Bruce Willis is arguably the only star of the ’80s not to have slipped into self-parody or senescence (his recent appearance in The Expendables 2 notwithstanding).
Unlike his contemporaries Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Willis is not above taking supporting roles in smaller offbeat films like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson’s Looper. He remains interesting, occasionally even surprising.
It’s a shame then what has become of Die Hard, the franchise that shaped his career.
A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth in the series, is almost indistinguishable from any other sequel in any other big-budget actioner. Its Russian setting is straight out of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the film’s protagonist, John McClane himself, might as well have stepped out of RED. Those running the show, like director John Moore, seem to have forgotten what made it unique: an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.
The original Die Hard featured a New York cop trapped in an office building in a hostage situation, forced to take control of the situation any way he could. They had machine guns; for most of the film, McClane didn’t even shoes. He had to rely on his wits. Here, mowing down bad guys with impunity, he’s more James Bond than Riggs or Murtagh, and for all the sense of jeopardy, he might as well be Superman.
Jai Courtney stars as McClane’s estranged son, John Jr., whose arrest and trial are what brings McClane to Moscow. John Jr. has daddy issues, which are never satisfactorily explored or explained – McClane Sr. may have spent a lot of Christmases scaling buildings and fighting terrorists, but his son calls him by his first name. Furthermore, their inevitable reconnect over the course of the film – even by comparison to its immediate predecessor, Die Hard 4.0 – is entirely by rote.
The action in A Good Day to Die Hard is solid, competently shot, but more focused on the carnage than McClane’s role in all of it. I won’t spoil the twist, other than to say there is one – as there has been in all the previous Die Hard films – but the villain is imminently forgettable. The film gets better as it gets into its stride, and, despite the reservations expressed earlier, there’s some nice father-son banter.
Jai Courtney is presumably being set up as a potential new protagonist for the series, in much the same way that Shia LaBeouf was mooted to replace Harrison Ford’s Indy. It’ll never happen, of course: Willis’ McClane is the only thing that sets the series apart (barely) from a slew of lookalikes. Whether or not it has any reason to continue, or if it did even after Die Hard With A Vengeance, is debatable.
The studio seems to have forgotten, as they so often do, that bigger doesn’t mean better. Like with the more successful of the Alien franchise, the formula is simple: you take your protagonist and stick them in a confined space, unarmed or at least hugely outgunned, and watch them punch, shoot, and most importantly think their way out. It’s about finding a new way to do the same old thing, tricky but not impossible.
Bruce Willis has already announced that he’s potentially onboard for the next installment, Die Hard 6 (Die Hard: The Die Hardening? Die Hard or Go Home?). Safe to say, it’ll be this that, for me, will make or break the franchise once and for all. So, let’s start the grassroots campaign now: bring McClane back to New York, stick him in a skyscraper, maybe even throw a long-lost Gruber into the mix…
All in all, it’s a case of yippee-ki-meh. A Good Day to Die Hard goes through the motions, but there’s not much to it. Any personality the series once had has been diluted away for the sake of bigger explosions. It’s been 25 years since Nakatomi Plaza (whose climax this film apes). Let’s try and find away to bring John McClane home.