A Good Day To Die Hard review

Review Simon Brew 14 Feb 2013 - 00:00

John McClane heads to Russia for the fifth Die Hard movie. Unfortunately, the magic was lost in the long-haul flight...

It might just be a good job that John McTiernan’s heading to prison. If the director of Die Hard and Die Hard With A Vengeance slapped his eyes on the fifth instalment of the series, he might otherwise be tempted to go and pay a few people involved a visit. With good reason too. And we’d give him a lift. Because A Good Day To Die Hard is, and there's no nice way to say this, pretty terrible. It's a bad Die Hard movie, and a bad action movie.

It starts promisingly, with a tease that A Good Day To Die Hard will be far more respectful of the series than its immediate predecessor. The screen is black. Michael Kamen’s take on the music starts to play. This is Die Hard, you think. Excellent.

And then? The BBC News channel delivers a quick Powerpoint presentation introducing the new Russian characters of the film, and Bruce Willis’ John McClane is on a plane to Moscow within minutes. We don’t even get to see Argyle take him to the airport, just a fleeting appearance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead – reprising her role as Lucy, now his ultra-friendly daughter having got over all of her previous problems with her father – before the wholesale disposal of Die Hard DNA begins.

Because once it’s established that John McClane’s son (Jack, played well by Jai Courtney) is in Russia, and in trouble, A Good Day To Die Hard sets about spending most of its surprisingly brief running time making loud noises, and little coherent sense. It’d be wrong to expect a remake of what had gone before, certainly, but in the attempt to outdo previous instalments, the film makers have gone bigger and broader. The opposite would have given them a much better film.

The stakes have escalated certainly, to the stage where Die Hard 6 is left with just outer space remaining to explore. It’s been some time since the Die Hard series was about one man trying to save a handful of people of course. Yet here, there’s the fate of the world at stake, courtesy of a convoluted, pretty much unexplainable and, truthfully, uninteresting plot, that culminates in a wholly unsatisfying finale. It’s unsatisfying because it never feels like it matters or affects anything, nor is there ever any sense of relatable threat to it. Die Hard 4.0’s cyber-terrorism thread wasn’t a massive success certainly, but at least it was interesting, and there was a sense of a dinosaur of a cop in a high-tech world. It also had solidly-written characters in the mix. Here, it’s just more stupid villains, with bigger guns than usual. Then every now and then, Bruce Willis stands in the middle of the screen and fires at them, while the bad guys take it in turns to miss him with their bullets.

To the film’s credit, it fully commits to its Russian setting. In much the same way that Daniel Espinosa was able to evoke a sense of Africa without resorting to national anthems and cheap stereotypes in last year’s Safe House, director John Moore spends a lot of time showing us a grim and gritty Moscow (even if it does play to 80s Russian perceptions a little), and takes tremendous glee in zooming in from afar. Too much glee, as it happens. By the time he does his shaky zoom in from overhead shot for the third or fourth time, you yearn for something else from the playbook. Then, when a helicopter attack on a building is deployed for a second time in the movie too, you can’t help but wonder if the white board of ideas was looking just a little sparse. Die Hard used to lead the genre. Now, it struggles to fill 97 minutes.

What got Die Hard 4.0 (a film I still quite like) just about over the finish line, in spite of its absurdities, was some solid direction from Len Wiseman (particularly in the first half of the film), and Bruce Willis’ skill in the central role. A Good Day To Die Hard, though, struggles on both counts.

It was probably as much a surprise to director John Moore as it was the rest of the world when he got the call for Die Hard 5 (the press notes say that it was his work on Max Payne and the decent Behind Enemy Lines that convinced Fox to give him the job), and while he stages some solid sequences – including an ambitious and prolonged car chase early in the movie - the whole things feels less and less coherent as it goes on. Plus, you never really feel invested in what's on the screen at all. Thus, while the scale of the action impresses (particularly at the start), it never feels as though anyone recognisable is affected by it. The stakes are simply too high, ironically, to ever matter, or convince. It all starts to get really quite dull and ridiculous (not in a good way). At one stage, a villain has the chance to dispose of the McClanes quickly and easily, but instead... well, you’ll see. You wouldn't believe me if I told you.

Going back to the original Die Hard, there was a strong element of suspense thriller about it (even the first couple of sequels involved some tangible detective work). This one’s a full-on action film, not really leaving the kind of space that even the much-maligned Die Hard 4.0 did for narrative, and it suffers as a result.

