A Good Day to Die Hard Review
by Daniel Rester
Die Hard (1988) is easily one of the best action films ever made. The movie remains suspenseful and exciting, and it put forth two of the most memorable characters in cinema – John McClane (Bruce Willis) and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). The film was also followed by three strong sequels (come on, the fourth film wasn’t really that bad). Now we arrive at the fourth sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard.
Good Day has thus far been hated on by most critics. While I agree with many of the points that some critics have been pointing out, I think some of those complaints are blown out of proportion. Is this film somewhat disappointing and the weakest Die Hard yet? Yes, I will agree on that. However, I still found Good Day to be a pretty good action film despite all of its flaws.
This newest Die Hard has John McClane traveling to Russia, searching for his son Jack (Jai Courtney), who has landed in jail for a murder that is connected to a court trial. Unbeknownst to John, Jack is a CIA agent who is helping a man named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) – who is part of the trial. Komarov is a man who threatens to present a file that contains detailed, dirty information about a Russian politician. Soon, John, Jack, and Yuri find themselves together, evading a bunch of gun-toting bad guys while trying to secure the file.
Good Day has plenty of problems, so let’s just get them out of the way before I try to semi-defend the film. First of all, the script by Skip Woods is thin and mostly unsatisfying. It does take the main concept of the Die Hard films by having McClane fighting terrorists, but the similarities mostly stop there.
Woods makes the mistake of having McClane not really be McClane. Die Hard fans know McClane to be resourceful and witty, outsmarting bad guys and getting out of hairy situations. Here, he is more of a hard-ass and a superhero, barely cracking jokes and instead just causing destruction with big guns. Don’t get me wrong, McClane has always been a badass, but here he is more of an indestructible man rather than an NYC cop. Woods also fails to do a Die Hard necessary: have a great villain. From Hans Gruber to Thomas Gabriel, the franchise has had its share of memorable baddies. But Good Day just has a few generic ones, lacking personality on all fronts (the closest one gets to being interesting is saying that he used to want to be a dancer). The film has a passable premise, but the plot becomes alternately clichéd and messy. What’s worse, the relationship between the McClanes at the center of Good Day isn’t developed enough – often making it feel forced.
Now let’s jump to what’s off of the page. John Moore (Max Payne (2008)) directed this film, and joins Woods in not seeming to understand the Die Hard franchise. The pacing is a problem because the film simultaneously feels too short and too long. It’s too short because the film is less than two hours, where the other films were a little over that time. Perhaps Woods and Moore should have drawn it out with a more interesting story and some character development. And then the film is too long because it becomes numbingly repetitive with its action at times. Moore doesn’t seem to know how to handle the dramatic or funny sides to Die Hard, so he instead just throws action on the screen whenever possible.
Moore, cinematographer Jonathan Sela, and editor Dan Zimmerman stress chaos over coherence when it comes to action. The movie not only seems to have more CGI than the previous films, but also shaky cam moments, an ugly gray look to it, jumbled destruction on the screen, and quick-cut editing. This makes everything quite ridiculous at times, rendering most of the action as noisy and flashy. Moore never allows much suspense building to these action scenes, either. He also makes the mistake of having John and Jack basically be invincible, surviving multiple falls and wounds that anyone else would die from; this takes away any sense of danger for the characters.
So, Good Day is filled with problems that many critics found unforgivable. But like I said earlier, I semi-enjoyed this movie. Willis seems kinda bored on screen every once in a while, but he has such a presence (with that great smirk) as a star and elevates the movie a bit. He also has a terrific moment that involves a sight gag towards the end of the film. I also liked the teaming of him and Courtney (who holds his own), though they have on-and-off chemistry and a few forced dialogue exchanges. Some of the action was also very entertaining at times, in a mindless sense of course. One particular chase scene (though too long) is dumb but also impressive, laying waste to a city with crashes and explosions; such moments are unbelievable, but they were fun and made me chuckle. This movie just worked as guilty pleasure action entertainment for me after a while.
I obviously pointed out more flaws than good things about Good Day in this review. This is because the film doesn’t fully work as a Die Hard film, and it disappoints on that level. However, I think action junkies will get a kick out of a lot of it, because it works as an energetic and mindless action film. Plus Willis is never unwatchable. By those terms, the film is entertaining enough.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C+).