Why don’t they just call it Die Hard 5? After two or three films, studios start getting nervous about numbering their sequels: higher numbers might indicate a certain (lack of) quality, they think, or audiences might be turned off if they’ve missed earlier installments. Both might be true, but they’re not fooling anyone with the cutesy titling. For the next one: Life’s a Bitch and Then You Die Hard.
But there will be no sequel, a fact known to the producers behind A Good Day to Die Hard either before or during the making of the film, or at least when deciding to open the film (in the US) in the competition-less February dead zone. No, they’ve gone and killed the franchise this time around.
I took no pleasure in watching this movie, and I take no pleasure in describing it. Before catching part five, I re-watched the previous four films on Blu-ray. This is (was) an exceptional franchise: the first two films are models of how to make an action movie, and the third is on that level, too, until it bails out at the climax. The much-reviled fourth film, which ostracized fans by eschewing most of the series’ tropes, was still a thrilling ride that featured some extremely well-directed action sequences.
And now…this. I’m at a loss to compare A Good Day to Die Hard to the earlier films, which it only resembles with a few token nods (fans will be pleased, at least, that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” is retained intact after the PG-13 Live Free or Die Hard.) It feels more like the straight-to-DVD junk Willis has been making during the past few years (in between the great stuff, Looper and Moonrise Kingdom) like The Cold Light of Day.
Bruce Willis’ John McClane is no longer in the wrong place at the wrong time – he actively places himself in danger, rendering his frequent quips (“I’m on vacation!”) obsolete. In fact, he’s not even the main character this time around; son Jack McClane (played by Jai Courtney) is the central figure in all the action, with John sticking around as a sidekick.
From an office building, to an airport, to New York City, to the Eastern seaboard, to…Russia. McLane hears that his estranged son is in some kind of trouble in Moscow, so he takes a leave of absence from the force and hops aboard to the next flight out to help out.
What, exactly, is going on? That’s something you’ll be asking yourself for the first half of the movie: there’s some Russian politics, Jack shoots a guy, there’s a trial of some sort, and John shows up in Moscow. The opening of this film is flat-out awful, establishing nothing but confusion and leaving the audience to wonder if they’ve missed something.
What follows is the film’s high point, a 30-minute action sequence featuring explosions, gun battles, and an extended car chase. And yet we still know nothing: who is the guy (Sebastian Koch) John and Jack are escorting across Moscow, who is shooting at them, why. Despite the (semi-)proficiency with which the action scenes are executed, we have absolutely nothing invested in them.
About halfway through, the film stops dead in its tracks to explain – in more detail than we want at this point – exactly what’s going on. Payoff followed by setup; interesting. I usually take it as a good sign when a single writer is credited on a film like this, but not this time around: Skip Woods (The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) must have thought it was clever to present the film like this (note: belated exposition does not equal a “twist”), or he needed some narrative obfuscation to hide the generic nature of his script. Whatever the reason, this thing is a mess.
Director John Moore previously made Max Payne, and remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix. This is not his worst movie. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected great things, but Len Wiseman (Total Recall) had a similar record heading into the previous film, and delivered a surprisingly polished thriller.
A note about the action: in sharp contrast to the clean, efficient work in the previous films, it’s all about shaky-cam, fast-edit, hard-zoom Paul Greengrass Bourne-style histrionics: the sturm-und-drang suggestion of something exciting without the actual substance. And yet, considering the writing on display here, that mere suggestion of excitement is this best this Die Hard has to offer. RIP, Mr. McClane.