The original Die Hard did a lot of things very well, but one of the most remarked upon was its simplicity. Isolating the protagonist to a largely empty office building, Johh McClane spent most of the film without guns, gadgets, even shoes. Playing the game this straight let all of McClane’s accomplishments shine harder, and stacked up the stakes even more hopelessly against him.
But you don’t need simplicity for a great film. That’s surely something the filmmakers of A Good Day to Die Hard kept in mind with this fifth film in the series. This time around, McClane flys to Russia hoping to get his ne’er-do-well son (played by Jai Courtney, not great) out some trouble he’s run into. Turns out that the boy is undercover – John Jr. has become a professional at one of his Dad’s recurring hobbies – saving the world, or something like it. Both McClanes become entangled, despite their estranged relationship, on a mission to rescue a political prisoner.
Bruce Willis’ reprisal of McClane feels like little more than a cash grab. The script attempts to give him some one-liners along the lines of eruptively funny dialogue from Part One. He’s so goofy that, at one point when a bad guy starts casually eating a carrot, one can’t help but think that McClane should be eating it, just to cement his role as Bugs Bunny in this feature-length Looney Toon that redefines cartoon violence. But the humor rarely shines, especially up against a sound mix wealthy in big BCHHHHHs and FHUMMMMMMMs.
That’s a good way to break down A Good Day to Die Hard – it’s a mesh of hyperbolized action and a good nature of humor about itself. Despite being the sequel to one of the greatest action films ever, Part Five has no delusions of grandeur and never behaves with conviction of greatness. That gives it freedom to blow out 1,000 watts of pure, untouched Stupid for long stretches over a short running time. Take, for instance, a car chase that better resembles a monster truck rally than any moment of Bullitt. At points, cars are lined up literally just to be hit by a beefy security vehicle lined with enough steel to manufacture a couple dozen Prii. Eventually it nosedives into an gigantic tube of concrete, just because.
A lot of attention is poured into individual shots in A Good Day To Die Hard‘s action scenes – many of which take place while the 80s’ favorite onscreen cowboy obliterates a couple of Russian landmarks. But on the whole, these sequences are just directionless. You’ll get a montage of cool shit, but it’s so poorly assembled that there’s no clear event taking place and lacks any thrill value – though the editors deserve points for keeping all of this overstimulation from defaulting into one large headache. A lot of A Good Day to Die Hard could be a special on Fox in the 90s titled Russia’s Coolest Disasters.
Following 2007’s similarly larger-than-life Live Free or Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard was never expected to return to the series roots. And, verily, this new installment feels like a full-on embrace of the enormous, unsustainable direction the series has taken in the 21st century. As such, it’s hard to be too disappointed in this successor to the Crown. It knows how much importance its inherited, and elects to detonate all of that weight rather than even try to live up to expectations. That strategy doesn’t function like a Get Out of Jail Free card, but it does free itself up to just self-destruct.