Going by the trailers that have been released for the latest movie in the Die Hard franchise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is simply a long series of explosions, car crashes and machine gun fire occasionally interrupted by predictable one-liners. You’d be forgiven because that’s exactly what it is. A Good Day to Die Hard is an exercise in soulless, meat-and-potatoes action moviemaking, and this is rendered all the sadder in that it’s the culmination of a franchise that used to be clever and interesting, not just explosive.
This time around, Bruce Willis’ iconic John McClane makes his first trip out of the States to try and find his son Jack (Jai Courtney) who has got into a bit of trouble over an assassination attempt in Russia. McClane finds him, discovers that he’s actually a CIA agent, and the two spend the rest of the film variously chasing and being chased by a bunch of Russian bad guys who, it turns out, want to steal some weapons-grade Uranium and nuke America. Or something. The details of the plot would be as boring to relate here as they were to witness in the cinema, and are irrelevant anyway; there’s a criminal conspiracy, there are betrayals, and there’s a completely uninteresting father-son bonding theme that all serve only to provide tenuous links between the film’s gigantic action sequences.
Granted, these scenes are impressive. It’s hard to fault the CGI and stunt choreography that make up the film’s numerous instances of bullet-ridden, ear-drum shattering intensity. There’s always an element of pleasingly mind-melting escapism in action films, and if anyone wants an evening of un-taxing visual excitement then there’s not much to complain about. But there’s a feeling here that the helicopters and explosions and slightly unnecessary leaping through windows are really just covering up the lack of actual content. This is a genre of film that never puts the nuances of plot before the action, but that doesn’t mean plot doesn’t matter; A Good Day’s evil-Russian-terrorist-intrigue storyline is so hackneyed and uninteresting that at times you begin to wonder if director John Moore has actually set out to make a critical parody of the action movie mode itself. And then you abandon that thought, because there is nothing clever in A Good Day to Die Hard.
And it didn’t used to be this way. Die Hards one through three had explosions and bullets aplenty, but they also had interesting dialogue and subtexts and, above all, a really engaging protagonist. Back in 1988 John McClane was likeable and funny, and represented something more than your standard tough guy with a gun and a single-minded motivation to kill the baddies. Even back then he was world-weary, but sardonically, and his spiky interactions with friend and foe were as entertaining as the action itself. Here he simply looks tired at times, even if his skill at dodging bullets, explosions and death in general seems to have paradoxically increased. 2013’s McClane also lacks the quality of company that he had back in the 90s; comically antagonistic police sergeants and sidekicks like Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver are here replaced by a largely uninteresting son, and where the villains were frightening once upon a time, they’re now more or less cardboard cut-outs of stereotypical Russian bad guys. The one-liners that punctuate the violence have also declined in quality, and, of course, an action romp is only ever as good as its one-liners.
To be fair, you can’t judge a film solely in comparison to its predecessors. But even if A Good Day to Die Hard didn’t stand in the shadow of its mighty forebears, it would still be an undeniably weak movie. 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard had the same name to live up to, and it definitely didn’t suck. That’s because, even four films into the series, it didn’t abandon real cinematic aspiration to unimaginatively re-assemble all the most tired action movie conventions, with more explosions. Sadly, that’s what seems to have happened here.