A Good Day to Die Hard

I’m perhaps amongst the rare few who was actually looking forward to seeing ‘A Good Day To Die Hard’. Also known as ‘Die Hard 5’, the fifth instalment of the once acclaimed ‘Die Hard’ franchise had many a journalist and fan-boy alike both cringe with concern (due to the wayward fourth venture ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ / ‘Die Hard 4.0’) and the clutching of hope that number 5 could somehow claw back what had dramatically been discarded and had not been seen since 1995’s ‘Die Hard With A Vengeance’. Despite my own personal association to the fourth, it was the latter which had spurred my feelings of yester-year, posing the inner question ‘Could this one be awesome?’

In short, no. That’s by no means that ‘A Good Day’ was terrible, because it really wasn’t. I believe that I am certainly ranked high up there when it comes to being a Die Hard fan, so obviously my expectations are Nakatomi Plaza-tall, however, I was left bizarrely neither here nor there. I wasn’t blown away, nor was I disappointed. Dissatisfied, perhaps, but that comes later.

The fifth in the series of course centres on Bruce Willis’ iconic character, John McClane, a detective in the NYPD. When McClane is first seen, my geeky heart raced, my mouth curled and my head nodded with a simple ‘yes; simply because the character had a greying stubbly head, his body looked tired and he was firing at a target in the NYPD shooting range. Why the simplistic uplifting joy? Well, we know Willis, as a human being, shaves his head. We know from watching the first three Die Hard movies John McClane’s hair is receding fast, but for me, in the last movie, I wasn’t watching John McClane, I was watching Bruce Willis. I was disappointed seeing McClane with a fashionably shaved, modern cranium. In my honest opinion, I don’t think John McClane would be so damn cool enough that he’d have himself his own stylist, so when I clasped my eyes on him, I instantly thought Willis and the filmmakers are back on track and that possibly, just possibly McClane could be back on the drink. Alas, he wasn’t.

McClane is given a file on his son, Jack, last seen in a photograph and quick-glimpse in the first movie when journalists show up at the McClane residence during the Nakatomi hostage crisis. Before you know it, he’s on his way to to Moscow, having been dropped off at the airport, by his no-longer estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who now lovingly calls him Dad and not John, telling him to not get into any trouble, hoping he’ll return home along with her brother.

During this time, we’ve learned that Jack McClane / John Jr, (Jai Courtney) has assassinated an unknown Russian guy, landed himself in a jail and then a courthouse where a mysterious old Russian scientist called Komarov (Sebastian Koch) is also at, and all for reasons that are not too clear. Coincidentally, McClane stumbles upon the courthouse just as it is attacked and his son flees with Komarov. A quick exchange of ‘why are you here, John?’ between father and son and the action really kicks in with a satisfying amount of ramming cars, vans and army jeeps through Budapest (doubling for Moscow).

The action, I felt, was handled competently, with director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) at the reigns and a whole lot better and faster than the previous ‘4.0’ movie (apart from the car killing a helicopter scene), however the camera-work was a little too close on McClane’s face at times, giving the sense that the stunt folk are working much, much harder this time round. Sure, he’s nearly sixty, but then don’t make him fall so high or have a crash that would kill someone in real life. The past appeal of John McClane was his vulnerability and his anti-hero status, as opposed to his Terminator and Rambo action peers. His feet cut, he didn’t like heights, he drank, cursed, smoke and moaned. He was, without doubt, the reluctant hero and there was an ever-present threat. Sadly, there was never a sense of danger with this one. You knew from the outset that McClane just wasn’t going to be beat up and when he rolls out from a spectacularly ‘he would surely have died in that’ crashed jeep in true 80’s A-Team style, without a scratch, I knew then what kind of film I was watching, and more to the point, what kind of Die Hard film I was watching.

So, McClane has located his son, Jack, and it is quickly revealed that he works for the CIA and has been on a top-secret mission, which is also a touch misty. It must involve Komarov, but the audience just isn’t fully told. The father-son bond forms far too quickly and soon they’ve teamed up to get the bad guys. With all DH movies, there’s a little villainous twist, but this one’s more of a sigh, as you could see it coming from a fair distance and what follows are some gun fights, leaping through a lot of glass, construction chutes and gigantic military helicopters in the pursuit to get a bad guy that just wasn’t bad enough. It was only a short time ago that we were reporting on a script going around called ‘Die Hard 24/7’ which may or may not have featured McClane with Jack Bauer and at times, this made me feel as though I could possibly be watching just that.

With all that said, as an action film, I did find it entertaining. Jai Courtney showed he could rival Vin Diesel in the muscled action man department. It had some good action and set pieces and the CGI elements weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. It also tried hard to regain that lost magic, which the first three Die Hard movies had, but the fourth didn’t. It ticked a few faithful DH boxes for me, like the Ode to Joy / Beethoven’s 5th score, the nicely handled stunt sequences, some cursing and Willis becoming a little bit closer to the McClane of ‘With a Vengeance’ than the McClane from ‘Live Free’, but the ‘okays’ are equally balanced with the ‘so-sos’ and for every Ode to Joy, there was a cringe-worthy line of dialogue ‘I’m on vacation!’ and for every f-word, there was no ‘mf’ at the end of a ‘Yippie Ki Yay’.

Now I know full well that when Willis says jump, scribes, especially, say ‘how high’ and it’s his say-so when and where the famous trademark Yippie Ki Yay line is said. It’s also no secret that there will be a sixth, possibly final movie in the highly profitable action franchise and although creatives will never be able to satisfy absolutely everyone, you could still satisfy the majority and I still retain hope for it, (if I’m hired to pen it or not.) Whether it’s a ‘Die Hard 6 Feet Under’, an ‘Old Habits Die Hard’, a ‘Die Hardest’ or a McClane TV prequel show – (all of which I know are in the works and most featuring previous characters) – the John McClane of Die Hard that we know and love can certainly go with the times, but perhaps he should be more of the aging, drunk cop from ’16 Blocks’ than the slick, shiny agent from ‘Red’. My main gripe was the script that the Skip Woods collective delivered. A few tweaks with the plot, but more so in the dialogue department and ‘A Good Day To Die Hard’ could have gained an extra star. 3 out of 5 still ain’t bad, Mr Cowboy.

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