Film Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

This is a pocket review of Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  Starting this I realized I’ve only ever done one other film review in blog form, and that was for Looper, another Bruce Willis film.  (For my 140 character reviews check out my Twitter look for #FilmReview.)  I’ve never thought of myself as a Bruce Willis fan, looking back at his filmography there are some amazing hits, as well as some spectacular bombs.  I’ll present my observations, and let you decide where this film falls.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61UqRmDjwgc&w=560&h=315]

You can’t talk about a sequel without mentioning the film that started the franchise, in this case, 1988’s Die Hard.  Die Hard took a television actor (personally I never got into Moonlighting), and made him a bankable movie star.  What’s remarkable is that Bruce Willis was allegedly the seventh choice for the role – and it made his film career.  Nowadays it’s far more frequent for actors to drift between television and film, but at the time it was considered a big move (up).  What made the original Die Hard’s John McClane live so strongly in my imagination was his mortality.  He got hurt, felt pain, he didn’t go looking for trouble but he didn’t back down from doing the right thing.  He was a hero that all of us hope we are deep down.  And he did it with a sense of humour.

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIOX44m8ktc&w=560&h=315]

Now is the time to start talking about Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  I’ll leave a warning for spoilers and and obvious extro at spoilers end, just prior to my summation.

The Die Hard franchise has had it’s ups and downs, but has always delivered somewhat in the same style: tongue in cheek humour, darkest before the dawn and one or two major stunt set pieces and a strong nod to family.  This one is not majorly different.  Yet the start felt very different, more akin to a Daniel Craig Bond, or a Bourne film.  With the popularity of those ‘thinking man’ action films evolving the genre (and the fact that Willis’ own Red fits into that category) it would make sense to reinvent the franchise.  Without seeing any promotional material I probably would have felt very confused by the action, the location…  pretty much everything – even having a general idea of what the film was about and seeing the title credits I wondered if I walked into the wrong theatre.

Spoilers

The opening action scene was filled with quick cuts, an avoidance of faces (for the most part), obviously showed an Eastern European city and a set up to some brief unexplained violence.  Finally we get a glimpse of John McClane, and he seems different.  He’s respected, low key and maybe even a bit broken by life, or hurt in a way we’ve not seen before, because of his fractured relationship with his son.  It’s only because I read an article about the film prior to going in that I knew that Jack McClane was dishonourably discharged from American special forces – which was just a cover for his move to the C.I.A.

After a cameo from Lucy Gennaro we get a taste of the old John McClane, his charm, his ability to relate to different people and finally his wit.  It almost feels like I’m watching a mashup of two movies.  After much hijinx, explosions and generalized mayhem father finally comes face to face with son, and neither is happy with it.  This makes me feel that Valentine’s Day was not a good weekend for this film’s release, as Father’s Day would obviously be more appropriate.  This quickly devolves (thanks to some gunfire) into the first major action piece of the film.

The car chase.  You’ve seen bits of it in the trailer, and trailers are famous for showing all the good stuff from a film, but I was not disappointed.  Car chase is a serious misnomer, cars are minor annoyances to the vehicles involved – it’s only called a car chase because delivery van / armoured vehicle / flatbed truck / Mercedes SUV chase is too long.  Through this chase we meet the first villain who displays character and panache, Alik (aka the dancer).  This scene is why I go to Die Hard films, explosions, comic book over the top violence, very real world danger and pithy retorts shouted between characters who couldn’t possibly hear one another.  The chase came a hair’s breadth from being too long and any belief in real world physics was completely thrown out the window by the end – but ended beautifully, barely forwarding the plot.

Unfortunately this was the last interesting thing in the film.  After losing their way out of Moscow / Russia (they never explained how far they needed to go), they end up at a safe house where Cole Hauser quickly gives exposition and is deleted from the film as quickly as he entered – so much for 7th billing.  More father / son moaning goes on (and by now, it’s moaning – hug already) as they try to rescue their asset, gain his key and daughter and make for safety.  But it’s a Die Hard film, and nothing is that easy.

