Forget it's a Die Hard movie and you'll have more fun...
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
John McClane heads to Moscow to help out his incarcerated son. Things explode.
1988s Die Hard is, for me, the ultimate action film - so much so that it’s my go-to response whenever someone asks what my favourite feature is. The plotting is perfection, the performances top notch and everything from the lurid violence to Jan de Bont’s slick, real lens flare suffused cinematography is designed to draw you into the experience.
With a young director - John McTiernan - on top of his game and riding the crest of the post Predator wave and a part which essentially created the Bruce Willis we know today, the importance of the film can’t be overstated. These are all positive things, unless you’re trying to be a sequel to that unassailable original.
And yet here we are, 25 years and four sequels later. And we’ve had some fun moments with McClane in the intervening decades, even as the series has pulled further and further away from what made the character great in the first place.
And that change continues with the latest foray, extensively titled A Good Day to Die Hard. Which might even be worse than Live Free or Die Hard. This time around, Willis’ McClane gets more family time than ever before, becomes more invincible than most audiences will like and also gets his more enjoyable elements unfairly neutered.
Those issues aside (if you can get past them, and some fans just won’t), Die Hard 5 isn’t as bad as you might be expecting. Early reviews from the States have been wholly negative, mainly focussed on the changes to the character and tone. But as a self-contained action film there are entertaining moments to be found and enough large scale action set pieces to keep the audience from becoming too bored.
It’s often a big nonsensical, with scattershot plotting that takes McClane and his son Jack (Jai Courtney) to a variety of sounds stages just waiting to be shot to bits. Some are more engaging than others, like a lengthy car chase with plenty of refreshingly real carnage. There are moments that push the envelope of reality at least as much as Die Hard 4.0s harrier jet histrionics but the framing film is so silly it’s easy to forgive.
But this is not John McClane. Bruce Willis looks unusually tired and his quips are fired out totally at random with no regard for pacing or comic timing, often in the middle of a cacophonous gunfight. In action, he looks less distressed but whenever the film tries to push the drama things get very dull indeed. Heartfelt conversations are not what we want from a Die Hard movie, or any action movie for that matter.
It’s hard not to wonder what this might have been like as a vehicle for another star, or even a different character name. Irish director John Moore (Max Payne, Behind Enemy Lines) throws some impressive carnage around and a few stylish moments which hearken back to his commercial career. He has less affinity for the quieter moments but this is easily his most palatable film since 2004s Flight of the Phoenix.
On the rating, I watched A Good Day to Die Hard in Ireland where it has received a 15A but the version shown is the same one which was trimmed by Fox to receive a 12A in the UK. The bottom line is that the film is cut to ribbons, violence is totally subsumed, including most melee hits and squibs explode in white dust which makes the enemies all appear to be vampires. I only recall one f-bomb and that famous catchphrase is all but butchered.
Does this matter? Well yes to me it does. This is a film which was intended to be violent and regardless of the franchise expectations that means it has been mutilated in post-production. We’ve already got too many soft action films these days to start cutting those with a higher ratings for different markets. And who exactly wants a soft cut ofDie Hard outside of its home region where it was surely looking to pick up a few extra dollars.
A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t a good Die Hard film, nor is it really a good action film but if you retain the low expectations necessary going into a fifth entry in a series (unless you’re The Fast and the Furious apparently), there’s some entertainment value to be gleaned. The explosions are big; the gunfire is loud and if you strain you might be able to pick up the occasional attempt at humour. Just forget that it’s supposed to be John McClane.