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A Good Day to Die Hard Review: I Wanted This to Be Professional, Efficient, Adult, Cooperative. Not a Lot to Ask.

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | February 14, 2013 | Comments ()


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A Good Day to Die Hard is the third movie in four weeks -- following The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head -- to take an aging star and feebly attempt to conjure some of the magic that made them popular several decades ago. (It's the fourth movie if you also count Stand Up Guys, which wasn't really about action stars but was definitely a lame shot at a comeback.) It's a weak and disappointing film for many, many reasons, but the biggest is probably the sad manner with which the film eagerly tries to wind the clock back and trick the viewer into think that it's still 1988 outside. The hero here is once again John McClane (Bruce Willis), and the villains are once again scuzzy Europeans. It's been 25 years since the first Die Hard, but there's no attempt here to update the story or evolve with the times. The film longs so desperately for the narratively simpler days of the Cold War that the enemies are actual high-ranking Russian political figures. What's more, director John Moore and writer Skip Woods don't hesitate to re-enact moments from the original film, which does nothing but underscore just how amateurish and forgettable their sequel is. The writing is thudding and predictable, the direction shows a staggering lack of understanding of basic visual space, and the filmmaking is so clumsy that certain scenes and beats have been omitted presumably because no one figured the viewers would care. It coasts smugly on its namesake, unable or unwilling to do anything to feel fresh or entertaining. If it weren't for the franchise branding, it's unlikely this film would even have been made. If only.

The hook this time finds McClane heading to Russia to find his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who's been arrested for committing a politically motivated murder. McClane shows up right as Jack is being escorted into court alongside a man named Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a political prisoner who's probably going to be put to death by Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), a powerful official in line to be what's probably defense minister. (The detail escapes me, but it's pointless in the bigger picture anyway.) The trial or hearing or whatever's about to happen is derailed not long after it starts, though, when Chagarin's men blow up half the courthouse in an attempt to extract Komarov and retrieve from him the file he's got on Chagarin that would ruin Chagarin's reputation and chances of coming to power. That plan falls apart when Jack escapes with Komarov, though, because Jack's actually an undercover CIA agent tasked with keeping Komarov safe and using him to take down Chagarin. Now, the stunning coincidence of Chagarin's team's assault isn't really discussed. I mean, if Jack knew they were coming, why risk getting himself and his key asset killed? If he didn't know they were coming, why was his escape apparently timed to happen then anyway? Once Jack flees with Komarov, he contacts his CIA handlers and is told he's already a few minutes behind on his mission to get Komarov to a specific extraction point. So did Jack have a plan to escape the courtroom that was thwarted by Chagarin's assault, even though the assault let Jack escape anyway? Or did he know about the impending attack and plan to use it as his exit, which again, if so, why take the risk?

These are the kinds of nagging questions that would unravel the most basic story you'd tell someone, to say nothing of a screenplay. But the whole movie is like that. It defiantly resists every urge to feel real or relatable, or even possessed of consequence. Moore's filmmaking technique could charitably be called rough, reliant as it is on aesthetics cribbed from modern action movies (sweeping circular tracking shots, excessive use of close-ups and handheld shots during chases, a curious desire to process everything with a blue-green tint) and often ignorant of narrative continuity. For instance, when Jack and Komarov escape the courthouse after it explodes, they're still handcuffed. A few beats later, we see Jack commandeer a van, and though the cuffs are still on his wrists, the chain that bound them is broken. Did he shoot the chain, or just develop superhuman strength? Jack leads Chagarin's men on a car chase throughout the city, joined by McClane, who saw Jack flee, stopped him momentarily, and then stole a truck to keep up. The chase scene is choppy and unimpressive, setting the template for the bland and uninspired action that will follow for the rest of the film, and the occasional cuts to the CIA office that's communicating with Jack are so poorly done -- composed with oblique angles, rapid shakes, atrocious lighting, and nonsensical blocking -- that I started to wonder if Moore had filmed that way as a response to a dare, or as punishment for losing a studio wager. At no point does he or the film exhibit anything like life.

If anything, A Good Day to Die Hard is nothing more than a re-animated corpse painted to look like the original film. When a bad guy gets chucked off a roof, we're given a slow-motion view of his fall, a direct copy of the end of the first film. A climactic battle scene uses music cues from the first film, as well, and there are references to "cowboys" and even a water hose on a red metal wheel like the one McClane used to swing off the roof of Nakatomi Plaza a quarter-century ago. Such touches are a bad idea. They can do nothing but remind people that the movie they're watching isn't nearly as fun or energetic or impressive as the one that started it all. They feel like objects someone would use in a fan film, funded by hangers-on with no goal other than to graft a movie they love onto a story no one should see. As McClane and son join forces to carry out their mission with Komarov -- then deal with the inevitable complications and twists -- it feels like you're watching someone paint themselves into a storytelling corner with increasingly outlandish ideas.

