saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
A Good Day To Die Hard (12A)
13th February 2012
Movie producers! Sick and tired of having to come up with pesky "original" ideas? Losing money hand-over-fist because people are pirating your terrible new releases rather than spending exorbitant amounts of money at the box office? Never fear, simply follow the lead of such visionaries as Steven Spielberg or McG and your old, tatty franchises will be given a sparkling artifice to hoodwink the audience into thinking it's something new. All you need to do is cast a younger actor!
Yes, pulling the same trick as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Terminator salvation comes a new Die Hard film by competent if not spectacular action director John Moore (Max Payne, Behind Enemy Lines) and workmanlike, bordering on poor screenwriter Skip Woods (The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
If you haven't been keeping track, this is number five in the Die Hard franchise. New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back, he's still in the game and he still likes taking down bad guys. Turns out, his son does too. What do you know? It runs in the family! There is a plot involving a little bit of Russian politics, but in short, this is a film with lots of people shooting other people and big things blowing up. Boom boom boom. Boom.
Parents. They have an unfortunate knack of turning up when you least expect them, unfairly ready with an earbashing when they think you've been arresting abroad for running drugs. So embarrassing. Spare a thought for poor Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), who is actually in the middle of a carefully planned CIA operation when his dad turns up out of the blue for a father-son chat, throwing his top secret plans skew-whiff. Because that's always the way, isn't it?
It's not a complex plot, but then again neither were those of the first three Die Hard films and they all turned out well. The first, certainly, is a benchmark of its genre - claustrophobic, fairly dark, tense and exhilarating. Arguably, in the post-Matrix age action films have been dumbed down, they are what they are, they don't usually require a great deal of concentration and they don't need to be plot heavy. That's fine. At their best - as with Skyfall or Taken - they compensate in other ways. Not so here.
The real problem with A Good Day To Die Hard is that it largely coasts on Willis' charm, rather than successfully installing Courtney as the successor to this franchise. I know I mocked that kind of uninspired, lazy filmmaking trope at the start, but if you're going to commit to something, throw your heart and soul behind it. Willis still makes a great action hero, but he'll have to hang up his white vest at some point. There just doesn't seem to be much planning behind this cash cow, despite Die Hard 6 (be still my beating heart) currently in pre-production.
Courtney, to be fair, does a decent job of supporting Willis and he is easy enough on the eye. And Big Bad Alik (Rasha Bukvic) isn't an iconic villain - there's no thrilling cat and mouse game between Alik and the McClanes - we aren't fascinated by him the same way that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) held our attention in the original movie. Heck, he's not even Hans' brother Simon (Jeremy Irons) in With A Vengeance.
Speaking of people who aren't other people, John Moore isn't original director John McTiernan - not by a long chalk. But he does frame a lot of the action well. In particular, the opening ten-minute car chase, with an armoured vehicle tossing traffic aside - like a fat kid at a birthday party when he spies the cake - is a perfectly measured high-octane set-piece that the rest of the film can never quite live up to. Sure, a massive helicopter goes some way to help, but not much. It does go boom, though.
In common with so many films of this genre, there just doesn't seem much at stake. Die Hard worked so well because of the clear and present threat of the loss of civilian lives. Civilians you cared about and McClane swore to protect. Here, they are just collateral damage as the film asks you to invest in its protagonists against a vague Russian threat.
This lack of tension can bee seen in myriad ways - for one, there are more attempted jokes in this film than previous instalments, which doesn't necessarily sit with John's established character that well. You could argue people do change as they get older, so we're prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but given McClane's background, you'd expect him to have changed from a white vest into a white jacket by now. And what we're not prepared to do is laugh over and over again at the same one joke repeated throughout the film - just Woods' lazy writing. Willis deserves some more material to work with! Just like Arnie, he is an action legend, he should be treated better.
For some inexplicable reason (no, wait, to make money off the back of Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises), the producers petitioned the BBFC to give them a list of cuts to ensure the film got a 12A rating over here, whereas it's rated R in the US. This, of course, means less of McClane's trademark swearing, and although the extent of the edit hasn't been disclosed, you can expect some of that gore to go, too. So, if you're happy with studios compromising the artistic vision of directors right down to the wire, you'll have a blast here.
If you do fancy a bit of mindless action, A Good Day to Die Hard opens on Valentine's Day (because nothing says "I love you" like Willis destroying things) and the effects will certainly lend themselves better to the big screen than DVD. It's not gripping stuff, but it is mildly entertaining. If you like this sort of thing.
A Good Day To Die Hard was released in the UK on 14th February 2013.
Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)