Fri
Feb 15 2013 3:00pm

A Good Day to Die Hard Is Exactly What You Think It Is. Here’s Proof

In the spirit of science fictional experimentation, I decided to write my initial review of A Good Day to Die Hard about two hours before seeing the film. I figured, why not? With a movie like this, there are a limited number of directions it could take, so why not test out the theory (or at least the suspicion) that all action films are really the same movie? How much of the review would I have to change after actually seeing the film?

Not a lot, as it turns out. Below is the review I wrote before seeing the movie. Comments in bold are me after seeing the movie

In Japan, there is a giant chocolate statue of Bruce Willis’s John McClane. Two things are unclear: has it been eaten? And if so, by whom? The film that the chocolate Bruce Willis promotes—A Good Day to Die Hard— is a lot like a chocolate statue. It’s a nice idea, but ultimately impractical and not very sturdy. A Good Day to Die Hard does ultimately suck, but not profoundly so. Its lack of charm isn’t exactly offensive, just a little embarrassing. We never thought John McClane would end up being the weird uncle at Thanksgiving who no one wants to talk to, but at this point, that’s the unfortunate (but unavoidable) vibe at play in this latest installment of the franchise.

(Update, post-viewing: I’m right so far.)

Whereas the last Die Hard film focused on McClane’s daughter, this installment gives us a bromance between McClane and his son Jack (Jai Courtney). Personally, I found this young guy/old guy pairing more interesting and fun than that of Willis with Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper. (But then again, Looper wasn’t supposed to be fun.) Die Hard movies are supposed to be fun. As long as the viewer is having a good time, we don’t really have to worry if the film is “quality,” right? Well, yes and no. One could adopt a pure pleasure- over-substance attitude toward film criticism, but the resulting reviews would inevitably end up sounding like they were written by somebody’s grandparents who only watch movies on Pay-Per-View when they’re very, very bored.

(Update, post-viewing: I’m still correct, and also, you should watch this movie on Pay-Per-View. In a hotel room. Alone. And sad.)

The original Die Hard didn’t exactly break new ground for action movies, per se, but it did, I think, introduce a certain permissive element into the zeitgeist in terms of how we can feel about explosions. In the grand scheme of American action movies, Die Hard was one of the first films that told us “it’s okay to laugh at explosions.” John McClane is a quintessentially American character, not just because he swears and is from New York City, but because Bruce Willis himself was probably produced by a mass hallucination we’ve all been having about what a “cool regular guy” is like. From all of our American psyche Bruce Willis came, and he’s here to stay until the day he dies.

Or is he? A Good Day to Die Hard, while totally entertaining, certainly shows the cracks in character/franchise. What is the premise of ANY Die Hard movie? Easy: John McClane accidentally finds himself in a situation where he has to thwart a plot being perpetrated by a group of terrorists in spite of being outnumbered and operating with limited resources.

(Update, post-viewing: this turned out to be slightly wrong. John McClane intentionally goes to Russia in the film to save his son from being thrown in jail. Or something. Still. Only one word wrong out of hundreds, so far.)

Essentially, John McClane is a more hardcore, gun-toting, and (now) bald MacGyver. Working with what he has, he figures out how to win. This time out, he’s got his good-looking, somewhat charming son with him, who does at one point, get to utter the infamous “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker” line.

(I was totally wrong about this. Jack does not do the line. Instead, the famous “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker  is uttered only once, by Bruce Willis, as he drives a truck out of a helicopter, to which he has affixed a chain, pulling the truck  and helicopter down. Also, Jack is not that charming.)

Jack is a nice kid, but as with Shia LaBeouf and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Crystal Skull, his presence is a sad reminder of how much older Bruce Willis is now, compared to when he started on this whole Die Hard odysseyAll Die Hard movies are Bruce Willis films, but all Bruce Willis films are not Die Hard films. I’m not sure why this isn’t true, because even when Bruce Willis is in other movies, it still sometimes feels like he’s John McClane (for example, the previously mentioned Looper, The Fifth Element, and the forthcoming G.I. Joe). So, when we’ve got the real deal, and he really is John McClane, it should be an extra-special occasion, right?

Well, this is where the movie sort of falls apart, and it’s down to one simple problem: Bruce Willis can’t actually carry a Die Hard movie on his own. In the first movie the sheer novelty factor can’t be underestimated, plus he has ALAN FUCKING RICKMAN to play off of. Die Hard 2: Die Harder doesn’t have many other awesome actors in it, but it does have a pre-NYPD Blue Dennis Franz, so there’s that. And again, a certain amount of novelty was still holding everything together, combined with the sheer audacity of the sequel’s title. Then came Die Hard 3: With A Vengeance, which arguably has the best actors opposite Willis in any of these flicks. Who is cooler AND swears more than Bruce Willis? Samuel L. Jackson! Who would can play a villain to rival even Alan Rickman? Jeremy Irons! And while for some reason I have a faulty memory of Cillian Murphy being the baddie in Live Free or Die Hard, it was actually Timothy Olyphant, and he was a damn fine evil hacker. Not to mention that Mary Elizabeth Winstead was fantastic as McClane’s daughter.