As for what story there is, don’t even think about trying to hold the plot up to any kind of scrutiny. Heck, the location where the McClanes end up towards the end of the film can’t help but make you wish they’d just found a Nakatomi Plaza-alike building and camped out there. You couldn’t get much further removed from Die Hard of old if you tried.

Perhaps most disappointingly of all, Willis doesn’t even get to spend that much time in full-on McClane mode, instead having to dish out the odd bit of advice, make speeches about parenthood, or shoot people (with just a forced scene in the back of a taxi early on giving any impression that McClane is out of his comfort zone). In fact, he doesn't feel like John McClane at all. Furthermore, the core relationship too between John and his other estranged child (he dealt with Lucy in the last film) is built up to be some kind of chasm, but ultimately, it feels like they just had a row over one of them cheating in a game of Monopoly. Full credit to Jai Courtney though, one of those who emerges from this very much intact. He will get, and deserves, better written roles than this.

Even if you remove Die Hard from your mind, the core problem remains that A Good Day To Die Hard is basically, on its own merits, a piss-poor, unexciting action movie. It’s the Quantum Of Solace of the Die Hard series (although Quantum is a better film). There’s clearly been some welcome effort put into physical action work, but there’s nothing convincing to glue together one noisy scene to the next, the antagonists will be forgotten by the time you get to the car park, and once the novelty of seeing John McClane at work again dissipates (surprisingly quickly), you sadly end up with a movie that never comes anywhere close to earning its place in the boxset.

If Die Hard 6 does, as suggested, go ahead, then surely that’d be the time to make a concerted effort to recapture that aforementioned Die Hard DNA. You think Die Hard, you think of the many memorable supporting characters (Ellis, Thornburg, Al, Hans Gruber), the suspense, the well-staged set pieces and the relatable, contained, scenario and central character. The franchise needs some of those ingredients back, and urgently, because they’re pretty much conspicuous by their absence here, in a film that should be ashamed to wear the Die Hard name. And if all else fails? They should at least wait until McTiernan gets parole before going anywhere near the series again.

A 12A certificate, as it's turned out, is one of the least of this Die Hard's problems.

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Ouch! Damning. Had heard that the first half was excellent, second half appalling. This review makes me not want to bother with it at all, especially as I still need to watch Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty and Flight.

gutted, I wish they would learn that they don't have to make the stakes bigger. 24 was the same, season 1 one man stopping an assassination, before too long it was nuclear bombs and world wide threats.
a great director can make you feel anxious over a lost car key, it's not the size of threat that creates suspense it's how it's played out. the scale only matters in relation to the situation and the protagonists context and in this case it is way over scale for a lone cop movie.

Once I heard Skip Woods was writing this film, the writing (if you will) was on the wall... how this man continues to get work is beyond me! This film isn't a 'Die Hard' movie, it's a big, loud, and empty spectacle with the 'Die Hard' name bolted on to it, in truth, the 'Die Hard' series ended (for me anyway) back in 1995 with '...Vengeance', and this new film just confirms that opinion, 'nuff said.

'24' got better and better up to and including the awesome fifth season, but they kept it going another three years, whereas they should have ended it with (a much better) sixth season, and then done the inevitable movie right on it's heels immediately afterwards... I very much like ALL eight seasons (+ one television movie) of '24' but in hindsight, they probably went on two seasons too long, and even the series' executive producer Howard Gordon likely feels that same way, judging by comments he has made since the show's end in 2010.

How to kill a legacy in a single swoop... although to be fair, the previous DH film was an absolute s**t sandwich as well. And, this outing has to have the worst title for a movie I've come across in years. A Good Day to Die Hard? What the f**k does that mean???

One to avoid then, pretty much as I expected. The Die Hard franchise hasn't been in great health since the original.
On a side note, I am increasingly annoyed at DoG holding up Quantum of Solace as an example of a bad movie, when it was anything but.
Mind you, it may be asking too much for properly balanced reviewing from a site that adores the lamentably untalented Jason Statham.

So after my utter disappointment that the film had been cut to basically allow the studios attempt to cash in as much as they can, I read this article and see its scores 1 star out of 5, wow, even more not interested to buy a ticket. Again I'm hanging in there for John McTiernan to helm another, after he finishes his time in jail of course...

You've got to wonder what untalented scriptwriters have to do to get the gigs. Prob'ly ain't too purty.

It speaks volumes that all reviews were held back until the day of release and that the lower certificate was given as a last minute 'get the teens in' cash grab. Shows how little faith Fox have in the movie...

Damn shame. All of the Expendables seem to disapppoint in their standalone films...

Damn. This is disappointing. The thing is, I bet it'll still make money.

