The fifth installment in the long-standing “Die Hard” franchise sees McClane traveling to Russia in search of his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney). What John doesn’t know, but quickly learns upon arriving, is that Jack is a CIA operative entangled in an undercover mission. A Russian scientist (Sebastian Koch), it seems, is to testify in a government corruption trial, but before he can do so he is kidnapped, rather explosively, by Russian terrorists. John McClane is dragged into the crisis, and must struggle to reconnect with his son while fighting off the Russians.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” marks a major departure from the “Die Hard” series to date, in that it takes place on foreign soil.
Unfortunately, this detracts significantly from the tone of the film.
There was something inherently satisfying in watching McClane defend America, which is lacking here. The character’s derisive sense of humor, for example, feels oddly cruel when directed at a Russian passersby on the street. The writers, hoping perhaps to play off of Willis’ advancing age, choose instead to have McClane gripe about nearly every situation he encounters — traffic jams, his son’s aloofness, CIA protocols, etc. This attempt to maintain the humorous spirit of the series instead makes the character come off as rather arrogant and unlikeable.
Much of the series’ trademark suspense is also lost because the audience is made aware of the terrorist crisis before John McClane becomes involved. Whereas previous entries thrust McClane and the viewer straight into an ongoing emergency, “A Good Day” spends its first five minutes setting up the Russian characters and implying that the scientist will soon be kidnapped. The audience no longer makes these discoveries along with McClane, and the movie is less suspenseful for it.
The film’s action sequences seem to have taken a page from some of the less-successful action films of recent years. After the terrorists destroy a courthouse and kidnap the scientist, the McClanes pursue them in a 15-minute car-chase scene which is both so disorienting as to be and frustrating. Like the chase scene in last summer’s “The Bourne Legacy,” the filmmakers employ shaky cameras, poor viewing angles and a lower frame-rate, which make the film choppy and difficult to follow. While these techniques are often used to speed up action pieces and make them seem more immediate (used successfully in “Gladiator” combat scenes), when featured for ten or fifteen minutes at a time they only give the audience a headache. Several exciting stunts and car tricks are lost in the shuffle. The film’s final set piece, a showdown at Chernobyl, scales down the camera gimmicks considerably, and as a result is very enjoyable. McClane’s iconic catchphrase is back, too, and put to good use.
What disappointed me most about “A Good Day,” however, was its characterization of John McClane. In earlier installments, McClane was a regular cop who, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, was forced to make the best of an impossible situation. Here, however, McClane is hardly afraid of anything, standing up in a room full of sniper fire (of which his allies are justly afraid) to personally gun down every single enemy soldier. Yippee-Ki-Yikes.
It’s not my intent to judge “A Good Day” solely on the merits of its predecessors, but the truth is that the “Die Hard” franchise has set many of the standards by which modern action films are judged, and it’s because they worked. Gone now is the suspense, the thrill of a homeland under attack, the immediate danger, and most importantly, gone is the raffish cop who wisecracked his way through the air vents of the Nakatomi Plaza Building. I miss him.