A Good Day to Die Hard
Directed by John Moore
Written by Skip Woods
Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir
Rated R for language and violence
Running Time of 97 Minutes
Over the past 25 years, one thing has become quite clear: Die Hard is the perfect action movie. From its impeccable structure to its wit, intensity, confined stakes, and terrific hero and villain, the film remains as vital today as it was in 1988. Die Hard has been aped and ripped off countless times, and it has spawned many sequels that range in quality. The 3rd in particular, Die Hard With a Vengeance, is an exceptionally strong sequel that is a clever twist on the formula yet still feels very much like a Die Hard movie in attitude, tone, and character. Even Life Free or Die Hard, 2007′s PG-13 entry in the series, was a fairly enjoyable action movie with a fun villainous scheme. Five years later John McClane returns, and it is as if the makers of A Good Day to Die Hard have never even seen a Die Hard movie. Bland, dull, and lifeless, A Good Day to Die Hard is not only a bad Die Hard movie but a terrible action film in its own right.
From the opening moments it is clear that something is not right. John Moore is quite simply a weak filmmaker. He has no control whatsoever of his film, and it bounces aimlessly without purpose or weight. His camera shakes unnecessarily, obscuring visual impact and making action sequences later in the film incredibly hard to see. There is no sense of geography or space, and the stakes and thus intensity is quite minimal. Moore allows his collaborators to succumb to their worst tendencies; Marco Meltrami’s score is too bombastic and infused with too much James Bond jazzy spy thematics, and Jonathan Sela’s cinematography is just plain ugly. The color palette and lighting are grimy and dour, and not in a good way. In many moments all factors converge to make it impossible to tell what exactly is going on. The film is nearly impenetrable, and no matter how many machine guns are fired or cars are chased or helicopters are flown it all reads like a dull barrage of nonsense.
Screenwriter Skip Woods is perhaps the worst offender of all. That Mr. Woods was able to secure any writing job at all after his work on Hitman and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is baffling to me, and much of what went wrong in Wolverine goes wrong here too. Woods does not understand what makes the McClane character exciting and likable, nor does he understand the attitude that makes Die Hard what it is. McClane has a lot of jokes to crack and he spews a fair amount of profanity, but they seem like obvious notes that the script has to hit and not true character moments. McClane has always had a certain vulnerability, physically and emotionally, but for most of A Good Day’s runtime he reads as a nonchalant superhero and not the sarcastic New York City cop we’ve seen before. It’s a major miscalculation, and despite Bruce Willis’ best effort (the man still has “it” more than ever; he was terrific in both Looper and Moonrise Kingdom last year) it reads entirely wrong. The film’s attempt at meaning or pathos – Daddy and son banter while shooting guns, how cute! – is incredibly obvious. Jai Courtney, in the role of Jack McClane, is clearly a charismatic actor, but he is left with nothing to do and a character without personality. The narrative itself is thin and useless, with a lot of one-note Russian characters (such terrible villains) betraying each other and a hodgepodge of stupid recycled spy moments that have been executed better before. There’s no build and thus no crescendo. This is not Die Hard. This is woefully generic.
If I sound bitter it is because I am. I wasn’t necessarily expecting much in any direction from the film; I always advocate to enter a cinema with an open mind, and that’s what I did when I saw this film. Regardless, everything about A Good Day To Die Hard just doesn’t work. From Skip Wood’s bare script to John Moore’s lack of control, A Good Day to Die Hard is terrible. This is Die Hard only in name, and not even a well timed “motherfucker” can save the day.