A face to face stand-off with Alik (and I’m beginning to like this guy).  He makes references to 1986 causing John and Jack McClane to laugh; which at first made me think he was referencing the events of Die Hard 1 – but that was set in 1988, after getting home and researching I realized it was the year of the Chernobyl disaster…  Way to earn sensitivity points.  We glimpse shadowy men running things in the background, an air of ‘bigger than you can imagine’ badness, helicopter shooting up a building (Die Hard 1 meets True Lies) and then a strangely quiet road trip where a car travels as fast as a helicopter over what seems half a day (or longer) travel.  For some reason, when it’s not cloaked in cartoony violence logical stretches like this lose their appeal.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=Russia,+Moscow&daddr=Russia,+chernobyl&geocode=FQ6sUgMdgBc-AinJsNRz_Eq1RjFMz1dXzNZEPQ%3BFeYxDgMdjV3NASnPq5joAI8qRzEsXf3bq868FA&aq=&sll=53.166785,33.748114&sspn=8.869179,16.940918&t=h&hl=en&mra=ls&ie=UTF8&ll=53.166785,33.748114&spn=5.1658,7.751099&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Seriously, how do you hide around a city until nightfall, steal a gangster’s car and then make a nearly 12 hour drive faster than a Hind.  Plus, it was night when you stole the car – and 12 hours later it’s still night?  Russia, what a country!

Father and son patch their relationship, and finally decide to be a team just in time for the final action set piece.  And it is a piece, a piece of crap.  After so much real world, “can’t be CGI” amazing that was the car chase scene we’re treated to a green screen nightmare version that would fit better as a 2009 music video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yw1Tgj9-VU&w=560&h=315]

Even the insides of the building felt like a douchebag nightclub, not the leftover ruins of one of the worst nuclear disasters on the planet.

Major spoiler

Then Alik, a flunky but became the fun villain, was unceremoniously killed.  The true villain was finally revealed, and you know what – huge twist that it was meant to be, I didn’t care.  Much more explosions, some pain, bloodshed and a walk off into the sunrise leaving the world a much safer place.  Yawn.  It’s a Die Hard film, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

End of spoilers

Was this film worthy of the Die Hard franchise.  Yes, barely…  It’s greatest weakness is that it lacks any true villain.  Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) didn’t need to tell everyone he was brilliant and evil because he WAS brilliant and evil.  To have a great hero, you need to challenge him with a great villain.  Reading their C.V.’s I could see how someone would mistake DH5’s bad guys as villains.  Yes, they are bad men (and women) who’ve done horrible things and they want to have it all swept under the rug.  But it didn’t come across on the screen.  Even posturing seemed weak, their plans held together by weirdly implausible coincidences.  Hans Gruber didn’t count on coincidences, he anticipated the law’s response and included them in his plans.  If John McClane hadn’t been there, he would have gotten away free and clear.  If only ‘the dancer’ could have truly cut lose with his sociopathic tendencies could we have seen a good villain.

I understand that they wanted to make this film a cross generational McClane saga – maybe take the franchise to a new level, being able to survive different incarnations of the lead (an American Bond?).  With so many shadowy background players, and so many locations (I tried to not enter the ‘Die Hard is best contained’ debate) traveled to so illogically, I felt the film was muddied.  No clear enemy.  Even the launch date seemed wrong – Valentine’s Day?  This film screams Father’s Day, and it just seemed another poor choice in a string meant to undermine my enjoyment of this film.  The first set piece did put me on the edge of my seat… but the rest of the film made my ass a bit numb.

Will I look forward to the next Die Hard?  Yes, like any (sucker) fan, but I hope they don’t try to shine any lights on shadowy players again.  Or if they do, that these are the Shadowy Men in question.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrkvAU7-AGA&w=420&h=315]

Yours,
Ash

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About Ash

Paul Ash is that special kind of person who sees the best in everyone, except himself. His self loathing comedy is peppered with rural charm and big city cynicism. This “muppet king of comedy” has been described as the “encyclopaedia of funny” and has an over ten year relationship with the Festival Just For Laughs, the world’s largest stand-up comedy fest.