Remember 2007? Back when we thought it couldn't get any worse than Live Free or Die Hard? Directed by Len Wiseman, who never met a film project he couldn't turn into a cynical, lifeless enterprise, the fourth installment of the franchise that once brought humanity to the action movie genre became a jingoistic, CGI-infested superhero movie where an aging, bald Golem blasts his Creedence tapes as he punches a fighter jet. It's pretty bad*, and it was hard to see anywhere for the franchise to go but up. When the trailer for A Good Day to Die Hard debuted, it was a little refreshing to see a film that seemed to employ something close to the sense of reality that characterized this franchise and — my god — Bruce Willis smiling. Surely this was going to be a franchise finally finding its way again, like late-period Bowie*? Were we getting the course-correction we desperately wished for?
Naw — sitting through A Good Day to Die Hard is an act of watching a finger go down on the monkey's paw.
Originally the shtick of the Die Hard franchise was that schlubby, off-duty NYC cop John McClane (Willis) would be minding his own business when villainy would strike in his vicinity (be it a single building, airport or New York City), forcing him to shoot a bunch of people in-between increasingly tense situations where McClane was not the expected victor. A Good Day to Die Hard grasps at that concept, with John McClane flying out to Moscow to track down his son, Sam Worthington (Jai Courtney), recently arrested for shooting a guy in a Russian club. Which is basically the plot of the original Die Hard, where McClane is a fish-out-of-water who's traveled a long way to reconnect with an estranged family member.
After some Russian Bad Guys blow up a courthouse and McClane Jr. runs off with a Russian prisoner/defendant, McClane Sr. intervenes almost involuntarily by taking part in the dumbest, most incoherent car chase sequences put to film since The Da Vinci Code, where our hero drives through Moscow streets and highways armed with a disregard for human life so incredible that you'd have thought the film was directed by Bad Boys II-era Michael Bay. We should have been so lucky, but at the helm for this round is John Moore, a mega-hack who 20th Century Fox employs so often for shitty movies that his lack of involvement in X-Men: The Last Stand seems like a cruel snub. It doesn't help that the script is entirely by Final Draft jockey Skip Woods, who is a specter of doom on pretty much everything he's ever been involved with**.
Turns out John McClane's son is a CIA agent who's trying to get this prisoner out of Russia, and the elder McClane royally screwed up their limited window of time with his honestly dimwitted meddling, so now they have to help Russian Prisoner get out of the country the hard way — first by scooping up his daughter and avoiding the army of Russian Bad Guys who show up whenever the film is getting too boring***. After that, it's a whole lot of genericness you've sat through a thousand times in other, better action movies — people getting captured, double-crosses and then some near-fatal injuries before the heroes reach the final set piece (this time in fucking Chernobyl) where a bunch of slow-motion bullshit happens with a helicopter.
That's basically the entire movie summarized in a couple dismissive sentences, because A Good Day to Die Hard is 97 minutes long — a runtime that's paradoxically good and bad. Good because this movie is terrible but at least it ends quickly, and I'm a firm believer that not every single big-budget movie needs to be 150 minutes. However, the prior Die Hards (even Live Free) are at least two hours each, making a lot of room for personality, character moments and even some semblance of nuance to give the action bits an even greater impact. We like to see Bruce Willis crack wise, barely survive a shootout and talk cowboy movies with the film's villain; it's that combination that made us love John McClane and kept us coming back for these movies. In this film, he speeds through action scenes that barely register in the human brain before uttering a perfunctory "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker" and the credits roll.
There seems to be a sad segment of the population that equates Die Hard with violent, dumb fare like, say, Commando despite the fact that the former was meant to be an antidote to those types of movies. However, with each new installment the franchise grows closer and closer to resembling the films it once stood out from. I hear there's a threat of another film to cap off this franchise, but maybe instead of crapping out another movie and wasting everybody's 90 minutes, it's time to quit while you're behind and give Die Hard a quiet death.
*Here's my rundown. Die Hard's the best, obviously. The first half of Die Hard with a Vengeance is supremely entertaining. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is perfectly respectable and fun; anyone who slams it is being a jerk. The second half of Die Hard with a Vengeance nearly put me to sleep. I just rewatched the trailer for Live Free or Die Hard and it excited me more than A Good Day to Die Hard, so I'm going to regard Wiseman's film as second-worst.
**He did co-write The A-Team, which I really liked, but I'm pretty sure that film was more Joe Carnahan than Skip Woods.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.