Runtime: 1 HR, 37 MIN
Director: John Moore
Writers: Skip Woods, Roderick Thorpe
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic, and Cole Hauser
Later this year the original Die Hard will celebrate its 25th anniversary. That film helped redefine the action genre and spawned countless imitators from Passenger 57, Speed, Under Siege, Air Force One, and its influence can still be seen in today’s releases (see Olympus Has Fallen). After a quarter of century of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time can John McClane spoil another terrorist plot while still thrilling audiences?
New York City Detective John McClane travels to Moscow following the arrest of his son Jack for murder. Once there he finds himself entangled in a mysterious plot involving the CIA, the Russian government, and nuclear weapons.
I have very strong feelings towards the Die Hard franchise and the original film represents the stick that I measure most action films against. I can argue the merits of the original Die Hard until I’m blue in the face, I enjoy Die Hard 2 despite its many flaws, and I firmly believe that Die Hard with a Vengeance is an underrated gem. Conversely I cannot defend Live Free or Die Hard, mostly because of its PG-13 rating which essentially neutered the film for kids. Despite being pleased that A Good Day to Die Hard is rated R its rating doesn’t solve the problems that plague the franchise’s latest entry.
This is by far the most unevenly paced film in the franchise. A Good Day to Die Hard clocks in at almost thirty minutes shorter than the next shortest Die Hard film at an alarming 97 minutes. Basic film structure operates on the three act structure but this film feels more like it’s built around a 2 ½ act structure. The second act is short and disjointed; like a large segment was removed to get to the finale faster.
Emotional investment or lack thereof is also an issue. Aside from being seen briefly in 1988’s Die Hard John McClane’s son John Jr. has only been mentioned in passing. Like in Live Free or Die Hard the audience is supposed to feel some attachment to McClane’s children. This is the second straight Die Hard where McClane reestablishes a relationship with one of his estranged children. For the growth of McClane’s character it might be necessary, but for two straight movies to use the same underlying theme to create an emotional base is pretty lazy.
Dialogue courtesy of Skip Woods’ script doesn’t initially help matters between the McClane’s either. Jai Courtney comes across too much like a brat, Willis almost seems bored, and most of their conversations in the first half of the film appear to have been assembled in the editing room because they sound so unnatural. Eventually the dialogue evens out and there’s some fun back and forth between the stars and their foes but it takes too long to reach that point. He attempts to throw some nods to the previous films into the script but he seems to get stuck between acknowledging past films and generic action writing. Worst of all, Woods uses Bruce Willis as more of an aging sidekick than an elder statesman of action.
Director John Moore is one of this film’s biggest problems. 20th Century Fox obviously has a lot of faith in him; every film Moore has made in the past twelve years has been with Fox. Moore has directed one original film (Behind Enemy Lines), two remakes (Flight of the Phoenix, The Omen), and a video game adaptation (Max Payne). None have been particularly successful with audiences or critics so one has to wonder why Fox would entrust him with the latest sequel to one of their flagship franchises.
Some eagle eyed moviegoers may notice that A Good Day to Die Hard is not presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This marks the first aspect ratio change in the franchise and it loses some of its grandeur by being presented in 1.85:1. Instead Moore continues to use his ‘signature’ style using a lot of close angle shots and gratuitous amounts of slow motion for almost every action sequence. Long gone are the meticulously framed shots from Die Hard cinematographer Jan de Bont or even coherent editing. Die Hard’s distinctive style has become completely nondescript; if the stories central character wasn’t John McClane this could be just any other action movie.
It’s not all bad news; there are a lot of things to like about A Good Day to Die Hard but they too are not without some problems. First and foremost it’s always nice to see Bruce Willis playing John McClane. It’s true that he appears to be going through the motions a bit at times but then there are times when he seems to be having a genuinely good time. The film’s villains were up to scratch, but their screen time and development were lacking. There’s a large car chase through Moscow that’s filled with practical effects and had the potential to be a very memorable sequence for the franchise, but it’s edited in such a spastic way that it loses some of its appeal.
A Good Day to Die Hard is neither a great action film nor a great Die Hard movie. It’s better than the franchises previous effort, but falls far short of the original or even Die Hard with a Vengeance. The best comparison I can make is with Die Hard 2; it’s a silly retread that has quick flashes of greatness but in the end pales in comparison to the original. Will I need to revisit A Good Day to Die Hard often? No, but I will revisit it which earns it an unenthusiastic recommendation.