Merry Christmas good readers, and welcome back to the Die Hard retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to cover the fifth film in the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard (ugh, stupid title). Just as a note, since the Die Hard franchise started out as a “Christmas movie” of sorts, I’ve intentionally lined up this retrospective to coincide with the holiday. I’m sure plenty of us will be watching the original tonight… I’d also like to mention that this blog is over a year old now! It actually hit that mark on December 4th, but I thought it was a little later than that. In any case, I’m glad I’ve been able to keep this thing going at a regular pace, and hopefully we can continue to do so well into 2014! Oh and thanks for reading and supporting I Choose to Stand! Anyway, I missed A Good Day to Die Hard in theaters and so went into this retrospective with a fresh view on the film. Does it live up to previous films in the franchise? Read on to find out…
Despite the financial and critical success of Live Free or Die Hard, production didn’t begin on a fifth Die Hard film until 2010. Initially, the project was known as Die Hard 24/7, leading to significant speculation that the film was to be a crossover between Die Hard and 24. Supposedly, the film would have been pretty similar, with Jack McClane being replaced with Jack Bauer. Maybe John McClane would have been on vacation in Russia, which would make some of the film we got make a bit more sense… but anyway, this was never confirmed and the film was eventually retitled to “A Good Day to Die Hard“. In any case, A Good Day is the first Die Hard film to start production as a part of the Die Hard franchise instead of another source.
Scriptwriting duties were given to Skip Woods… and his CV is a doozy. X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Hitman? Swordfish? The A-Team? His screenwriting credits read like a history of major failed blockbusters. The film was directed by John Moore, notable for such films as Max Payne, the Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen remakes and Behind Enemy Lines. While I haven’t really watched any of his films, I am told that they tend to not be very good. That said, the trailers for Max Payne had a really strong, interesting visual element, so if nothing else then hopefully he could make the film look very nice. As for the cast, Bruce Willis returns (obviously), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a small cameo as well. Playing Jack McClane, John’s estranged son, is Jai Courtney, known for Jack Reacher and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Sebastian Koch plays Komarov, an imprisoned billionare who Jack has to defend. The film also features of few villains, although only a couple are notable. Radivoje Bukvic plays Alik, the main villain though most of the film. Yuliya Snigr plays Irina, the skanky chick from the trailer who acts as Alik’s main henchwoman.
Moving on to the plot, A Good Day to Die Hard follows John McClane trying to reconnect with his son, Jack. He discovers that Jack has been imprisoned and is on trial in Moscow for attempted assassination. Travelling to Moscow to bail Jack out, he gets caught up in a terrorist plot to assassinate billionare Komarov who Jack has been assigned to protect – it turns out that Jack’s actually a CIA agent and Komarov holds information which is vital to international security. As a result, John and Jack take the fight to the terrorists and bond in the process.
If it sounds like A Good Day to Die Hard has a pretty typical set-up for the Die Hard series, you’d be dead wrong. From the opening credit sequence, A Good Day feels very “off” from how a Die Hard film’s tone usually feels. The opening sets up a self-serious political action-thriller story about how Komarov and Russian defence minister Chagarin had a falling out, and now want each other dead. Considering that this is the first film intentionally written for the franchise, it’s very odd that they didn’t nail the Die Hard tone at all. I should also mention that I honestly didn’t really understand the plot all that much. It’s not very well elaborated on or particularly interesting. Say what you will about previous Die Hard films, but at least they always kept their plots engaging and left the audience invested in what was happening – we may not always know what the villains are planning, but we have a basic grasp of what their current objectives are. A Good Day just doesn’t really seem to care all that much about plot, just stringing together action sequences willy-nilly. Funnily enough, it feels like the sort of stupid action movie I would have filmed as a kid with my brothers, only with a $92 million budget (and no, that’s not a complement).
Speaking of student filmmaking, the script really comes across as an amateur production. “Emotional” scenes are hamfisted and handled with no subtly whatsoever. Oh looky, McClane and Komarov are talking about how they wasted their time at work instead of spending it with their kids, and Jack happens to be listening in on them! How touching! Oh, or the scene where John tells Jack that he loves him, but sounds really bored while saying it. Then there’s just tons and tons of action movie tropes, such as “the bad guy wants to destroy the world just because” and the generic “trapped heroes laugh with the bad guy while they hatch an escape” trope. Actually, they pretty much ripped that last one off of Die Hard itself. In fact, I noticed quite a few moments which were clear ripoffs of the original Die Hard, such as Jack and John defeating bad guys by “shooting the glass”, one of the villains getting caught with his (metaphorical) pants down and pretending to be a good guy and the same villain looking in fear as he gets thrown off a rooftop.
