The Die Hard series is a unique animal in the world of film franchises. Whereas some films seem generic and eventually creates its own niche (for better or worse), Die Hard goes the opposite route, starting off with a very unique concept/style and devolves into a generic action thriller with the words “Die Hard” stamped on it. Such is the case with A Good Day to Die Hard. The original was a taut thriller that was plausibly conceivable with a protagonist who could hurt, bleed, and fear for his life; in other words, an actual human being as opposed to a two-dimensional super hero. As the series has progressed, the concept has lost its uniqueness, taking on the more generically traditional action spectacle tropes.
The plot finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) going to Russia after his son Jack (Jai Courtney) who has assassinated a Russian citizen and is awaiting trial. Being that this is the McClane clan, Jack is estranged from his father, as his sister Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, returning in what is simply an extended cameo) was before him. Therefore, like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and other 80s action generation-bridging films, the majority of the film is focused on themes of estrangement and (the inevitable) reapproachment. Oh, there’s also something about a Russian scientist/prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has a file that can exonerate him while bringing down a high ranking Russian official (Sergei Kolesnikov) but, this being a Die Hard film, nothing is quite what it seems and the double crosses occur as expected.
The main problem with this film is that Bruce Willis seems as though he is a guest star in his own film, with the majority of the focus instead going to Courtney’s “Jack”. Courtney gives a serviceable performance and actually makes what could have been a petulant character somewhat sympathetic; but then, that sympathy could be metatextually infused by the viewer given the cinematic history of the series. Initially, Willis seems to be sleepwalking, his time worn, grizzled, hang dog features giving a sense of tired weight to his character. However, as the movie progresses, and though it still looks as though he is phoning the performance in, Willis comes alive with the snarky wise-cracking demeanor that we’ve come to expect from the put-upon McClane. As in the previous outing, Live Free or Die Hard, McClane has evolved into more of the action hero he initially was the antithesis of but, given the characters history, it’s easy to understand how his character can have be allowed some aplomb desipte the increasingly outlandish situations he finds himself in.
There are a couple of cleaver homages to the first film, if one knows what to look for. However, other than the name, occasional references to the original Die Hard score, and the requisite “Yippie – Kay – Ye” line, there is really nothing that differentiates this film from any other generic actioner. However, that doesn’t mean that this film isn’t an enjoyable romp. Director John Moore (working off a script by Skip Woods) is no John McTiernan. However, despite a slow start and somewhat uneven pacing, the action sequences move furiously. Moore does, at times, manage the unenviable task of infusing suspense into the quiet moments; few that there are, that is. Willis and Courtney are believable as father and son, but their chemistry is nowhere near that of the combination of Willis and Reginald Van Johnson or Samuel L. Jackson (but much higher than the pairing of Willis and Justin Long). The action sequences border on the ridiculous, but enjoyably so.
In the end, it’s a good day to go to the theater. Die Hard has, depending on one’s point of view, (de)evolved into a grand shoot-em-up spectacle. It’s nowhere near the standards of the 1988 original, but as an entertaining way of passing over an hour and a half it does the job.