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Review – A Good Day to Die Hard

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By: Stefan Ellison

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When an action franchise reaches the fifth installment, there are signs that the series should either retire or reinvent itself. A Good Day to Die Hard makes a good case for both of these decisions. John McClane is still running around, getting into shenanigans and thinking on his feet, but when even his iconic catchphrase lacks the same punch, one starts to miss the “good, old days.”

The first Die Hard is a classic that redefined the action genre by giving us a Regular Joe hero and then trapping him in a single location with no choice but to ward off a group of vicious terrorists. The second film repeated the formula, but was still a thrilling ride. The third chapter tried to take McClane in new directions, but I felt it lacked what made the other ones so special. Live Free or Die Hard reinvigorated the series, by showing the contrast between the analog and the digital, alongside some stunning action sequences.

The half-decent action is the best aspect of this otherwise average sequel, which has a long list of missed opportunities. The ideas presented in the set-pieces are certainly creative, including a lengthy chase in the beginning of the film on a Russian speedway. However, director John Moore also brings a lot of the same baggage one would expect from somebody with a degree from the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking. The camera barely ever sits still, so the audience is unable to admire the work of the stunt-men, who are certainly doing a lot of the heavy lifting in A Good Day to Die Hard. The excitement of some of the best action sequences, including many from the first Die Hard, is in seeing and being wowed by the death-defying work of the stuntmen, which can be tough to appreciate if you can’t see it properly.

Moore also over-indulges in slow-motion, which I feel is one of the worst and most annoying clichés in action cinema. He picks the most unnecessary scenes to utilise this technique, including a pointless shot of the villain walking towards the camera. The action has its moments and McClane’s occasional quips are a tad humourous, but this project was in desperate need of a more controlled filmmaker.

A Good Day to Die Hard actually starts out well, especially with an enjoyable exchange between Bruce Willis and the always reliable Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his daughter, Lucy. That smart moment between the two characters has a similar chemistry we’ve previously experienced between Willis and Bonnie Bedelia in the first two films. As previously displayed in Live Free or Die Hard, those two actors complement each other well and teaming them up for this sequel would have been an excellent idea.

Instead, McClane is teamed up with his son Jack, a character with zero personality and likeability. Jai Courtney is not given the best material to work with, but his performance is dull and most of the time, you are left waiting for the action to return to his father. When one of Jack’s first appearances has him drawing a gun to his own father, it is difficult to remotely sympathise with the character. When he spends most of the film complaining about his neglected childhood, Jack becomes unbearable to watch. Yet unfortunately, he shares equal screen-time with Bruce Willis, which is a shame. When earlier films gave Willis sidekicks in the form of Samuel L. Jackson or Justin Long, the writers still knew that it’s the John McClane Hour. The funnier one-liners occur only when John McClane is left to his own devices, instead of squaring off with Jack.

Thankfully, Bruce Willis still puts on his best game face. He knows how to play an action hero and he still manages to keep his most iconic character as the likeable chum we root for. However, A Good Day to Die Hard has somewhat disposed of the “Regular Joe” aspect of the character by letting McClane survive dangerous exploits without a single scratch. Even glass can’t hurt him this time, in spite of causing him severe pain in the original Die Hard. Regardless of this change in character and lack of development between him and his son, there is still some of that John McClane charm found in Willis. But don’t expect too much since even McClane’s infamous catchphrase — “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf***er” — doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by the previous entries in the franchise. There was a time when it used to make the viewers cheer in excitement, but now even Willis appears to be tired of spouting it.

Another successful aspect from the other films that is disappointing here is the villains. The Russian terrorists are boring pieces of meat with no interesting personality traits. In fact, they have no personality traits whatsoever, other than being evil and hating Americans. These are the sort of one-dimensional Eastern European antagonists one might expect from an 80’s movie, but even that would be somewhat inaccurate since Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber (the chief antagonist in the first Die Hard) is from that era and still holds up as one of the best screen villains today.

Skip Woods’ screenplay also ends up becoming too overly-complicated, when complexity is one of the last requirements in a Die Hard movie. At every corner, there are plot twists, double crosses, changing antagonists and sudden story detours that take the script elsewhere. Other Die Hards had a basic premise and they worked because more time was spent on character development and building excitement. A Good Day to Die Hard is only ninety minutes long — a good half-hour shorter than the other pictures in this franchise. That hardly gives enough time to have strong character interactions and thus, we get poorly choreographed reveals that seem to be there just to confuse the audience.

A Good Day to Die Hard is not good as a stand-alone action film or as part of its beloved namesake. However, it is not a terrible experience as some of the action sequences are surprisingly well done (if you manage to see them). Bruce Willis is also one of those actors who can be very enjoyable to watch when he feels up to the task, which he is in this flick. The arrival of a new Die Hard should be an event, but if future sequels continue to back further away from the winning formula, it will be more worthwhile to stay at home and watch the original classic for the hundredth time.

Rating: C-

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