NEW YORK – Bruce Willis is back as NYC cop John McClane and this time he’s taking on the Russians in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth installment in the popular “Die Hard” franchise.
Forget what you know about the earlier “Die Hard films.” This ‘Good Day’ is not the “Die Hard,” nor the John McClane that we’ve come to know since he entered Nakatomi Plaza in 1988 and took on German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). This installment is very much geared for a newer generation of movie-goers who are more accustomed to more hyper-action films. One villain even tells McClane that his earlier, cowboy ‘Reagan years’ are long over. This film certainly proves that.
The original “Die Hard” films typically found McClane in a game of cat-and-mouse, where he found himself using his wits and street-smarts to circumvent and take down the bad guys. All that crafty game-play is missing from “A Good Day to Die Hard.” This film is just chase, shoot, and be chased in return. Not much else to it. Like the earlier films, though, McClane unexpectedly finds himself in a pretty grim situation. He arrives in Russia to bring his arrested son back home, but terrorists intervene, involving him in an international espionage ring.
On the run with John Jr. and a Russian prisoner in possession of a secret file that other bad guys want, McClane has to avert guns, double-crosses and helicopters while keeping his son safe… and in line, all the while destroying Moscow at every turn until finally they reach the infamous Chernobyl disaster site.
What separates McClane from most other action heroes is that he generally is an unwilling participant in the action, and Willis plays this perfectly. He makes the character relatable and someone to root for. His snide remarks as he becomes more damaged are all part of the charm, which is Willis’ forte.
This “Die Hard” is also McClane’s bonding moment with his ostracized son, played by Jai Courtney. The two see the world very differently which should offer some fodder for good character development, but that surface is minimally scratched. The chemistry between Courtney and Willis is off, which isn’t the fault of the actors. The script by Skip Woods never gives the characters a moment to stop running and shooting to have any chemistry. Although, they do argue pretty much from the moment they meet, but not once is it believable that these two men are related. This film is comparably shorter than the other “Die Hard” films. Perhaps a few extra scenes letting father and son bond some more could have been beneficial.
“A Good Day to Die” Hard does excel with its special effects, despite being part of some of really preposterous action sequences. A little more than ten minutes of the film is taken up by a car chase that stretches the definition of suspension of disbelief. But the effects are some of the best yet, especially the computer-generated camera work that shows Willis flung from a helicopter through a factory window. It’s a ridiculous sequence, but the visually impressive.
The main complaint: it doesn’t feel like a “Die Hard” film, but despite its many faults, “A Good Day to Die Hard” far exceeds the quality of this year’s other action films, especially those with the other ‘old-timers’ Arnold and Sly.