has a file that will see Chagarin discredited. Chagarin says he’ll never make it to court. At the same time a brash young American is arrested for attempted murder, and scheduled to appear in court alongside Komarov…

In New York John McClane discovers that his son, John Junior, “Jack”, has been arrested and is going to be put on trial. He immediately hotfoots it to Moscow where, wouldn’t you know it, he becomes embroiled in an attack on the courthouse masterminded by Chagarin, screwing up the best laid plans of a top CIA secret agent…one Jack McClane. Soon father and son are on their own in a foreign land, up to their neck in Chagarin and Komarov’s dispute. Can they survive? Will they finally bond? Will McClane get to say yippee Ki-yay Mother….er Russia?

If you imagine the answer to any of these questions might be no then obviously you’ve never seen a Die Hard film before, although in the UK at least Bruce’s signature catchphrase becomes more of a yippee Ki-yay cough cough mutter… stupid 12A certificate.

Ok, first things first. This isn’t a good Die Hard film, in fact I’m not even sure it qualifies as a good action film, and it’s a shame to see such a plodding unoriginal film bearing the Die Hard name, although in fairness out of five films only two have been classics (Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance in case you’re wondering). Still can it be that difficult to give us something that’s at least as good as Die Hard 2? Obviously not.

The most noticeable thing about A Good Day to Die Hard (aside from how poor the title is) is how workmanlike it all is, there’s no pizzazz, no flair. Aside from one odd moment of slow mo with Chagarin and a bunch of lawyers which make no real sense, this is directed like the average Steven Segal film, and not even a good Steven Segal film.
They filmed this in Moscow yet we never get a feel for the city, a place with wonderful architecture and a very different way of life. For a Die Hard film it’s unforgivable not to play up the ‘fish out of water’ elements of having John McClane in another country dealing with another culture. Aside from an amusing cab driver, Komaron and his daughter, McClane has no interaction with any Russians, well unless shooting them counts. Really you could have set this film anywhere. In the first film the tower was a character in itself, in Vengeance so was New York. This film manages to make Moscow look just like AN Other Eastern European city. Later on the action supposedly moves to Chernobyl, but again it could be anywhere, the scenes there take place at night and they could have just been in a warehouse in Manchester for all it matters.

The early car chase is atrocious; I almost had to look away at times because it was giving me motion sickness. It was a mess that made little sense, and again wasted the location. Cars driving over other cars and explosions do not in themselves equal excitement. Worse is to come, I’ve rarely seen such lingering camerawork. How long do you have to stare at Jack’s boot gun/knife before you realise IT’S IMPORTANT! (Several minutes apparently)

Cast wise there isn’t much to enjoy here. I found Jai Courtney dull, if the intention is for Jack to carry on the family business then frankly I won’t be going to see any more. He’s muscle-bound and young, and that’s about it, obviously Jack hasn’t inherited his father’s wise ass nature. If they have to do a 6th I hope they bring Lucy McClane back because I thought Mary Elizabeth Winstead dominated the screen more in 2 minutes than Courtney did in 90+. The bad guys don’t have a lot of charisma either, Komarov and his daughter are vaguely interesting, but only vaguely. Oh for an Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons to show up…

The twists and turns, and the grand scheme, once it’s revealed, add a little bit of interest, but the whole thing feels a little old fashioned, something of a throwback. Expendables 2 had the same problem, but at least it handled it better. Also various plans in this film are overly convoluted to a fault. Seriously, Jack’s plan is to shoot someone and hope he’s banged up in the courthouse next to Komarov?

Perhaps the most critical error in the whole film is the same mistake Die Hard 4.0 made, namely making John (and now John Jr) into some kind of invulnerable death machine. I can accept that McClane’s been round the block a few times now, but still…what makes the first three so good is the fact that McClane’s in over his head, which is why the Moscow setting should have been perfect. He really could have been the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time again…and I suppose he is, it just never seems much of an impediment. And where the heck are the Russian police or military, it’s like they don’t exist.

The film is peppered with little homages to previous Die Hards, yet I found no joy in them, well his ringtone was funny but that’s it, and you have to ask why he’d have that as a ring tone anyway? In a way it reminded me of Terminator 4 (only nowhere near as bad) in that it had these little moments, but they were hollow, clinical. Placed there to appease the fans, but with no real understanding of their significance. To see how to reference the past in the right way please see the 2009 Star Trek reboot.

On the plus side I thought Willis was great, considering I’d heard he looked bored throughout the film I was pleasantly surprised, I only hope he gets to make one more decent Die Hard film before he hangs up his Beretta. And in fairness this wasn’t actually as awful as I’d expected it to be, it’s mercifully short (why let talking scenes get in the way of all those explosions?) and it does at least try more than the 4th one did to return to the wrong guy/wrong place etc. motif that 4.0 seemed to ignore, it just didn’t do it very well, and for all its (many) faults, I enjoyed 4.0 at the cinema.

It’s just frustrating because with a better script, more charismatic cast, and a better director this could have been a much better film.

Must Try Harder…

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