There are things you need to have to get a great action film, and there are things you need to get to get a great Die Hard film. The lists are not mutually exclusive. A Good Day to Die Hard has a lot of elements necessary to make a great action film, but comes up a bit lacking when it comes to being a great Die Hard film.
John McClane (Bruce Willis), perhaps inspired by fixing his relationship daughter in Live Free or Die Hard (said daughter is once again played in a cameo in this film by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, providing a small bit of continuity with the last film), decides to mend bridges with his son Jack (Jai Courtney). Unfortunately, Jack has been arrested in Russia for murder. Papa McClane hops on the next flight to the country to see how he can help.
The elder McClane arrives in Russia just in time to see the courthouse his son is being arraigned at come under attack. He notices his son leaving the courthouse with another prisoner named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch). John’s intervening in his son’s escape causes the son, secretly a CIA agent, miss his chance to get the Komarov, a political dissident with a file on a powerful member of the Russian cabinet, out of the country. Feeling responsible, John and Jack join together to complete the son’s mission. Of course, nothing is ever easy for John McClane, and the mission takes a whole bunch of deadly twists and turns. Deadly as in weapons grade uranium.
On one hand, the film works well as an absurdly dumb action flick. The stunts are inventive and imaginative–a car chase in this film involves one car driving OVER other cars–and the villains are suitably dastardly. But don’t think too much about how if Jack’s extraction plan can be derailed by a 40 second talk with his father, then it wasn’t much of a plan to begin with. Or about how our two heroes can walk into Chernobyl (yes, THAT Chernobyl), a place where it is established by the hazmat suit-wearing bad guy’s hi-tech geiger counters that it is still teeming with dangerous radiation, wearing only a leather jacket and a combat vest. But if you buy into the premise, you’ll buy the bit. If you buy the fact that a SUV can run an armored personnel carrier off the road, you can buy the heroes laughing off getting every form of cancer in alphabetical order with a quip here and there.
But it’s not so hard to overlook where it fails as a Die Hard movie. It has been well established that McClane has a crappy relationship with his family. But this film is simply playing off that without showing us why this particular relationship with his son is so bad. Jack has a vicious animosity towards his dad, but we never really know why other than the fact that John was never around. Since we don’t know what built up the hurdle between the two in the first place, their inevitable reconnection as bullets fly seems hollow.
As is expected with the franchise, we do get a swerve when it comes to the villain. But since the villain is so poorly drawn before we see his change of colors, that revelation doesn’t have the kick that it should.
And here’s a note to screenwriter Skip Woods, director John Moore, or Bruce Willis–whoever came up with the idea to have McClane say some variation of “I’m on vacation” every 20 minutes. We understand you are trying to tap into the “Come out to the coast, we’ll have a few laughs” vibe of the original, but what you really call to mind is Dante’s “I’m not even supposed to be here today” lament from Clerks.
If you are able to turn off your mind and forget this is a Die Hard film, you might be in for some cheesy fun. If you are not, well, expect disappointment.