The fifth Die Hard sequel is objectively bad. There is no getting around it. Aside from having the words Die Hard in the title and Bruce Willis playing a character named John McClane, there is nothing in it that resembles the original movie, which remains the Greatest Action Film of All Time. But it's being called the worst movie of the year and one of the worst action movies ever made, and it's not. I haven't seen Live Free or Die Hard in a while, but this one didn't seem that much worse.
(At this point, I refer you to Adam Riske's column; he is better equipped to compare each installment, having just sat through all five of them consecutively.)
This installment finds McClane heading to Russia to track down his son Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for shooting a guy in a sequence that makes no sense but really is (SPOILER) a spy trying to get close to political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who is being targeted by his former parter, a bigshot Russian official who wants a secret file. What's that? Galactic Trade Federation, you say? Within minutes of touching down in Russia, McClane is embroiled in armored car chases, machine gun battles, terrorist plots and even a trip to Chernobyl. Because the movie is set in Russia, and screenwriter Skip Woods knows exactly one thing about Russia.
This is lost in bad dialogue, lazy performances, mostly-terrible action directing (seriously, the climax plays out a) in front of obvious green screens and b) entirely in slow motion...IT IS ENDLESS) and non-existent characterization that ruins the things we love about John McClane. He is no longer reluctantly involved or forced into action. He literally picks up a machine gun at the drop of a hat and starts shooting everyone in sight. He is no longer trying to keep bystanders safe and limit civilian casualties; more innocent people are wantonly murdered during McClane's destructive armored car rampage than the entire planeload of bad guys he blew up in Die Hard 2. No attempt is even made to have McClane be an actual character, who is now nothing more than the sum total of Bruce Willis and shitty one-liners. All of the heavy lifting has been done by previous Die Hard movies, so Good Day doesn't feel the need to give McClane a single character trait besides "kind of regretful." Mostly, he's just an asshole and a bully now, running around shouting at THE RUSSIANS IN RUSSIA that they're stupid for not knowing he doesn't understand them. McClane was a smartass. A Good Day to Die Hard turns him into a fucking dick.
The thing is, A Good Day to Die Hard didn't have to be bad. First things first, don't hire Max Payne as the director or Skip Woods to write. No duh. (John McTiernan > Renny Harlin > Len Wiseman > Max Payne.) Don't team him up with his son. Also, maybe don't set the movie in Russia. I'm actually pretty positive that the whole reason for this "creative" decision was because someone thought up "Yippee-ki-yay, Mother Russia" and reverse engineered a terrible script from there (also, don't worry -- aside from a few establishing shots, it's very obvious that the movie was not shot in Russia; Hungary stands in). But even with the son, even with Russia, there's a way to make it work. Don't team them up. Have the movie be about McClane rescuing his son from a bad situation in Russia. It would give him a purpose. A reason for the action besides just this current incarnation of "Yeah, I'm here in Russia, I'll help you kill people." It would also allow the series to evolve -- he started out as the guy who went into action because nobody else could, but now could be the guy who goes into action because nobody else would.
Maybe it's too much to ask that A Good Day to Die Hard retain anything that was once great about Die Hard (and before I get accused of being too precious about the series, let me reiterate what Adam Riske said in his Die Hard marathon writeup: we're really talking about one perfect movie, one decent one and three subsequent messes). It's not a matter of suspending disbelief; that went out the window a long time ago, when we were forced to accept that one New York cop continues to find himself in these situations (which at least Die Hard 2, a movie that's getting unfairly shit on a LOT in recent weeks, tries to acknowledge). Trouble keeps finding John McClane. Got it. The problem with the sequels isn't that they keep repeating the same scenario. The problem is that they abandon what made Die Hard special: the character of John McClane. Also, the intelligence. Because this movie is very, very, VERY stupid.
There's a beat that could have almost been good ( --Patrick Bromley, F This Movie!) right before the big action climax. McClane is about to do something completely reckless and possibly suicidal (only we know it won't be, because he does not die easy). Right before he does so, he says "The shit we do for our kids!" Ok, not great, but I'll take it. Not only is the line in keeping with trying to couch A Good Day to Die Hard in the McClane-as-father context -- it's essentially the thesis statement of the movie -- but it's trying to do something unique inasmuch as it gives him a new one-liner. Then, seconds later, he says "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!" and that infinitesimal bit of goodwill turns to poo. Screenwriter Skip Woods is so determined to make A Good Day such a "greatest hits" for Die Hard that he shoehorns in any and every goddamn reference he can, even when it makes no sense.
Think about the logic of this: why would McClane say that? It was something he tossed away once 25 years ago, and it was in response to being called a "cowboy." See? It made sense. We, the movie audience, have quoted the line for years, and so it has lived on in pop culture. McClane the fictional character is not aware of the line's longevity. So why does he keep going back to it? Did he really decide, in the days after thwarting common thieves (sorry...exceptional thieves) at Nakatomi Plaza, that he was pretty proud of that line? "Shit, do my feet hurt. In fact, everything on my body hurts. But remember when I said that "yippee-ki-yay" thing to Hans Gruber? That was pretty funny. I'm going to use that should I ever find myself in a similar situation! Ow. My feet." Yes, I know that this is a sin committed by several other Die Hard movies (except for Live Free or Die Hard, where he stops himself from saying any dirty words and just says "Yippee-ki-yay, mother!"), but now seems like the right time to talk about it.
There's another scene that stood a chance at being not the worst. I think I can say this without it being considered a spoiler, but at one point Jack McClane sustains an injury (SHHHHHHH -- NA NA NA NA NA I CAN'T HEAR YOU). Here's a great opportunity for John to show genuine concern for his kid. It could have been a nice moment of real emotion, as opposed to the forced beats of reconciliatory dialogue that are jammed in elsewhere. Instead, the movie is incapable of dropping the lazy banter and wiseass tone for TWO SECONDS, opting to have McClane just make fun of his injured son and call him a pussy. This does not seem like the way to get back into someone's good graces. McClane was once a flawed but noble and decent man. Now he's just an asshole who's way more concerned with always being cool. And if there's one thing I don't like in my action heroes, it's their need to always be cool.
The dynamic between McLanes Senior and Junior is supposed to be the driving force of the movie. I guess that it is, even though it's absolute garbage. This is a movie with basically two scenes: big, dumb, destruction setpiece, and badly-written bickering in which the son complains about the father doing a bad job raising him (he worked too much, I guess, so it makes sense that Jack would join the CIA and follow in the EXACT SAME FOOTSTEPS). One moment, in which Jack overhears a heart to heart between McClane and Kamarov, is so tone deaf and embarrassing it belongs on an episode of Full House, not in a movie with the words DIE HARD in the title. These are all bad scenes, but they're the ones that come closest to giving the movie its own identity.
The Big Three action stars -- Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis -- have all released movies in the last month. That's a good thing. The dark side of it is that A Good Day to Die Hard is considerably worse than both Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand, but it's going to make way, way more money than those movies. Part of that is because Bruce Willis is still more of a movie star than Stallone or Schwarzenegger. A much bigger part is because of the Die Hard name. Well, the joke's on you, America: A Good Day to Die Hard is Die Hard in name only.
Bruce Willis has already said there's going to be a Die Hard 6. Here's a thought: don't do that. People already resent what you've done to the legacy of this series. You have nothing to gain. Better yet, take whatever script you get for Die Hard 6, change the name of the main character and don't call it Die Hard. Make it seem like an original action movie. Even if it sucks, we won't hate it as much.
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