A Good Day to Die Hard. Or Die Hard 5, as I shall refer to it for the rest of this review, due to how awful that title truly is, could have been a daft and highly energetic action movie. Somehow, the marketing heads at Fox did manage to make this film look utterly bonkers, by no means a Die Hard flick, but perhaps that could be forgiven if director John Moore (Max Payne) delivered a gloriously entertaining action picture with an empowering energy. I, perhaps naively, remained optimistic about the latest installment in what has been one of my favourite action franchises for many years. So much so, that I went to a Die Hard marathon at the BFI I-MAX to watch the previous four installments before the midnight premiere of this latest installment. Revisiting the first four movies was huge fun, and only heightened my excitement for this installment. But that enthusiasm was not to be rewarded. Instead, we have been given a film so far removed from the Die Hard franchise that the title can only be deemed as non sequential; John McClane as we know him is no where to be seen, and what we have is a barely passable action movie. That just so happens to star Bruce Willis.
McClane is concerned about the whereabouts of his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney), for reasons that are never quite explained to us. Upon learning that his son is about to go to trial for the attempted murder of a politician in Russia, the New York Detective absconds to the East to help his son in whatever way he can and repair their broken relationship. Almost as soon as he arrives however, he finds himself embroiled in espionage and corrupt Russian politics when he discovers that Jack is in fact a spy for the CIA, who has been undercover for the past three years. With no other choice but to let his father assist him, John and Jack team up to protect Yuri Komarov, a political prisoner who knows the whereabouts of a very important file. Weapons grade uranium and Chernobyl are thrown in for good measure.
The initial problem with this entry in the storied franchise is its choice of location. Each Die Hard movie has, it’s fair to say, increased the scale of the danger; we went from a tower in LA to an Airport, to New York to the entire United States itself. Quite where they could go was a problem, and although I am an advocate of Die Hard 4.0, I will be the first to admit that the scale was a step too far, and the action became ludicrous in the last 20 minutes. Now, the smart option would have been to take on board the criticisms that Len Wiseman’s film received and scale down the next entry to a simpler framework and allow inventive action, witty dialogue and character to shine through like the good old days of 1988. But no. Instead, the horrific screenwriter Skip Woods (a man who I cannot believe is still working in Hollywood to this day) has taken the action to Russia, and rather then take note of the weaker points of the previous installment, it would appear Woods has only expanded them to such a level that it is hard to distinguish this movie as a Die Hard entry. Gone is the social context, witty dialogue, clever one liners, tension between characters, a decently constructed villain, and there is no regard for the characters past, particularly a certain Mr. McClane.
We no longer have the everyman we could relate to in risky situations. The character has become a cartoon pastiche of what he once stood for, with equally cartoonish villains to match. Sure, by the second installment it was pretty obvious that McClane would probably never die, but his wry attitude and spontaneous nature of character is diminished here. He is somewhat neutured, predominantly due to the nail in the coffin 12A certificate; his brutal primal nature is missing in favor of a gung-ho attitude and the cursing is non-existant (the Yippe Ki Yay is so horribly staged that it is an absolute insult to the franchise). Die Hard 4.0 may have enraged certain fans, but I certainly stand by the fact that at least McClane was still there; the analogue watch in a digital age, and Willis certainly seemed to relish in returning to the character. Here though, much of what we loved about McClane is absent, and Willis’ performance shows it. His heart is just not in it, putting in a somewhat lazy performance, a huge disappointment considering that two of his previous films (Looper and Moonrise Kingdom) saw him turn in two of the better performances of his career.
This is very much the case across the whole cast; Jai Courtney is lumbered with a boring, arrogant character; Sebastian Koch hams it up along with the rest of supporting cast who resemble the film’s poor and cliched excuses for antagonists. The Die Hard franchise always seemed to pride itself on its well-developed and clearly motivated villains who were threatening enough to pose a significant threat towards McClane. Once again, this is not the case this time round, with no stable antagonist to allow for a constant sense of threat to McClane and his spy son. Woods thinly-developed characters, with the dialogue between Willis and Courtney feeling limp, contrived and uninspired where it should zip and feel alive with wit and a banterous spirit. Woods decision to set the film within a 24 hour time frame pushes logic to the limit as well as giving far too big a canvas for the character of McClane to operate in.
These shortcomings could have been redeemable if the film contained inspired action sequences, and while there is potential, the execution is simply just too poor to allow for any moments of adrenalin pumping action. There is a large scale car chase through the streets of Moscow which was shaping up to be the highlight of the movie, and while it is the film;s most exciting segment, it is also wholly disappointing. The fact that I watched it in I-MAX perhaps highlighted the ridiculously over the top hand held action more so then if I had watched the film in a standard multiplex, but it does not excuse the appalling editing. We see numerous sequences from separate angles repeatedly, the camera barely stays still, and the show-boating slow-motion sequences are undermined by quite disastrous green-screen CGI. The final act is completely undermined by incredibly ropey effects works and numerous sequences occurring all at once in an incomprehensible fashion. Quite what went wrong in the conception of the action sequences I’m not too sure, as John Moore has proven to be a more then capable hand at action in the wholly empty but visually impressive Max Payne and the stylish Omen remake. What he delivers here though is the work of a amateur; lazy editing, frantic camerawork and poorly executed effects. It certainly makes you long for the practicality of John McTiernan’s original; all angles and cinematography, in a word, style.
I certainly hope that this film does not mark the end of the Die Hard franchise, as that would frankly be a travesty. The franchise deserves a much better send off, and a sixth movie has the potential to redeem the franchise if the scale was bought back down to a one location setting with a handful of terrorists and McClane pitted against them in a manner which rather inconveniences him. With lazy references to its legacy, dialogue which was delivered much better in the cuts that were shown in the trailers, and not even one memorable one liner, with the family aspect simply feeling far too forced and cliched, and quite frankly not Die Hard. A Good Day to Die Hard certainly does mark a bad day to be a Die Hard fan, particularly when following a marathon of what has come before it. This film is not deserving of a place amongst its previous installments (yes, even number 4) and should act as a violent wake up call for Willis and Fox execs to knuckle down and give a Die Hard movie that the fans, but more importantly the character, deserves. Let’s see you take this under advisement, jerkweeds.