A Good Day to Die Hard
Will the Real McClane Please Stand Up
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
Review written by Tom Bevis
Alright, let me start right off the bat by saying I love Die Hard.
Die Hard is one of those quick action movie franchises that was loud enough, big enough, bright enough, and suddenly funny enough for me to really dig when I was a kid. Mind you, I wasn’t even a year old when the first one hit theaters, I must’ve been three years old or so when the second one came around, but I remember seeing Die Hard with a Vengeance in theaters against my mother’s wishes. I prepared for the worst when she found the folded ticket stub in the pocket of my jeans while doing laundry.
What? I was, like, eight years old or something. If you got a problem with my mom doing my laundry when I was eight, write a letter, and address it to All of America.
But anyway, instead of the rapid fury of rage I was expecting, I was bombarded with questions about the movie instead, and in the midst of the discussion – as much of a discussion as an adult can have with an eight-year-old, anyway – she forgot she was supposed to be mad, and I forgot I was supposed to be scared of her being mad. Thus begins a lifetime of seeing movies my mother tells me specifically not to see.
The point I’m trying to get at, though, is that this is a franchise that is embedded in my childhood. From sneaking out to see it with friends after being told not to, to hanging out in the back room of a comic book store my mom worked at, watching the first two installments on VHS, to watching and reviewing Live Free or Die Hard in 2007, this is a franchise that has impacted my movie-viewing preferences from a very early age and progressed, in one form or another, into adulthood.
Now, that’s why it’s tough for me to say that A Good Day to Die Hard kinda sucks.
Kinda sucks? No, it really sucks. It’s not good. It wasn’t fun, and it was unfathomably disappointing.
Okay, okay. I’ll admit that I may be evaluating this from a somewhat biased position, given the franchise’s apparent impact on my background as a movie-goer. Let me start from the beginning. I’m talking with my pal, Fritz Champagne, in the auditorium when the lights fade. Anticipation is thick, hopes are high, everyone’s happy and feeling good, even though the theater refused to turn the air-conditioning on. The movie kicks off (and it kicks off pretty quickly, I might add). The first thing I notice is it’s missing the gritty-yet-playful atmosphere present in each and every Die Hard film to date.
And that’s what I can chalk the entire movie up to. It doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie. At best, it plays like a poorly-written Die Hard fan fiction. Most of the time, it seems like it could have been any other action movie at all. And not a very good one at that. All the things that would have made it seem (at the very least) like a Die Hard movie seemed thrown in at last minute as an afterthought. This includes weak throwbacks to earlier films (the bad guy hates Americans, he says, “especially cowboys”), scenes that attempt to homage the franchise’s flagship production – even the signature John McClane tagline (“Yippee-ki-yay, motherf******”) seemed forced and out of place.
This seems important, so I’ll talk about this right away. It’s important to understand that Die Hard worked so well initially because John McClane seemed like a normal guy. That’s what makes the whole cowboy-yippee-ki-yay thing so funny, because, really, he isn’t that kind of person. Then there are a bunch of things that lent to the charm and instant success of Die Hard: the fact that Willis’ McClane is running around with no shoes (establishing a trend for quasi-episodic gimmicks within the franchise), Willis’ signature smirk, and the low-key everyman humor. Yeah, John McClane, as a character, was kind of a clown first and an action hero second (a reluctant one as that, evidenced by his “I hope I don’t die” quip during the famous fire hose scene).
Most of these carried on into the sequels. The comedy, the gimmicks (the sweater in Die Hard 2, his hangover in Die Hard With a Vengeance, his hatred for technology in Live Free or Die Hard), his likability and believability as an everyman. In each of the four earlier films, he still seems like a sloppy combatant, incompetent at high-speed chases, relying more on luck than actual skill. This is the McClane we love, the person we can relate to and, somehow, project ourselves onto somehow.
Now, let me tell you how to make A Good Day to Die Hard. All that stuff that makes a Die Hard movie, the stuff I listed above, okay, take that, crumple it up, and flush it down a toilet. Seriously, pretend like you’ve never seen a Die Hard movie before. Cast a name that’s recognizable to get asses in the seats yet new enough to still be affordable, buy a half-assed script, hire a half-assed director, and you’ve done it!
Here’s A Good Day to Die Hard:
The trademark humor is gone.
Willis’ smirk is gone.
McClane is a war machine.
Seriously. Nothing here plays out like you’d imagine a Die Hard film to. In one scene, McClane is instantly recognized by a CIA operative. Y’know, because he’s so high key and such an interesting asset. Oh yeah, did I mention, there’s some serious spy warfare going on in this movie? There’s very little comedy in this whatsoever. McClane has gone from the clowning, reluctant hero to a brooding, determined mankiller who’s clearly just too legit to quit (read: he’s taking himself way too seriously, which seems to be the antithesis of McClane).
I blame much of this on the script and the writer(s)’s lack of understanding of the franchise. But even if it were any other action movie, the direction, some of the performances, and the out-of-this-world story are too much to take. The whole film moves like a jaunty state-fair-grade dark ride, going from scene to scene the way an automated cart would move from room to room. This movie consists of four or five: one that includes a perfectly executed car chase that sees McClane flipping cars, driving over semi trucks in traffic, and more, one that involves weapons-grade uranium, and one that involves a CIA-laden shootout.
Even the long-tradition of episodic gimmicks is relatively absent here, making an appearance about halfway through the movie (as if, weeks after shooting began the director realized they needed a hangover or lack or shoes to relate to the earlier films) in the guise of McClane complaining that he’s supposed to be on vacation. At least they didn’t go with the Danny Glover ala Lethal Weapon Whatever fallback “I’m too old for this.”
It hurts my heart to say this is a terrible Die Hard movie, but that’s inaccurate. It’s not a Die Hard movie. It’s a bunch of rich people making a very expensive piece of fanfiction. Imagine the Lethal Weapon 5 production from that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with an astronomical budget and real people attached to it. Surprisingly, I have a feeling Mac and Dennis’ Lethal Weapon 5 was a better movie than A Good Day to Die Hard.