A Good Day To Die Hard is not among the very worst action films I have ever seen – nor is it even the worst movie opening in theatres today – but as lazy, forgettable, utterly soulless Hollywood filmmaking goes, this is a particularly depressing exercise in banality. Whatever the film wishes to call itself, it is not a Die Hard movie, in any way, shape, or form, not only bearing no conceivable resemblance to the original 1988 film, but standing many worlds away from the franchise’s fourth and most recent entry, Live Free or Die Hard. It is something else entirely, something ugly and crass and uncomfortably mean-spirited, and while I am sure it will leave my thoughts for good only a short while after finishing this review, for the moment, I feel utterly sad and disheartened by how far this once entertaining series has fallen.
I am sure many viewers will feel the same way. Die Hard is not one of the great modern franchises, and never has been, but I believe the name still bears significance to a large number of fans. The original is rightly regarded as one of the all-time great action films, a flawless and memorable shot of cinematic adrenaline that endures all these years later, and while none of the sequels are great, each one manages to recapture at least some of the pleasures of the original, while films 3 and 4 added some compelling new elements to the mix. There is little that connects these films beyond Bruce Willis and some familiar narrative quirks, but over four features, the Die Hard films have been reliably exciting, stylish, funny, and endearingly lighthearted, and that is enough to make the series, up to now at least, a respectable creative success.
A Good Day To Die Hard misses the mark in every possible way, even considering how loose the requirements for a Die Hard movie are. All traces of humor, wit, and even basic visual coherency have been left bloodied and battered by the wayside, the only identifiable series trait being Bruce Willis’ presence. The film is a nasty, brutal piece of violence glorification, utterly fetishistic towards its own carnage and reveling in mass amount of gunfire, slaughter, and property destruction without a hint of the fun, cartoonish spirit that defined the previous films.
I am absolutely baffled and turned off by every narrative decision made, from John McClane’s son Jack (Jai Courtney) being a CIA Agent to the larger story inexplicably tying into the Chernobyl disaster. The story is an overly complex mess of exposition, thoughtless character choices, and massively distracting plot holes; it all starts from the relatively simple premise of McClane flying to Moscow to save his imprisoned son, but quickly spirals out of control as political conspiracies and CIA operations take the central narrative stage. Every Die Hard film sees McClane getting involved in something much bigger than himself, but here, the entire story is built to make him feel like a small, useless cog in a much larger machine, a cog that only makes matters worse because of his unnecessary presence.
Moving the action to Russia in the first place is a stupid, desperate attention grab, one that only serves to make the action uglier and the tone unpleasant. That is not to say Russia itself is any of these things – countless talented filmmakers have made beautiful works of art set in the country – but A Good Day To Die Hard is interested only in playing off residual, out-of-touch cold war paranoia. The Russian characters are bad because they are Russian, and that is as far as their character development or motivation goes. The attitude carries over to the aesthetics, where every inch of Moscow is illustrated through dark, shadowy greys and grimy, run-down sets. The film trades in on outdated cultural fear-mongering to create a poorly manufactured sense of danger, similar to how the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games employ Russian villains only because they are easy targets.
In fact, much of A Good Day To Die Hard plays like a bad Call of Duty title, treating violence with the same ‘gritty,’ over-the-top, masturbatory attitude as recent entries in the video game series. Where Die Hard films previously featured many different kinds of set pieces and focused on McClane’s wit and strategy rather than brute strength, every action sequence here is effectively identical: Powerful, military-grade rapid-fire weapons are collected, McClane and son mow down dozens of Russians without remorse or pity, and then the laws of physics are ignored for a big, slow-motion jump out a window and down dozens of stories.
Even ignoring the fact that McClane, a police officer, would have no training whatsoever in using such overpowered assault rifles, it is disturbing to see a typically lighthearted, humorous character engage in such thoughtless, brutal massacre. A Good Day To Die Hard is not a graphically violent movie by and large, but the sheer number of bullets fired and amount of people killed is immediately deadening, even though the film clearly expects us to get a kick out of McClane’s sudden-onset sociopathy.
This is never what Die Hard has been about. Gritty, militaristic warfare is about as far as one can get from the action featured in previous films, and even on the one occasion A Good Day To Die Hard breaks its shoot-em-up formula, in an early, overlong car chase, the results feel inappropriate to the nature of the series. The choices McClane makes in said car chase are completely, utterly baffling, crazy and reckless without a hint of logic or reasoning, and render the entire sequence limp.
Not that any of the action in the film ever had a chance of being truly ‘satisfying.’ John Moore is a thoroughly terrible director, as his resume – which includes Behind Enemy Lines, the useless Omen remake, and Max Payne – clearly proves, and a spectacularly stupid choice to direct a Die Hard movie. This is probably the best-made film of his career, but it is still wildly deficient, with rapid-fire attention-deficit editing and deplorable handheld cinematography. The camera never stops moving, even in calm exchanges of dialogue, and during action sequences, all sense of place or temporal coherency is thrown out the window. The car chase is the worst offender, as Moore’s wretched camerawork and sub-amateur editing makes it impossible to tell which driver is which, where the characters are heading, how far they have travelled, etc.
Moore’s work is awful, but he gets no help from Skip Woods’ abysmal screenplay, a quick cash-in hack job that cannot bother to make sense or deliver a single line of honest, organic pathos. Its handle on the characters is nonexistent, stranding Willis and Courtney with unworkable material. I have no idea how the latter might have fared in a better Die Hard movie – Courtney has only one or two notes to play throughout, and suffers accordingly – but we know what Bruce Willis can do in this part, and it is an utter shame to see him summon such little energy or enthusiasm. He too is constrained by the script, of course, which largely forgets McClane’s wise-cracking roots, but Willis was also an active creative force on the film, which only exists due to his willingness to do more with the franchise.
Willis is a smart guy, and I still respect the hell out of him, but I cannot for the life of me understand why he would participate in a project as misguided as this. A Good Day To Die Hard is an irredeemably bad movie, compounding its endless frustrations by having the gall to tie itself to its truly enjoyable predecessors. I cannot recommend the film to anyone, even the most loyal of Die Hard fans; it is an entirely worthless sequel, and as much as I personally liked the series’ modern day revival with Live Free or Die Hard, even I am more than ready to see this franchise permanently put out to pasture. After this film, it would be an act of mercy.