I was fully expecting A Good Day to Die Hard to be terrible. The last film, Live Free or Die Hard, was awful; none of the previous work of either director John Moore (Max Payne) or screenwriter Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) inspired confidence; and the trailers did nothing to convince me that the film had any chance of being good in spite of these concerns. That being said, somehow I was still excited for it. As bad as all of that sounded it was still a new adventure with John McClane, so I couldn’t help but look forward to it at least a little bit. I’m sorry to say that even with low expectations I still managed to be disappointed.
I’m going to try to recap the plot as best as possible, but that’s going to be a trick because I can barely remember what happened in the film. The plot is a nonsensical mess and nothing in the movie has any kind of narrative weight. John McLane’s son Jack kills someone in Russia, so John goes to Russia to do something… Visit him in prison, maybe? I don’t know, it’s never made clear. Anyway, Jack is a member of the CIA, I guess, and when he goes to trial with another guy who is important for some reason, the bad guys blow up the courthouse. Jack and this other guy (Wikipedia informs me that his name is Yuri Komarov) escape together with the help of the CIA, who apparently have a contingency plan incase bad guys happen to blow up a courthouse, and that’s when they run into John McClane. John, Jack, and Yuri run from the bad guys and try to acquire some kind of file that everyone wants for reasons that are never made clear. Then there’s a car chase, a handful of shoot outs, a helicopter crashes into a building, and the credits roll. Yeah…that’s all I’ve got. I’m wracking my brain here and I can barely remember any details of the plot. As bad as Live Free or Die Hard was with its silly computers=magic plot, at least it had a story you could follow. This one is just a mess that spins its wheels and doesn’t go anywhere. There was a point in the movie where the film indicated that it was wrapping up and it caught me completely off guard. “Oh,” I said to myself, “I guess this thing’s almost over. Did anything actually happen?”
In addition to not ever feeling like the film moves anywhere, it feels agonizingly long. The pacing of this film is abysmal, the action is poorly directed, none of the characters have any kind of dramatic impact, and the whole things lacks any kind of weight to keep the audience invested. I found myself counting ceiling tiles of the theater in order to maintain consciousness. Stuff happens, but none of it ever feels like it matters, and a large part of the problem is that this film, like Live Free or Die Hard fundamentally misunderstands what makes Die Hard work.
The appeal of Die Hard has always been that John McClane isn’t a hero. He’s not trying to save the world, he’s not trying to uncover mysteries or break up crime rings, he just gets caught up in situations outside of his control and has to do what he can to save himself and the people he cares about. There’s a personal stake in what’s going on, whether that be trying to save his wife from a group of terrorists who have held her work Christmas party hostage, or trying to survive a series of sadistic games from a man bent on revenge. McClane doesn’t seek out trouble because of some hero complex, he simply finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and has to rise to the occasion with his specific brand of foul mouthed sarcastic ingenuity. It’s this personal stake that lends weight and reason to the action. You’re rooting for McClane because he’s the underdog, because he has to do the best he can, even when he’s in way over his head. The intense satisfaction of McClane winning goes hand in hand with the visceral pain he has to go through. In A Good Day to Die Hard there’s no stakes, there’s no visceral pain; McClane just glides through most of the action unscathed. Long gone is the man who had to walk barefoot across broken glass to save himself and a tower of hostages. The movie even verbalizes this confusion with an actual line of dialogue to the effect of “do you go looking for trouble or does it just find you?” A basic understanding of Die Hard would tell you that it should be definitively the latter.
John McClane is also troublingly reckless in this one. One of the greatest moments of characterization came in the first Die Hard when he was legitimately concerned for the safety of Harry Ellis despite the fact that he’s more or less a complete stranger and kind of an egotistical jerk. He’s still an innocent and McClane doesn’t want him to end up as collateral damage. In this film, though, there are several instances where John McClane puts innocent lives in danger with a completely reckless abandon, and it feels wrong. It feels like a betrayal of that character. In Die Hard With a Vengeance McClane speeds through Central Park, but makes sure not to hit any pedestrians, in A Good Day to Die Hard he ploughs through other cars with his truck seemingly without a second thought.
The movie isn’t concerned about why anything is happening as long as stuff is blowing up and McClane is swearing, which brings me to another point. Much has been made of the fact that this film received an R rating in contrast to the studio mandated PG-13 of the last film. Die Hardneeds an R rating, the language and the extreme violence are part of the very identity of the series, and the fact that the last film’s hands were tied by a lower rating was one of the reasons it felt wrong (although, far from the only reason). That being said, this film barely earns its R rating. There’s a couple spurts of CG blood that look terrible, and John McClane gets to say “fuck” a few times, and that’s it. If the MPAA weren’t so strict regarding language this would be a PG-13 movie. It’s far removed from the grit and intensity that Die Hard is known for.
In the end there’s nothing in this worth seeing. It’s a boring nonsensical mess of a movie. It’s hard to even talk about because as I’m writing this review I’m struggling to remember the finer details of a film I watched a mere 17 hours ago. There’s no substance to it, there’s no fun, there’s no intensity, it’s just the worst type of bland corporate filmmaking. I can’t even manage to be angry about it. It’s just a massive waste of time.