A Good Day to Die Hard sees John McClane (Bruce Willis) heading to Moscow to help out his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is seemingly headed for prison due to some brazen criminal acts. Little does McClane know, his son is actually a CIA operative who is trying to sneak a convict named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) out of harm’s way before his ex-partner (and current political leader) Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) can get to him.
When John inadvertently blows Jack’s operation out of the water, it’s up to both McClane boys to put aside their differences long enough to evade Chagarin’s thug Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), his band of killers, and get the evidence against Chagarin that Komarov is protecting. Once they have that evidence in hand, they can do what McClanes do best: Kill a whole bunch bad guys.
There’s a point at which any long-running franchise begins to fall into the realm of self-parody, and for the Die Hard franchise, this fifth installment officially marks that point. Through a combination of a thin story, even thinner characters, terrible dialogue, spastic, murky filming and outrageously cartoonish violence and stunts, the title of this film - A Good Day to Die Hard - is not just a name, it’s a proclamation that this series is now ready for the graveyard.
Indeed, without the presence of Willis’ iconic character, the film would be a forgettable B-movie action flick. With Willis in it, the appeal is obviously greater – though the experience of actually seeing McClane back onscreen is decidedly less so. Whereas the previous installment had fun with the fact that John McClane is a hero of a bygone era, A Good Day to Die Hard is more content with reducing the iconic character to a generic machismo bad guy-killing machine – one who is so used to this crazy routine that he is impervious to pain, emotion, vulnerability and really anything besides biting sarcasm and cheesy one-liners. That’s all to say: If you didn’t already know the character’s name, it’d be hard to tell this was, in fact, still John McClane (as opposed to, say, Frank Moses, the protagonist from Willis’ other popular action franchise, RED).
Willis himself seems to be going through the motions (read: a paycheck), unconcerned with probing the character for new depth or insight (if there is even any left to find). Most of his screen time NOT mowing down enemies with a stoic look on his face is spent poking and prodding at Jack in a way that’s more drill-sergeant than concerned father. Not exactly the makings of a strong emotional core, but at least Willis seems to be having fun with all the silliness and mayhem.
Jai Courtney had a breakout role as a henchman in the Tom Cruise action/thriller Jack Reacher, and here he again shows signs of being a capable action leading man. While being handed some pretty terrible lines to deliver, Courtney nonetheless has the physicality (if not quite the charisma) to mix it up with Willis, and enough attitude to offer a few fun rebuffs to the elder actor’s expert timing and delivery. As a character, Jack is very, very, thin – and while Courtney tries to fit in some layering through inference or expression, it’s not nearly enough to make Jack a three-dimensional character – and definitely not a worthy successor to the Die Hard mantle.
The script by Skip Woods is as ridiculous as many of the other films he’s penned (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Swordfish, Hitman), and is in large part responsible for why Die Hard 5 stands as the worst in the series (so far). The movie barrels through the opening setup and exposition so fast and so poorly, it’s hard to have a sense of the ground under your feet before the explosions and mayhem kick into high-gear (and never let up thereafter). As stated, the dialogue is laughably bad to the point that I wondered if it was meant as parody. (John’s repeated utterance of the phrase “I’m on vacation!” and Jack’s repeated utterance of “Damn you, John!” certainly suggested as much…)
We tear through Moscow (where apparently there is no police force whatsoever – even when crooks start shooting up city blocks with military helicopters) before being bounced out to Chernobyl (yup) for the big, stupid, finishing act. Along the way we’re asked to leave pretty much all semblance of the real-world behind, in favor of cartoonish action fantasy and gaping holes in logic. For a franchise that has, in the past, smartly played upon the idea of law enforcement’s response to terrorism, this is a pretty far (nearly unrecognizable) departure.
Add an array of villains who are no more than nicknames with big guns (“Dancer guy,” “Blonde guy,” “Shirtless guy”) and you have a bunch of Russian actors being put to poor use. Koch’s character, Komarov, is quite possibly the only character in the piece to get a shred of depth, while Yuliya Snigir manages to hold her own as a femme fatale who can keep step with the bad boys.
In the director’s chair sits John Moore (Max Payne, Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix) who, like Woods, is known to be a craftsman of B-movie fare. Keeping things “current,” Moore chose to shoot (no pun) much of the film in frustratingly tight close-ups of his actors’ faces, and employs handheld cameras for many of the scenes and action sequences throughout. For action fans: this means you are in for an abundance of hard-to-follow, “shaky cam” antics.
There are also some laughably bad slow-motion CGI-heavy moments employed to make the McClanes seem capable of feats that belong in a superhero movie rather than a gritty action flick. By the time Willis utters his trademark catch phrase, the movie’s action has jumped the shark, strangled it, and surfed it back to shore. That’s not to say the carnage is not impressive on the most basic visceral level – but aside from a few cool moments, A Good Day to Die Hard is more loud and obnoxious than entertaining.
As if that all weren’t bad enough, Moore and Woods borrow a hefty amount of visual and narrative cues from the other films in the franchise (see if you can spot them all). The idea, I suspect, was to pay homage – but, reflected in a film of such low-caliber (pun), it comes off as nothing more than parody. In short: Die Hard 5 manages to make some of the best things about Die Hard 1 – 4 look silly.
In terms of recommendation, there’s little to say. The words “Die Hard” in the title guarantee that an audience is going to show up, regardless of critical assessment. The franchise name and leading man are the only things elevating this silly, forgettable action romp, and this is one of those cases where fans may eventually come around to pretending that Die Hard 5 never happened. No harm in that.
A Good Day to Die Hard is now playing in theaters. It is 97 minutes long and is Rated-R for violence and language and brief sexual suggestion.