I think people are thinking Die Hard was a different film to what it was.

How many stupid villains were in that film!? Loads. The sequel? Even more.

There has to be stupid cannon fodder villains or it would be incredibly boring.

People need to get off their Die Hard High Horse and just enjoy it for what it is, a bit of fun.

Loved it, just watched it, 5 out of 5. Great film probably in my top 5 ever films. Pleased i could take my kids as well, it meant i didn't have to leave them in the car.

Quantum of Solace was pretty bad. One of the worst Bonds ever. Just one big mess

oh i was being sarcastic....

Bit strong. It was entertaining despite making no sense at all whatsoever, just like Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus the same year.

Quantum of Solace was bad, Skyfall was even worse. Bond films with Craig have gone from Flat and Gritty in Casino, to bad, to downright Dull in Skyfall. But people seem to love it. Skyfall is the worst film I have seen in about five years, its up there with the Phantom Mennace for me. But Die Hard 5 was bound to be bad, the fourth one was passable, just. Its best ignored, like Indy 4, and stick with the original three, with one being the best, two being ok but more of the same and the third one going in a different direction.

I agree. I thought it was laughable. No idea how it's done so well?

They nearly had a great villain. But he turned into a gun toting moron. Can anyone explain to me how he knew he would have a chase seen that would end up in a specific tunnel where he had already planed a bomb on the train track????

Also, what on earth was with that Home Alone ending?

Poor.

20th Century Fox executives hired a screenwriter responsible for all-terrible movies and a director responsible for all-terrible movies, which the Internet pointed out immediately. These films weren't even "box office success" crap--just crap. Your grandma or your nephew could have told you how bad those films were. The executive culture there must be a lunatic asylum. A series of computer algorithms collating box office receipts and rotten tomatoes scores could have hired better talent. Pretty sure executives at that studio only still have jobs because...literally, "Avatar." Hope they all get fired.

Nobody can explain it. Suffice to say he had an elaborate plan to kill M when instead he could simply have done what Bond did and break into her flat.

Oh :( Wait until Tesco mug out the DVD for £3 then.

Dear Bruce,
I watched Arnie's 'The Last Stand', and it was obvious to me that Arnie cared about the end product. He cared that the action was tangible, with minimal CGI. It mattered to Arnie, becuase he thought it mattered to the fans. He thought it was what the fans really wanted. The Last Stand may have flopped, but it will stand the test of time as a great action movie. But Die Hard 5...? Just take a look at that big fat paycheck that Fox gave you, and ask yourself......did I earn it?

Bad writing, bad directing, bad special effects and John McLane defying the laws of physics. I imagine that many heads will roll at Fox. However, they will probably be replaced with more uncreative, brown-nosing, money grabbing, kiss-ass drones who know nothing about what makes a decent Die Hard movie.

There's a lot of love for Die Hard 4 out there. Personally, I'm no fan of Die Hard 3, it is not a true Die Hard movie.

Quantum of Solace sucks ass.

Yeah DUDE! Awsome movie!!!!!!!! F*ck storyline and characterisation. Just make the screen explode dude!!!! Michael Bay 4ever!!!! He'd make the best Die Hard film ever!!!!!

"a great director can make you feel anxious over a lost car key". Excellent point! I basically think everyone should emulate Hitchcock. There'd be a lot more awesome movies.

But Quantum of Solace couldn't even settle for being a decent action movie, because the hyperkinetic handheld editing made it impossible to follow. At least DKR and Prometheus were technically well made.

Poor is right. In fact poor is being too generous. I have given up with James Bond now. Daniel Craig is over rated. We will get more of the same in the next one, since it did so well. I am just going to wait until Craig has gone, and someone else takes over behind the scenes. Then maybe we will get James Bond films back. By that I mean action, adventure and entertainment with wry humour and not taking itself too seriously. Fun films. Instead of the drab, dull, grim, boring Bond films we now have.

All three are spectacular films. Don't waste your money on this, especially with ticket prices these days. Those three are all worth the fee!

Easier said than done, a director like John Moore could no sooner emulate Hitchcock than he could wipe his own arse.

I thought they made it pretty clear that he was meant to have planned his whole capture and subsequent escape from MI6 far in advance?

And anyone who compares the end to Home Alone has obviously never seen Straw Dogs which is what it was clearly inspired by.

Sort of. I know what you mean, but the thing about Hitchcock's work is that his cinematic construction was genius but also rather simple. And it isn't very hard to watch it and learn from it. A lot of directors/editors seem to confuse flashy cinematography and editing for good filmmaking.

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