On top of all of this, there are lots of just plain illogical and overly-convenient moments in the film. If you’re getting shot at by a helicopter, is your first idea to run across the room and jump out the 20th story window? Luckily for John and Jack there was something to catch their fall, or they could have done their bonding… to the pavement. Why didn’t they just head to the damn staircase? Or what about the fact that John and Jack seem to have unlimited ammunition? They obviously don’t have spare magazines/clips, since they’re picking their weapons up off of dead bad guys half the time. And then there’s the moment where John sets off an incendiary grenade which (somehow) engulfs an entire lobby, and yet because Jack hides behind a skinny pole he gets through completely unscathed. I’d also be remiss to not mention the absolutely baffling moment where Irina gets her slightly damaged helicopter back under control and then decides to ram John and Jack with it in a display of helicopter suicide. The co-pilot screams “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!”… at least I think it was the co-pilot, and not God himself every time that scene is played. Could they not have landed and then, I dunno, shot at the McClanes instead? This just reeks to me of a studio afraid to have their all-American hero kill a woman. In any case, this movie just feels like a video game… in fact, it would have been much better served as one, since the plot’s about as good as the campaign in Battlefield 4 (read: horrible, but with gameplay it could be negated).
As for the acting, the movie colossally screws this department up as well. Bruce Willis looks and sounds bored throughout the entire movie. Gone is the wit and humour of John McClane of old – in this film, John actually manages to be annoying. Seriously. He does all sorts of quips like he used to in previous Die Hard movies, but they fall flat and I end up yelling “Shut up John, no one can hear you and you’re not being funny”. Most grating of all of these is the “I’m on vacation!” line which McClane throws about as a mini-catchphrase. I think it’s supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just stupid because dammit John you’re not on vacation. Who considers “picking up my son (who has been accused of attempted assassination) from a foreign prison” a vacation?! How the hell do you screw up a Die Hard movie so badly that John McClane, a hero whose longevity has stemmed from his charisma and smart ass attitude, ends up being one of the most irritating aspects of it? In fact, I’d only say a couple of characters were passable. Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane is okay, but he has absolutely no material to work with, so I can’t really fault him. Irina’s also alright, although she ends up as little more than eye candy (funnily enough, that stripping scene from the trailer doesn’t even show up in the movie).
As for the villains, they’re easily the worst in the entire franchise. The main bad guy is Chagarin, the Russian defence minister. He basically does nothing the whole film, seemingly orchestrating an assassination on Komarov by being a political dickhead. There’s one part where I literally burst out laughing when they show him walking in a crowd in slow motion as he takes off his sunglasses and grins. The actual main bad guy is Alik, a villain who they barely even bother to give any sort of personality. He’s “supposed” to be eccentric. He “intimidates” the main characters by eating carrots and… uh… dancing in front of them. Yeah, I’m not kidding, it’s as goofy as it sounds. Plus he literally says that he “hates all the Americans”… what is this, a Cold War propaganda film? Suffice to say, Alik sucks, and is nowhere near to the villainous standard set by previous films. I just didn’t give a half a shit about him at all.
Oh wait, it turns out that the actual actual villain was Komarov all along! He was orchestrating everything that happened to break himself out of jail and then get to Chernobyl so he could steal weapons-grade uranium and sell it on the black market to terrorists! Who saw that coming!?
Oh wait, that doesn’t make a lick of sense. Remember when I said that plot conveniences just riddle this movie? Everything revolving around Komarov is basically a plot convenience. For one thing, wasn’t there an easier way to pull this sort of thing off? It seems like everyone except Alik and Chagarin were in on it, so why not just get the bad guys to break Komarov out straight away and then head to Chernobyl by yourself? Why did he have to involve the CIA and his sworn enemy in the deal (not to mention putting his daughter at risk)? Doesn’t that just complicate things, like, a lot? Didn’t he think things were getting really bad when he was getting shot at, or blazed through incoming Moscow traffic at high speeds, or when he got freaking shot? Apparently that was all part of the plan. Seriously, the whole Joker-izing of villains is just stupid and has only ever worked in The Dark Knight. Hollywood hacks and Academy Award-winning screenwriters alike – stop using the Joker as inspiration, thank you. Komarov isn’t nearly as bad as Alik, he’s just bland and the unfortunate subject of most of the scenes which rip-off the original Die Hard – which just go to illustrate how woefully he measures up to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. In fact, the only good thing about him in the movie is his death, where he’s thrown from the roof in an uninspired, rip-off manner… until he gets sucked into a helicopter’s tail rotor and evicerated. Holy crap, that was an epic, brutal death and a good send off to damn near any villain in my books.
