Just Die Already! by Scott Nye
A decision was made somewhere in the lay-the-track-as-the-train’s-a-comin’ production process that must have resulted in A Good Day to Die Hard to have John McClane (Bruce Willis) turn into an outright sociopath. McClane’s always been willing to cause a fair amount of destruction in the name of getting the bad guy, but the car chase that kicks off the film’s endless action sequence somehow manages to leave all the combined mayhem of the previous four films in the dust. The defining moment comes in a brief shot, in which a man tries to maintain control of his car as it (very possibly fatally) spirals out of control thanks to John McClane almost literally bulldozing his way through Moscow, that reminds us that these actions have larger consequences. And so you look around at all the cars that John McClane is destroying in every possible way, realizing that there are people in them, and you realize you’re stuck for another hour and change with a guy who’s willing to kill anybody in his path just to have a conversation with his son. Because, yes, on McClane’s end, that is the entire motivation of this car chase.
Whereas 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard centered around McClane’s estranged daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who reprises her role here), A Good Day’s attempt to bait a teenage audience is handled through our hero’s estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney). At the outset, it seems Jack’s got himself into some trouble, landing in a Russian prison following an assassination, and John, having presumably had enough of shooting targets (as we see upon his introduction) instead of people, decides to travel to Moscow to find out what’s up. He’s just arrived when, whatya know, a gigantic explosion goes off near a courthouse, paving the way towards freedom for Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a government whistleblower who’s set to go to prison without a trial unless he hands over The Secret File. The architect of this escape plan? You guessed it – Jai Courtney, undercover C.I.A. agent. And wouldn’t you know that he and Yuri just happen to be driving down the street that none other than John McClane is wandering along, prompting a father-son reunion that would’ve been mighty difficult to engineer otherwise.
The action that proceeds is of little interest to anybody for any reason. It’s decently-staged, I suppose, but McClane’s increasingly invincibility has easily surpassed the limits of Willis’ Unbreakable character and is quickly approaching Mr. Incredible levels, making it difficult to understand why, precisely, he can’t just punch a threatening helicopter out of the air or something, and yields little aesthetic pleasure to boot. Director John Moore (of Behind Enemy Lines and Max Payne…reputation) manages to keep the needed parties in the frame and all (“which is no small feat, it turns out,” noted people who saw The Hunger Games), but I almost had a giddy gut response every time an honest-to-God shot emerged from the cavalcade of coverage. Moore has stated that the handheld camera was meant to represent McClane’s uncertainty about how to manage in a foreign land, which is dumb in and of itself, but also doesn’t explain the times he decides to use a tripod, or why the camera would also be handheld when McClane is just at a firing range at the office. Like The Hunger Games, this is blockbuster filmmaking made not for the theater, but for your HDTV.
Along the way, McClane learns that, yes, he’s a pretty terrible father, possibly because he seems to be addicted to shooting people as quickly as possible. The father/son moments are actually not as excruciating as “the father/son moments in Die Hard 5” might make them sound, as the two men bond over their love of not letting people stay alive (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly) in a casual way that’s welcome over all the European stereotypes masquerading as villains. You know you’re in a rarified space when even the villains aren’t terribly compelling screen presences, especially when Willis’ performance, so deeply saturated in who-gives-a-shit, easily outshines them. Screenwriter Skip Woods, by now well established in the field of making audiences question what decisions lead them to this point after writing X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team, never really finds a compelling reason for anything to be onscreen, always resorting to the laziest solution to bring two elements together.
At a scant 97-minutes, A Good Day to Die Hard definitely does what a genre movie should do – gets its business done quickly without a lot of needless bullshit along the way. Except the entire thing is kind of bullshit, so certain that its mass violence is automatically fun that it doesn’t bother to do anything fun with it, except for occasionally calling attention to “wehoa” moments that a better film would casually toss in only to showcase even better moments (if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the coolest shot the film has to offer). McClane’s sociopathic tendencies aside, there’s little about the film that’s overtly offensive to one’s dramatic/aesthetic sensibilities, but also very little that makes you glad to be there.