Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I recently watched A Good Day to Die Hard in the cinema. As my wife and I were sitting there waiting for the film to start, I noticed an elderly couple come in and (slowly) find themselves nice seats. Grandpa and grandma were probably in their mid-fifties, and their ideal date night movie was Die Hard. Hardcore, for sure, but the most probable truth behind the unlikely picture was that both grandpa and grandma saw all four films before this one, so when grandpa wanted to take grandma out, he said, “Hey, wanna go see Die Hard again? You know, the explosions, the chases, the gunfire, the jumping off buildings, and all that?” One thing’s for sure: grandpa got what he wanted. It’s hard to kill a McClane. The fifth film in the Die Hard series reiterates the lesson and uses all the classic Die Hard elements to prove it.
The first few scenes offer us the backdrop of the film’s plot: a Russian political issue, a scandalous trial protested against by the masses, and a scumbag one step away from power. Of course the US would have to intervene, right? So they send in a special agent to set things straight: McClane Junior. Unfortunately, McClane Senior back in the US never knew that what he thought was his wayward son was actually into “spy sh*t,” as he calls it, so when he tracks his boy down he naturally screws over the three-year CIA operation his son was spearheading.
A high speed car chase ensues (you can tick that off the checklist) – and you’re left with the typical action-filled, who-cares destruction spree that Bruce Willis’ John McClane fits right into. Several hundred wrecked vehicles and millions of dollars’ worth of damage later, the father and son get together (along with the person McClane Junior was extracting) and McClane Senior finds out about Junior’s involvement with the CIA. Before anyone can take a deep, satisfying breath, more Russian “special operative” bad guys converge on what was supposedly a safehouse, but no amount of training, special weapons, and tactics, can save them from a machine-gun wielding McClane Senior pissed off at having yet another shootfest during his vacation. The rest of the film revolves around father and son trying to make the whacked out mission work, which ultimately leads them to two betrayals and a staple venue for anything concerning Russia and conspiracies: Chernobyl.
All the ingredients to a Die Hard film are there. Bruce Willis’ character getting dragged into the middle of trouble which he invariably solves with the careful (or careless) application of gunfire, explosives, and expletives – check. High speed chases – check. Lots of dead “special operative” bad guys – check. Jumping off buildings – check. Helicopters – check. Now they even included weapons grade uranium – check. They even added a sequence where the father and son duo had to shoot it out in a saloon-like setting. So yes, the Die Hard action is there, but what can be said of the plot?
The film attempted to pull off a Jason Bourne with the CIA twist, but since the official mission objectives failed the moment McClane Senior showed up, we get to see little in the way of Mission Impossible here. The plot point did lend itself to building a background for McClane Junior. Presenting himself as an aggressive “man with a plan,” he easily sets himself apart from a reckless father he says he’d rather not have anything do with – the contrast was presented sufficiently well (if somewhat rushed), though it expectedly eroded as the film progressed towards being the chaos that is a Die Hard movie. The contrast also helped portray McClane Junior’s animosity towards McClane Senior, which was dampened by a cliché scene where he overhears his father’s regrets over his f*cked up childhood. In the end (near the middle of the movie, really), the contrast is thrown out the window to show how the son is really like the father, albeit grudgingly.
The double betrayal gives the political controversy plot a nice twist where the supposed victim ends up being the ultimate mastermind. Beyond that, little can be said of the antagonists of the film, of which all but three or four individuals weren’t easily forgettable. Worse, all of them played right into stereotypes: the quirky goon-leader-for-hire who talks to his victims before killing them (therefore giving them a window of opportunity to escape), the muscle bound thug who dutifully appears shirtless and in this case doesn’t even have a single line of dialogue, the sexualized femme fatale who of course performs one of the betrayals (and turns out to be a daddy’s girl eager for her father’s approval), and the two-faced mastermind that seems weak and helpless, only to turn out to be the biggest threat in the story. I might have a good word or two to put in for the antagonists but they were stereotypes to their deaths. Perhaps I can offer a shrug, nothing more.
The settings of the action sequences were expected; I’ll have to say they did the action right but nothing terribly innovative was shown. I’d have loved even a small moment of unique action from Willis, like how he stepped out of that spinning car in RED. Of course, his character doesn’t disappoint with the trademark moves, attitude, and even lines: “Yippee Ki-yay, motherf*ckers.” But the plot settings could not have been more hackneyed. Russia? Chernobyl? Haven’t the Call of Duty games played enough on all this? The sound track was neither off nor particularly rousing, so another shrug there. The production was clean and topnotch, however, which helped the improbable actions scenes a lot.
By the end of the movie, my wife and I had our fill of action and a few moments worthy of smiles. So, what would I make of the movie? What’s my official A Good Day to Die Hard review score? To put it simply:
Production: Notable for the action sequences and polished post-production, but there was no real impact when it comes to the sound track.
Plot: The film stayed true to the old school Die Hard formula, had a solid base plot (that was meant to wither away in the face of John McClane’s intervention anyway), and portrayed a few good points in presenting the conflicts between protagonists, but the stereotypical antagonists and overused settings were conspicuous enough to deserve mention.
I’d give it a lukewarm 6.5 out of 10: a classic action treat that delivers a solid punch and a few other positive points, but not much substance beyond that. Great for grandma and grandpa’s date night though.
[By G Dino]