But this time around? Willis is hanging out with a bunch of C-listers, leaving him all alone with nothing to work with. And even with all the gunfire and explosions, the drag of Bruce Willis having no one cool to play with is there, in nearly every scene. The explosions aren’t funny anymore, and Bruce Willis looks tired.

(Spot on. This is why the movie is bad. Plus, there is a really terrible scene of dialogue between McClane and McClane Jr. while they’re driving to Chernobyl. Further, the bad guy in the movie reminds me a lot of Sybok from Star Trek V. Except he doesn’t feel my pain.)

Is today a good day to see a new Die Hard? Well as one of the bad guys in the movie declares, “this isn’t 1986!” And if it were, then maybe this movie would be fun. But for now, it’s just a little dull.

Final post-viewing update: I swear to all of you, the “this isn’t 1986” line is actually in the movie. I really thought I was going to have to cut that!

As it turns out, I was right about A Good Day to Die Hard in almost every single way. I can’t say I’m offended by the extreme predictability, really, but instead just faintly nostalgic and sad. Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the correct response to A Good Day to Die Hard is to declare oneself to be a little bummed out, and then move on and watch the first one again. Yippee ki-yay to the 80s!


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. 

20 comments
PhoenixFalls
1. PhoenixFalls
I made the mistake of marathoning all four previous Die Hard movies prior to seeing this one, and it just really emphasized how sub-par this installment is. As you pointed out, Bruce Willis alone does not make the movie -- he needs his great villains and sidekicks (no love for Reginald VelJohnson?) to keep the movies running.

What I also noticed was how much whiter the movies got as over time -- there are so many characters of color in major and minor roles in the first two movies (the limo driver! Mr. Takagi! the tech guy that makes contact with the planes!) and the third passes the Johnson Test (the Bechdel Test for race) because of Samuel L. Jackson & his family. But the fourth one has Maggie Q and Cliff Curtis and not much else, and this one has maybe two non-white actors in the entire movie, with a total of perhaps four lines between them (and I didn't even catch their names, if they were given any).

And while these movies were never feminist in any way shape or form, the two with Bonnie Bedelia actually passed the Bechdel Test -- none of the later ones did.
Sky Thibedeau
2. SkylarkThibedeau
Who knew there were American Minorities in Russia?
PhoenixFalls
3. TBGH
@2

You make me smile.
Emmet O'Brien
4. EmmetAOBrien
SkylarkThibedeau@2: I suspect if you referred to either the black Russians descended from Africans who were trained in the Soviet Union during the Cold War or the black Russians descended from Africans who were taken there as slaves around the time of Peter the Great as American Minorities, the responses would range between laughing at you and punching you in the nose.
PhoenixFalls
6. TBGH
@4

Perhaps it was poorly stated, but his point is to complain about a common minority in America not showing up more in a movie taking place in a country where they make up less than 0.1% of the population is pretty ridiculous.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-Russians
Michael M Jones
8. MichaelMJones
Definitely not one of the franchise's best installments. I couldn't stop laughing as the first third of the movie was basically a nonstop demolition derby.

My list of Things That Can Not Kill John McClane: cars, trucks, helicopters, guns, knives, falling damage, glass, fire, water, terrorists, radiation, blunt trauma. Not ruled out yet: old age, apathy, bad reviews.

Seriously, it's like at some point he transcended mere mortal status and can barely be harmed, let alone slowed or severely injured.

Want to buy a return of Reginald VelJohnson and Bonnie Bedelia for the rumored sixth and final installment.

This movie was entertaining, but will never be considered one of the good Die Hards. It felt too much like Bruce Willis stumbled into a rejected Bond script... Which is saying something since all the good Die Hards began life as other projects as well.

Oh well. It was a good date movie. :)
Bridget McGovern
12. BMcGovern
Now might be a good time for a refresher on our moderation policy. Let's just keep it civil, for the love of Alan Rickman. Or something.
David Thomson
13. ZetaStriker
Seriously, it's like at some point he transcended mere mortal status and can barely be harmed, let alone slowed or severely injured.
This is exactly the problem this and the last installments of the Die Hard films have had. Yes, John McClaine is a tough son of a bitch, but one of the reasons the first few films were so endearing is because he came across as an everyman rather than a superman. His rocky relationship with his wife and other mundane details helped to set this up, but what really kept it going was his mortality.

