John McClane and the Die Hard franchise will always be fondly remembered for the core qualities that composed the early films in the series. John McClane was an everyman with a small gut, not a muscle-bound beast crisscrossed in ammo belts and grenade bandoliers. And he certainly wasn’t like any of the modern action heroes who are all martial arts experts and seem to know what to do in any given situation. Instead, McClane relied on street smarts and improvisation. And when he cracked wise with the bad guys it always had a hint of false bravado or perhaps a coping mechanism; he wasn’t being a badass who knew he would succeed. Failure was always an imminent outcome, and at times McClane thought of giving up, but saving his wife was always the impetus that braced him up against the odds. By and large, all of these aspects are missing from A Good Day to Die Hard. What’s left is a mediocre action film.
For whatever reason, John McClane (Bruce Willis) has never had a great relationship with his family. Now that his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has grown up, he wants nothing to do with his father, and it’s been years since the two have seen each other. John searches for Jack, only to discover that he’s in prison in Russia. Little does John know that Jack is an operative for the CIA tasked with bringing in a high priority target named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) into protection. Komarov has a file with information that could bring down the evil and powerful Russian politician Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). As such, Chagarin also wants Komarov, and will go to great lengths to apprehend him, including using Komarov’s daughter (Yuliya Snigir) against him. After John unwittingly blows Jack’s operation, it’s up to the two of them to save Komarov and kill scumbags.
A Good Day to Die Hard is so far away from the core themes that made the franchise so popular that it’s a stretch to even include this film in the series. First, there’s a disconnect of the environment – John McClane has never been an international hero. Sure, he may have fought international scumbags, but they were always on American soil in typically familiar settings that John could use to his advantage. Here, John is in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language or know where and how to get around. Yet, that never poses a problem for him. Secondly, John was never an unstoppable killing machine. In fact, his vulnerability has always been his biggest attraction. Stepping on glass was just as dangerous as a bullet. In Good Day he’s pulling shards out of his shin like they were irritating cactus needles. He also seems to have wanton disregard for human life; at one point he drives his three-ton vehicle over the tops of cars stuck in traffic, crushing roofs on top of drivers in order to maintain a pursuit. Finally, the family aspect is largely diminished. In fact, John and Jack don’t feel like father and son at all, but rather like old partners who had a falling out. There are a few familial moments, but they feel shoehorned into the story. It’s unlikely that any parent would egg their child on to keep walking into harm’s way when the parent instead had the opportunity to rescue them. But that’s exactly what happens here as John and Jack walk into Chernobyl without any radiation protection to take on a slew of scumbags without calling for any kind of backup whatsoever.
The bad guys are equally non-entities. In the early films in the series, audiences enjoyed charismatic villains who viewers watched working towards a goal. Moreover, they offered a worldliness that balanced against John’s relative ignorance. These dynamics do not exist in Good Day. One of the featured henchmen, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), is offered a bit of dialogue and a silly soft-shoe dance number, but otherwise he’s a forgettable character.
The only highlight of the film is the action sequences, but even these are only above average at best. The early chase sequence does offer a few new conventions, like the aforementioned vehicle crushing, but the forced comedy during this set-piece, like John taking a call from his daughter, sucks all of the tension out of this overly long scene. While other moments are legitimately exciting to behold and wonderfully captured to boot, a sterile sheen coats the scene and nothing seems real enough.
Sadly, A Good Day to Die Hard ends up being yet another generic popcorn action movie with a Die Hard badge slapped on it. While the actors do what they can with the material they’re given – and Bruce Willis feels a little more like McClane than he did in the previous installment – it’s just not enough to accept the film as artistically being part of the franchise.