I know I’ve mentioned this before, so indulge me for a bit.
When I was younger, I was really harsh in reviewing films. I couldn’t tolerate what I viewed as mistakes, large or small, especially in a feature’s story. If something didn’t make sense, even if it was a tiny thing that might not have amounted to all that much in the feature’s full running time, I nonetheless blasted it. If a film was suspiciously similar -at least enough to accuse it of being a rip off-, well ditto. If the effects weren’t up to snuff, if the acting was off, if the direction and editing weren’t pleasing, ditto again.
In recent years I’ve mellowed out considerably. Not that I don’t find films here and there that are, to me, utter and complete failures. It’s just that I as an author I can sympathize with the heavy lifting that goes into the act of creation and have come to realize that sometimes things just don’t work out, no matter how hard you may try.
A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth (!) movie in the Die Hard franchise (but not the last as a sixth movie is in pre-production for release in 2015), arrived with considerable critical scorn, at least as far as I could see. The original 1988 Die Hard was a watershed moment in the career of actor Bruce Willis. While his TV series Moonlighting was popular, his movie career was hardly flourishing. His two previous motion pictures were both directed by Blake Edwards, first the comedy Blind Date and then the comedy/mystery/pseudo-western Sunset. Both movies, if memory serves, didn’t exactly light the box office on fire or make anyone think Mr. Willis had what it took to transition from TV actor to Movie actor.
All that changed with Die Hard.
The movie proved a box office hit and the character Mr. Willis portrayed in the movie, Officer John McClane, was funny, witty…damn near brilliant. Two years later Die Hard 2 was released, and while some now “poo-poo” that film as nowhere near as good as the original, I consider it a great action film as well. Five years later, in 1995, Mr. Willis and original Die Hard director John McTiernan returned for Die Hard: With a Vengeance and audiences once again were happy to follow the further adventures of Willis’ McClane.
Me? I didn’t like Die Hard: With a Vengeance all that much, though I enjoyed seeing Bruce Willis return to that role. It would prove to be the last time we’d see Mr. Willis playing the character until twelve years later, in 2007, when Live Free or Die Hard was released. As with the previous Die Hard film, I thought it wasn’t all that great. It seemed the action sequences were becoming waaaay too big and unbelievable while the characterization of McClane was becoming an ever smaller part of the overall picture.
Which, in a nutshell, is the problem A Good Day to Die Hard has in spades.
Sadly, another problem is that Mr. Willis has aged. He no longer looks like the young man he once was, the young man we could envision doing all those crazy stunts while beating his body to a pulp. Still, it would be hard to envision a young Bruce Willis doing the action sequences called upon his character in this film. For the action sequences in this movie are so big, so wild, that it becomes nearly impossible for us as an audience to believe anyone could survive even one of those set pieces, never mind the five or six strung out through the film.
And those action sequences, as good as they might be (I happened to think the initial one, involving what appeared to be the demolition of every road and vehicle in and around Moscow was quite excellent) nonetheless strain our ability to believe what we’re seeing could happen.
In action films, that’s the trick a director/actor/effects crew should be sensitive about. Can the audience believe what they’re seeing might happen? Even avoiding that question, the fact is that A Good Day to Die Hard winds up being so enthralled to those same action sequences that the characterization so beloved in the first few Die Hard films is almost completely missing. This is easily the least “John McClane” film of the bunch. Bruce Willis could be playing any “good guy” Bruce Willis-type character…he’s that invisible as a person within the context of the movie.
He’s not the only one.
We’re presented with McClane’s son and, to a far lesser extent, daughter in the movie, but both characters are just that, characters. Jai Courtney, who was nicely menacing as one of the main baddies in Jack Reacher, switches to good guy mode here and isn’t all that bad…but neither is he all that great either. The blame, as before, lies in the fact that this is a movie built around those all important action sequences. Jack McClane’s character, therefore, is a stereotype: The angry, abandoned son who, by the end of the film, grows to love the old man.
Dodging bullets, I guess, will do that to you.
Anyway, near the end of the film we are presented with an interesting switcheroo regarding the bad guy(s) and, I have to admit, I found it a clever switch indeed (Maybe by then I was desperate for anything other than action action action). In fact, seeing that switcheroo made me wonder what the original screenplay for this film was like. Could it possibly have been more character oriented? Could more thought have been put into creating a suspenseful, less pedal-to-the-metal action fest?
We can only judge A Good Day to Die Hard for what it is: An expensive and near non-stop action fest that features little in the way of character development. Not the worst action film I’ve ever seen, mind you, but one that desperately could use an infusion of the smart-assed humanity we saw in the earlier appearances of one John McClane.