It’s almost exactly 25 years since the original Die Hard and here we have the fifth John McClane adventure. The best way to approach the return of Bruce Willis as the New York cop who “kills a lot of bad guys” is to push the original film out of your mind. Let’s face it, action fans: John McTiernan’s 1988 film will never be matched nor topped.
Hollywood tried for years to recreate the formula, peaking with Speed (“it’s Die Hard on a bus!”) but mostly sinking to the level of Chill Factor (“it’s Die Hard on an ice cream truck!”). If, like myself, you’re among those who consider Die Hard one of the greatest action movies, then it’s best to lower your expectations right now.
Sorry, but nothing in the latest installment is as good as what happened in the Nakatomi tower, the villain is no Hans Gruber and McClane will never have a partner better than Officer Powell. Still, while not the best of the sequels, the rousing A Good Day to Die Hard is a solid, muscular action extravaganza and perfect viewing for Father’s Day.
The film has McClane flying off to Russia when he discovers his long estranged son (played by Jai Courtney) has a lengthy rap sheet and is in trouble with the local authorities. Not long after McClane’s arrival, an explosion-filled jailbreak occurs that pits father and son together; their prickly reconciliation occurs in the midst of a manhunt for a Russian fugitive (Sebastian Koch) who the McClanes struggle to keep alive.
After a few stylish introductory scenes (such as Willis’ cool opener, in which bullets literally pierce the screen), the film gets off to a cluttered, uneven start. You can feel the screenwriter forcing the premise, with the way McClane is injected into the Russian scenario coming across completely false.
We know McClane can hold his own in the midst of a Russian war zone (or anywhere else, for that matter), but the way the father/son dynamic is established, as well as pages of sub-par “you were a lousy father” dialogue, do not bode well. The film’s first big action set piece is also a bit of a problem. Director John Moore impresses by staging an enormous, bang-em-up car chase as awestruck-inducing as anything in a Fast and Furious film. Yet, the hand held cinematography and whiplash editing makes this shaky, unsteadily photographed set piece as confusing as it is thrilling.
Once the action slows down and Courtney and Willis have scenes that reinstate the familial bond at the heart of every Die Hard installment, the movie starts to work. Willis’ wearier but still cynical take on McClane is always a joy to watch and Courtney is well cast and endearing as the son of New York’s finest. Koch, a German dramatic actor best known for The Lives of Others, brings a lot to the role of a political prisoner on the run and it’s nice to see Mary Elisabeth Winstead again playing McClane’s no-nonsense daughter.
Die Hard 2 is still my favorite in the series, as it feels like it exists in the same world as the original, while the great but over-praised third film feels drawn out. Courtney is a preferable sidekick to Willis than Justin Long, which is why this is a better bet than Live Free or Die Hard.
The movie’s great in parts, even if the whole doesn’t make a lot of sense. The overuse of CGI during the finale (in an otherwise stunt-heavy film) is probably its biggest misstep. Otherwise, there’s enough here to make Die Hard junkies yell “Yippee Ki-Yay!”
A Good Day To Die Hard
Rated R/97 min.