Woods' script is also laughably bad at building any kind of tension or momentum. The thing that makes action movies work -- including the original Die Hard -- is the believability of the evil at hand. Villains have to present a real threat to the hero. Yet the bad guys here are stupid and interchangeable, and they're prone to the most idiotic mistakes. At one point, McClane and his son are apprehended by Chagarin's right-hand man, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic). Rather than kill them immediately, he toys with them, giving them plenty of time to escape. There's no reason for him to do this. He doesn't know these men, and we've been given no chance to see their battle of wills escalate. This isn't Hans Gruber holding a man's wife hostage as payback for an ongoing personal war; this is just a lazy villain spinning his wheels because the writer needed him to. There's a reason that the most interesting movies in the Die Hard franchise have revolved around the way personal vendettas can cloud bigger criminal activity, specifically in the fight between McClane and the Gruber brothers. A Good Day to Die Hard doesn't realize that action is nothing without a story behind it.

Action movies have changed a lot in the past 25 years, and Die Hard had a lot to do with that. The film marked the beginning of the end of 1980s action, which revolved around giant glistening men and piles of guns, and ushered in an era that attempted to inject (slightly) more realism into the genre. The movies were about smaller men, and men who could get hurt. Even Jason Bourne, the John McClane of his generation, wasn't invincible. Yet the John McClane of the first film wouldn't recognize the one from the fifth. The younger McClane said things like, "She's heard me say 'I love you' a thousand times. She never heard me say 'I'm sorry.'" This one says things like, "Hey, boy, it's been a good day. Let's go kill some bad guys." The younger man expressed emotions like fear, worry, joy, happiness, regret; this one exists in a state of perpetual smirking anger. The younger man was strong, but he was also human: he got winded after fights, and when he cut himself, the wounds didn't just disappear. This older McClane, though, can fly through buildings and carom off walls without losing a beat. He never gets tired. He seems to regenerate tissue at will. He never seems to be in real danger. Oddly enough, in a sad attempt to re-create one of the most humanizing action movies ever made, Moore's made one about a robotic gunman programmed with familiar phrases and a two-dimensional personality. A kind of terminator, if you will. A Good Day to Die Hard is a sequel, but it isn't a step forward at all. It's a regression, and an ugly one.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Wembley

    The next Die Hard should be a companion piece to Taken 3. Two movies set in the same city at the same time. Characters cross paths. Explosions from Die Hard affect events in the Takening. Stray bullets from Taken^3 become the deus ex machina of the Hardest Death. Bruce Willis hits on Famke Janssen, but despite all his particular skills, Neeson can't wipe the smirk off Willis' face.

  • cinemaniac

    What's funny is at the end of this movie I turned to my friend and said, this is when his kids get kidnapped setting up Die Hard: Taken 3!

  • ,

    Thanks for saving me $7.50. I was afraid of this.

  • cinemaniac

    Damn you Carlson. Why did you have to point out all the plot holes and mistakes that my action movie loving mind kept from the rest of me? Way to ruin a perfectly mediocre movie that my action brain loved!
    Sometimes I hate you and your thoughtful reviews.

  • junierizzle

    Geez it's not that bad. I actually thought it was entertaining with some good action. Is it on par with the original of course not. It is what it is- an entertaining action movie. I don't get why people keep complaining that McClane isn't an "Everyman" anymore. Well after you take down THREE terrorist groups you pretty much stop being an "Everyman" and that's how Willis has played it in the last two movies. He is just used to it. Plus all that killing pretty much makes you a bad ass. And isn't that how we really remember John McClane, as a bad ass.

  • Arran

    The last Die Hard was immensely silly (and fun), but at least—in the unrated version, anyway—there were GLIMPSES of the old McClane buried underneath his newfound invincibility. Doesn't sound like this one even has those glimpses.

    Ah shit, I might see it anyway. I can't help it.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    At the same time, and even though the movies never really address it, I always feel like McClane's essentially gotten worse and worse off emotionally throughout. I can't speak to this movie, but by Live Free or Die Hard, he's been through three straight hell-ish scenarios in addition to whatever he actually does as a cop (one assumes they give him hard assignments, because pun) and he's got a consistent track record of not dealing with shit.

    So, when he kills a helicopter with a car and all he can say is, "I was out of bullets,"? That's a man who has been utterly numbed by a couple of decades of epic violence, who can't relate to his own family anymore (he has to stalk his daughter), who has one thing he's good at and that is murdering significant numbers of people in impressively freestyle ways. He kills helicopters with cars because it's probably the only time he really feels anything.

