There are few action characters as iconic as John McClane, yet through all the years of Die Hard, it is notable that McClane’s adventures have never been without a sidekick. With the exception of Die Hard 2, McClane has been flanked by important supplementary casting that has for the most part, complimented Bruce Willis’ almost one-tone McClane. From good hearted beat cops (Reginald VelJohnson’s do-good Al in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, albeit briefly) and tech wizzes (Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard) to the ever present Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard With A Vengeance, McClane’s theatrics has come accompanied by characters that tend to fill in the gaps.
In the fifth installment of the series, McClane is teamed up with his son, John “Jack” McClane Jr., whose character has been absent since the first. Played by Australian Jai Courtney, Jack is unlike many of John’s previous partners- he is very much like his father. Interestingly then, it is a one-one punch through the movie, opening with the older McClane on a trip to Russia to see his son, who he believes to have been caught up in unsavory business. What is soon discovered is that the younger McClane takes after his father; into the business of saving the world, more so intentionally than not.
As both McClane’s find themselves caught up in Russian political chess games, we are assaulted by frequent action sequences that would make Michael Bay proud. Packed with more explosives than a Transformers movie, A Good Day to Die Hard does not hold back on the histrionics; cutting back on exposition and development in favor of breakneck car chases, slow motion falling helicopters and exploding buildings. In between, we are peppered with Jai Courtney flexing his action chops while Willis is left with secondary gunfire and constantly reminding the bad guys (and us), that “he’s on vacation”.
The story itself is a throwback to 80s action fare- crazed Russian scientists, nuclear weapons and attractive Russian women- all with plot twists and goofy American-themed Russian one-liners. There isn’t much time to develop a fondness to the relationship with the two McClanes the way audiences were able to genuinely attach themselves to the bond between McClane and Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus in Die Hard With A Vengeance. We are just not given enough to really feel the hurt Jack has harbored for his absentee Dad all the years growing up- just a lot of his refusal to call John “Dad”.
The latest is also the shortest of all Die Hards, clocking in at a measly 97 minutes, leaving it rather rushed. It also feels the most narrow in scope- and while Die Hard has flourished in the past with its limited locations (Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles Airport)- it really started to expand with its use of New York City and the Eastern seaboard in the following films. Russia on the other hand, feels very cardboard and lifeless and very small in comparison. On a side note, there is a brief moment that pays homage to Hans Gruber’s death scene which is a nice touch.
Directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix) on a screenplay written by Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The A-Team), A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t as good as any of the first three, and is probably not as good as Live Free Or Die Hard, but it’s still got some good punch. The film feels in a way, a small passing of the torch from one McClane to another. Willis has said he’d like to do Die Hard 6 before calling it a day, and if that is the case, this film could be just an extended precursor to a great finale. If anything, it’s great that after more than a decade absent, the bad guys are Russian again.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
Directed by: John Moore
Written by: Skip Woods
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
Released by: 20th Century Fox / Dune Entertainment