I want to be done complaining, I really do, but there’s just so much to bitch about in this film. For one thing, John Moore decided to film the movie in shaky cam style. Now I’ll admit, he actually has some justification for using this style: “McClane is in a strange world, with little or no initial control over his environment. He’s unable to anticipate things as he normally might. He’s caught off guard, and we want the camera to mimic that surprise and confusion.” Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Action scenes get the shit shaken out of them, and even dialogue exchanges get bobbed back and forth, especially evident in close-ups. The fact that we don’t really relate to McClane in this film either just exacerbate the problem. Now I’ll admit I don’t hate shaky cam – I think it’s well-used in the Bourne films – but A Good Day to Die Hard is a bad example of the process in action. It also features slap-dash editing, mashing together images at rapid-fire rates. Hell, there’s even a conversation between Jack and John in a car where everytime one of them goes to speak, the camera angle shifts… every… single… time… one… of… them… speaks. It’s noticeably distracting. All-in-all, the movie feels outdated, like it was supposed to be released five years ago on the coattails of the successes of Bourne.
Poor editing also takes a toll on the action scenes. Early on there’s a car chase that is actually pretty good in spite of the filmmakers’ efforts to make it as incomprehensible as possible – the camera shakes like hell, the editing is full of garbled quick cuts and the shots never really cohere into a proper string of events. What happened to epic, well-choreographed sequences like the amazing car chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark? There’s also a couple moments with some misjudged editing choices in my opinion – during a couple scenes, the audio is cut out entirely. This is supposed to be a stylistic choice to make the scene more “epic” or “cool”, but it doesn’t really work… and in one instance, it actually derives the film of a chance to get the audience up to speed on what’s actually happening. There’s just a distinct lack of ambition permeating throughout the film – it’s just content to ease back and let a hundred years of action movie cliches play out on screen for 95 minutes without adding any new ideas or mining its settings for anything beyond the conventional.
It should also be noted that while it is not as over-the-top as Live Free, A Good Day is still pretty ridiculous and nowhere near realistic. If anything, John McClane is knowingly indestructible, charging in headlong without even a worry about dying. He spins out and then flips a transport truck a dozen times without sustaining a scratch and falls from great heights on a couple occasions with Jack without being killed. Hell, I don’t think John or Jack get shot once this whole movie either. Also, while this film is rated R, it’s easily the tamest film in the entire franchise. There’s barely any swearing (even less than Live Free) and the violence is pretty tame as well (well… except for the helicopter blade death I suppose, but that could probably still get by on a PG-13).
All-in-all, I can count the things I liked in A Good Day to Die Hard on one hand – the Moscow car chase was cool at times (if badly shot), the bad guy getting thrown in a propeller blade was awesome and the slo-mo exploding helicopter jump was ridiculous, but cool… and that’s it. A Good Day to Die Hard is a dull, generic B-movie… which, if you’ll remember waaaaay back to the first entry in this retrospective, is exactly what Die Hard was created to not be. A Good Day to Die Hard is a total shame worth of the scorn placed upon it.
With the shit stain that is A Good Day to Die Hard now inked on the franchise, is there any real future for John McClane? Well, yes actually. Bruce Willis wants to give the character a final send-off… and I’m hesitant at this point, but I think this actually makes sense. Look at it this way – Live Free or Die Hard began a new trilogy that I dub “The Redemption of John McClane”. The first three movies saw John’s life more or less fall apart as he constantly screws up. Since Live Free, John has been reconnecting with his estranged children and rebuilding his life. If there is another Die Hard, John has to reconnect with Holly and finally live in long-deserved peace. It looks like this is the direction the series is headed in. Remember Ben Trebilcook, who I mentioned wrote two scripts for Die Hard 4, both titled Die Hardest? Well idiotic title aside, these seem to be the basis for the sixth film in the franchise, which will see the return of Zeus Carver as well. Bruce Willis seems pretty adamant that Die Hardest (sigh…) will be the final movie for John McClane, but of course that leaves the door open for Jack and Lucy McClane to take the reins. I had the feeling that they were testing this approach during A Good Day to Die Hard, but I can’t really see it taking off – people love John McClane, they don’t really have any reason as of yet to care about Jack or Lucy on their own adventures. In any case, A Good Day to Die Hard has shaken many peoples’ faith in the franchise, so if Die Hardest were to be cancelled right now, I wouldn’t be too torn up about it.
This is how I would rank the series from best to worst:
1. Die Hard
2. Live Free or Die Hard
3. Die Hard with a Vengeance
4. Die Hard 2
5. A Good Day to Die Hard
Thanks for getting through this retrospective series and as always feel free to comment and give suggestions for future franchises for me to review! Oh and have a Merry Christmas!