Just for clarification, I’m going to put out the list right here.
- Die Hard
- Die Harder
- Die Hard with a Vengeance
- Live Free or Die Hard
- A Good Day to Die Hard
Talk about quaint titles.
Die Hard was one of the first R-rated action movies I ever saw. That movie is nothing short of awesome. The film is loud, explosive, and vulgar. Bruce Willis gives the performance of a lifetime and owes his entire career to that one movie. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is probably the most memorable bad guy of the decade. Die Hard was one of the iconic films of the 80s action genre. Unlike the macho action films of that decade, starring actors like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the premise of the film is your average middle class cop taking down a group of scumbags on Christmas – not particularly different from something like Indiana Jones. And that’s why the franchise’s set-pieces have been able to get bigger and crazier with age.
But seriously – your everyday citizen (or cop) with a gun taking down a big group of baddies and their mastermind leader; we’ve seen this plenty of times, and it ultimately ends up being a word-for-word description of all the post-Training Day thrillers of Denzel Washington’s career. So why is Die Hard so much fun?
Well for one, next to Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis is probably the actor whose bombastic use of bad language is the most fun to listen to. Profanity is a hit or miss kind of thing with most movies, but there’s nothing like John McClane shamelessly embracing the cowboy persona Hans Gruber bestowed upon him by telling him: “Yippee ki-yay, motherf**ker!”
The films are also gruesome with their violence. From picking bloody shards of glass out of his bare feet to his shoulder blade getting pierced by a steel blade to shooting himself point blank in the chest to kill the bad guy, John McClane performs superhuman feats that take an extremely human toll on him. When Bruce Willis emerges from his movies battered, bruised, bludgeoned, bleeding…and also victorious, you know you’ve had fun.
Gotta love it.
The franchise has had its ups and downs. Films 1 and 3 were superb. Film 2 was good. Film 4 was only kind of decent until the unrated version came out.
And film 5 is just mediocre. It’s a very carefree and minimalist kind of movie.
It’s not terrible. It’s better than Bullet to the Head, and it’s not going to kill your nostalgia the way Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did. It does actually deliver on the action. Jai Courtney playing Jack McClane (John’s son) doesn’t have a lot of charisma in the movie, but it’s at least easy to see that he’s his father’s son. And Bruce Willis has still got it.
I’m actually going to defend the action of this movie because what you’ve probably heard elsewhere is that the stunts performed utterly absurd and impossible. But I disagree that this is what makes the movie not work. The Die Hard franchise has seen its action scenes increase in implausibility with each succeeding film. In the first film, he jumped off an exploding roof with a fire hose and crashed through the window, surviving. In the second film, he ejected himself out of an exploding cockpit. In the third film, he surfed on a truck going through a flooded sewer tunnel. In the fourth film, he blew up a helicopter with a police car (which has actually been proven doable) and then rode a spinning fighter jet to the ground. The escalation has been effective enough that we can and should expect pretty much nothing less than that.
Where the movie falls apart is in everything else. The villains seem completely contrived and given zero thought. The film can be broken down into 3 big action scenes, and that’s pretty much it. But you know you’ve screwed up when the previous PG-13 film has more swears than this rated R film. There’s really nothing memorable about the film other than those 3 action scenes, the best of which is the first one, taking place on a freeway.
It’s also really short. The other films are all 2 hours; this one is barely an hour and a half. And the other films had the good graces to take a little time in the beginning to actually establish a premise upon which to base a plot that could then foster a continuous stream of action all the way to the end. This one doesn’t bother with any of that. It’s just an action movie in Russia that has the name “Die Hard” on it, so it’s going to make money. So who cares about anything else?
That’s what feels so cheapening about this. If this were any other movie with anyone other than Bruce Willis, I’d call it an insufferable piece of trash and tell you it’s almost guaranteed to be one of the worst movies of the year. But because it’s Bruce Willis reprising his role as John McClane in a franchise I love, and doing outrageous things at the age of 57, I can’t hate it. It’s just far removed from the things that made Die Hard so much fun.
A Good Day to Die Hard is the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 of the Die Hard franchise. At least some of the things you like about the franchise is there, but this once bold franchise now stands complacent with its success and has become lazy, inconsequential, and unwilling to even try to actually be something worthwhile.
Score: 5.0 out of 10