    Die Hard 6 should probably pretend this new one didn't happen, and focus on the fucked up McClane who can't feel and is a Terminator because the alternative is liver failure.

  • It worked for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country!

  • BlackRabbit

    Maybe it's the Willis from RED who had a kid. That's why he's so good at killing and numb from it. Alternate reality!

  • lowercase_see

    Oh, thank god this sucks.

    All my (single) friends are going to see it tonight and I was deliberately uninvited by my exceptionally juvenile ex. Now, while they all shell out fifteen bucks a pop to see this pathetic shitsack, I'll be hitting people at rugby instead. Small favors ...

  • KateNonymous

    The thing that made the original work was that if you were fit enough, and trained enough, and smart enough, and thought fast enough, you could ALMOST do what John McClane does. It wasn't real, but it was realistic enough to make you actually connect with the hero.

    This movie? I'm pretty sure someone jokingly said, "Yippee-ki-yay, Mother Russia" and then decided to make a movie around it.

  • TheAggroCraig

    Maybe that line is from a TBS version of Die Hard.

  • AudioSuede

    To be fair, that's one hell of a tagline.

  • lowercase_ryan

    They should have turned this into a political commentary on the Pussy Riot debacle with live footage interspersed throughout. Just add a kick ass jail break at the end that culminates with Putin squaring off against McClane and the band members in some huge government building with a glass dome overhead. Everything in the scene has been torn to shit by countless bullets, a car has crashed through a wall, the whole thing is on fire, I see church benches overturned OOOO WE'RE IN A CHURCH! A bear falls through the ceiling, landing in between the warring factions as they are about to attack each other. But the bear is startled by the brightly colored balaclavas the band is sporting and goes after Putin. Putin isn't about to go out like that so he drinks poison as the bear starts to NOM thereby killing the bear as the bear kills him.

    yippie kay yay mother russia fucker

    OR!!!!

    the bear mounts Putin and McClane's last line is something like "In mother Russia, bear fuck you" (in an earlier phone conversation Putin told McClane that "This is Russia! Nobody fucks the bear in Russia!!!" Putin refers to himself as the bear throughout the movie. Dudes got an ego.)

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think I may love you.

  • Keep the mutual death by poison and the Putin = Bear gags, then use the Yakov joke. You're welcome.

  • Zuffle

    Plus, I believe you knew that line from the original Die Hard word-for-word, which just shows you to be a real man and just makes me love you even more.

  • Zuffle

    Fuck, Dan. I love your writing so much. I've never met you, and my wife would be kinda upset, but... valentine?

    Also, I'm in the UK, and the other night Bruce Willis appeared on BBC's The One Show and openly promised Die Hard 6. I suggest you give that one to Rowles.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    He was on The One Show but he didn't do Graham Norton? Did he do Wossy? Ugh, The One Show.

  • Great review. You nailed my problems with the recent "Die Hard" films in your last paragraph: John McClane was always supposed to be an ordinary guy caught in a really bad set of circumstances, who reacted with humanity and vulnerability. Somewhere around "Live Free or Die Hard," around the time he launched a car into a hovering helicopter because he "ran out of bullets," he had inexplicably been transformed into a Terminator-style robot incapable of feeling pain or fear, which just isn't as much fun for grownups to watch.

  • Zuffle

    I believe that moment actually arrived in Die Hard 2, when the editor gave Willis about half an hour to pull the ejector seat and escape about thirty-five live grenades with unrealistic fuses. And I really like Die Hard 2.

  • ,

    I quit the franchise after DHII but I have a friend who claims Die Hard III is really good. Can I believe him?

  • Yes. I love it. It's not the self-contained brilliance that DH1 is, but
    it manages to pull off a ridiculously expansive NY-wide Die Hard. Great
    villain, great sidekick, great McClane; it's fantastic.

  • ,

    Thanks.

    You mention "great villain." While McClane is justifiable lauded as a vulnerable everyman in "DH," I think it's also true that Hans Gruber, while very clever, is a vulnerable everyvillain too. He allows himself to get caught by McClane, and he assembles a not-so-bright gang: Recall his eye-rolling exasperation when he has to slowly explain to Alexander Gudonov, "SHOOT ... THE ... GLASS!" Plus, in the end, he's not trying to execute some noble seeming hostage exchange, he's just trying to pull off a heist. He's just a common thief. And McClane calls him on it, IIRC.

    So it's not somewhat-smarter-than-average cop against supervillain, it's just two somewhat-smarter-than-average Joes trying to do a job and getting in each other's way.

    That's a big part of the movie's brilliance.

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