Confidence in critiquing a film is often fleeting. You feel inspired to write about certain points, but are unclear of the intangible things that make a film ultimately enjoyable or flat. That’s part of the process of reviewing and being able to adequately touch on those aspects. A Good Day to Die Hard makes it easy to pick apart. The villains are flat and ultimately unworthy. The highlight of the film, a car chase showcasing an enormous military vehicle and various others through crowded Russian streets, utilizes seemingly endless camera angles to thoroughly confuse you before settling into a zany rhythm five minutes later. We are provided action sequence after action sequence, as both star Bruce Willis and his son quip about how they are just going with the flow. Indeed, that’s how the entire experience feels—you’re along for the ride as they continue to floor the pedal.
The film is setup within the first five minutes and shows you nearly every major character of interest. Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) is
locked up in Russia after attempting to protect corrupt-turned-good Komarov (Sebastian Koch). Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) is the one he is turning on, falling on the sword in the process, and Chagarin in none too pleased. When John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds out his son is somehow involved in this mess, he flies to Russia and attempts to intervene and reconnect with his son. From this point on, we are treated to a flurry of action sequences that are loosely tied together by the continual chase motif with the rare moment of pause and story insertion. The issue here isn’t even the action, though. John Moore, director of such B-grade fare as Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix, shows a flare in the action bits at times.
The story that is inserted is mostly dull and uninteresting. Right from the start, Jack and John are angry at each other. Confusion here is arranted. We are given very little as to the why until much later. You can feel the strain as Courtney and Willis attempt to fumble their way through the forced storyline. Additionally, it is often humorous to see how the franchise has warped from McClane being the man that has the courage to pull off some crazy but believable maneuvers to the present where he seems uncaring about his own mortality. At some point you feel he is going to turn to the camera and simply say, “I know I can’t die in my movie, too!” Of course John and Jack get bloodied up as the story progresses but the danger just isn’t there.
The action is the draw here, and we are quickly treated to a meat-grinder of a car chase sequence in the first 30 minutes. Jack and Komarov are in a small delivery van and are being chased by Chagarin’s thugs in an MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicle. Custom-built with a 500 horsepower Dodge Ram engine and weighing in around 8,000 pounds, this beast plows through the streets of Moscow with John chasing after them. The sequence, which took nearly two and a half months to film in Budapest as the Moscow stand-in, starts off on a poor note though. Moore has mentioned his goal was to shoot the film with only hand-held cameras to give the gritty feel that has become increasingly and frustratingly common. Additionally, Moore went wild with throwing in as many cameras as he could during the car chase.We rarely stick with one angle for more than a few seconds as the MRAP pummels cars along the street.
Sometimes, we are treated to an angle from within the car being smashed, a passing vehicle, or even buildings. This leads to a herky, jerky feel at first where it’s not so much hard to follow the action but just bothersome as a whole. One shudders to imagine how this plays out in IMAX. The beauty of these sequences is not in how many angles you can showcase—it’s in the stunts themselves. A few quick cuts between the action and the interior of a vehicle can help give you a sense of urgency and intensity, but there comes a point of diminishing returns and Moore has found it. Thankfully, he either ran out of cameras or got tired of inter-splicing the angles because the set piece eventually settles into a rhythm. At one point John finds himself climbing over concrete drainage pipes and various luxury vehicles in his borrowed Mercedes G Wagon. He continually batters the MRAP as if his small vehicles will do any damage, but the ultimate result is one that conjured a huge gasp and applause from the audience.
Much was made about the last Die Hard outing’s PG-13 theatrical rating, and while I still have no issue with that film in its theatrical form, those that took issue with the lack of cursing and blood will be pleased to see its return for this latest adventure. We even get one triumphant “yippee-ki-yay” involving a massive Mil Mi-26 helicopter. The shame is that you get the violence and foul language but have traded it for a much sillier villain, a barely-there story, and some cringe-worthy dialogue. Additionally, the two biggest set pieces in A Good Day to Die Hard are the only truly redeeming qualities. The rest doesn’t feel like a Die Hard film, no matter how hard it tries… and try it does. The original Die Hard is still hailed as the greatest action film ever made, and this offspring, quite frankly, isn’t worthy of that namesake.