Bruce Willis returns to his most iconic role as John McClane – the “real” hero with the skills and attitude to always be the last man standing. This time the take-no-prisoners cop is really in the wrong place at the wrong time after traveling to Moscow to help his estranged son Jack. With the Russian underworld in pursuit, and battling a countdown to war, the two McClanes discover that their opposing methods make them unstoppable heroes. John Moore brought his first feature film to screens with Owen Wilson starring in ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ back in 2001, since then he’s directed just three films including 2008’s ‘Max Payne’, and from there positioned himself to helm the latest instalment in the Die Hard franchise, an interesting choice for Bruce Willis and Die Hard to say the least. But here we are with no less than the fifth instalment in the Die Hard series and the pattern of escalation has continued. Beginning with a building the series has since built up to an airport, a city, a country and now it’s taken itself to an international stage with ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ occurring in Russia (we’ll have to wait and see if Die Hard 6 is set in space).
However bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and here this is certainly the case. The events in this film are strung together in a loose manner at best with a series of plot threads taking us from one scene to the next, which inevitably becomes one action scene to the next. With little time for a conversation our central characters follow a trail that is barely comprehensible from a storytelling perspective leaving a wake of destruction in their path. Other than the hunt for Russian underworld figures the film makes a couple of not so subtle attempts to draw on the themes of John McClane’s broken family life, or a changing perspective given to him with age however these are ultimately glimpses at best and never explored in an interesting way.
To keep expectations in check, immersive and complex storytelling isn’t something that a Die Hard film necessarily needs to aspire to, and isn’t something to expect. However a Die Hard film at its peak, is not a dumb film. The original ‘Die Hard’, and ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’, both represent excellent examples of action films with good characters, high impact action, and while not a complex narrative at least an engaging one with strong (albeit shallow) characters, and memorable performances from both heroes and villains. Hans Gruber for example is etched in the cinematic history of great villains, and the charismatic and villainous performance from Jeremy Irons in ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’ is not easily forgotten.
These elements are simply not prevalent here, leaving little else other than action scenes to carry almost the entire film. ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ has been excellently shot with chase scenes and fire fights joined together in an engaging and high impact manner. There are a number of set pieces that deliver visual spectacles and this is where the film delivers the most enjoyment. Even here however there’s a downside as things become so ridiculous it begins to detract from the drama of the action as well, leaving little else than some forgettable popcorn entertainment.
In terms of performances Willis returns to the character in what seems to be a disinterested fashion, the observant, street smart and inventive McClaine that we love from earlier instalments does not appear in this film. Jai Courtney however injects some much needed vitality taking on the role of John Mclaine’s son, Jack. The pair display good chemistry onscreen when they are given a chance and it really is a missed opportunity not to have more of this. With a small cast this really just leaves the film’s villains, which are a forgettable group with confused motivations, throwaway twists and actions that appear to serve little purpose other than to wrap up loose plot threads leaving nothing memorable about them.
At its best ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ delivers some entertaining but ridiculous action, and on that level is enjoyable in a popcorn ‘dumb but fun’ kind of way. But this is Die Hard, a franchise that deserves better, and has previously received better, and on that level, this instalment is a failure.
I’m giving ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ 4 out of 10 stars, it’s released in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 21st March 2013.