He struggles, even in one on one fist and gunfights, and when he's hurt the injury remains through the rest of the film. When he starts instead shooting stuff up like he's in a Stallone film, the movies lose their charm a bit. We lose the everyman and get the same tired superman every other action film on the market has tried to sell us for the last forty years. I'm a huge fan of Die Hard, but I have trouble reconciling these newer entries as part of the same series if I'm being perfectly honest.
Alan Brown
14. AlanBrown
Just got back from the theater, where my wife and I were hoping for another dumb but fun entry in the series, but came home disappointed. This movie was the worst of all the Die Hard movies. Little chemistry between dad and son, too much Wile E. Coyote survival of improbably large catastrophes, and way too little humor. Kept waiting for the singing cabbie to come back at some point. And like ZetaStriker, kept waiting to see that element of 'everyman' that previously made McClaine a compelling character.
And I am sick of 'shakeycam' shots. Literally, there were times I felt motion sickness from all the herky jerky camera work. Enough, Hollywood!
Michael M Jones
15. MichaelMJones
@13: You are correct. There were numerous times when McClane basically looked common sense and death right in the eye and spat defiance without even a second thought.

Like picking up a big-ass machine gun and mowing down bad guys without even batting an eyelash, as though his decades as a cop and previous experiences had indeed turned him into Rambo.

Like doing things with a car that no sane or reasonable person would ever do... and walking away with nary a scratch.

Like heading into a radioactive wasteland without even worrying about protective gear.

(Not spoiling too much with those examples, I hope.)

I don't think they'll ever top Die Hards 1 and 3 for me. :)
PhoenixFalls
16. Your Mom
Once again, Ryan you have nailed it perfectly. Am I a bit team "Ryan"? Of course I am, duh! I think I was done with the Die Hard movies after the second one. Movies should be like a rollercoster ride, you know where you are going but getting there is wild and fun. I agree, seeing our heros get older is depressing. Like Harrison Ford looking old in his pants. Not pretty to look at. Good job. :)
Theresa DeLucci
17. theresa_delucci
Disappointed but not surprised to see the bad reviews. I wanted it to be good because I loved, loved, loved Jai Courtney as Varro on Spartacus. Dude is one half of one of my favorite bromances ever.

Bruce Willis is at least still looking good for his age. I still buy him as an action hero and enjoyed him in Looper. Harrison Ford is all saggy and depressing now.

I'll still check it out on cable in six months.
Alan Brown
18. AlanBrown
I rather liked the last Die Hard, with the Mac guy as an improbable sidekick. That one had a good mix of action and humor. So all the more disappointing to have this one fall flat.
PhoenixFalls
19. 4tothefloor
I agree for the most part - except I actually did really like Jai Courteney's performance. I don't get Starz, so this was the first time I'd seen him and I thought he did pretty good with what he was given.

What annoyed me was how repetitive the film was. The first Die Hard was great because it was all about Willis' cleverness at outwitting the heavily armed bad guys. This one, every problem was solved by either fleeing a room filled with bullets, firing indiscriminately into thugs who can't aim, or by jumping off a building. SO MANY BUILDING JUMPS.
PhoenixFalls
20. RDaggle
and then move on and watch the first one again. “Yippee ki-yay to the 80s!
I don't think re-watching a 25-year-old movie for the umpteenth time can fit any possible defintion of 'moving on'.

Unless we're all expecting to travel in circles for the next 25 years.
Kevin Maroney
21. womzilla
One of the things that really set the first Die Hard apart from its action movie kin is that it featured an action movie hero plunged into a wicked smart caper movie, and rising to the occasion.

Too, the film trusted that the audience would put up with it being smart. When Hans Gruber orders his men to shoot the glass, we don't know why--until several seconds later, when we discover along with McClaine, that the floor is now a solid layer of Sharp Awful Stabby Things. With few exceptions, McClaine wins by out-thinking Gruber, even with Gruber working at his absolute best. None of the later films matched that level of smarts, even though they did actually try; but the idea of a "dumb fun" Die Hard is really anathema to the whole aesthetic of the franchise.
PhoenixFalls
22. hollertum
This movie was just so...flat. I don't think ive ever seen a more really crappy cheesy of an ending lol.

Bruce willis basically demolishes this city (and through all this the soviet army is not there?) just because his son blew him off and drove away? I mean jesus, if that was the case near every city in the US, and im assuming the more upright europe would be a horrific auto battleground.

I was so lackluster I actually thought of just getting up and walking out. It was such a letdown and in no way resembling a die hard flick. I figured 4 was great after all that time, 5 should be good. Good thing I went to the bargain mattinee so I only wasted 5.50.
PhoenixFalls
23. shane f-n-ehh
was extremely dissapointed in the movie great explosions, good cg, great acting but no yipee cayay motherfucker what the hell brucie must be getting soft
PhoenixFalls
24. Jannsiar
Well i am sorry, but he in fact has transcended, and i will continue to watch him transcend until they dont make them. :)
PhoenixFalls
25. Timmmmm
Why would the line "this isn't 1986" be in it? I thought it would have been 1988, when the first film came out

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