A Good Day to Die Hard
(2013, US, d. John Moore)
Brisk, action-packed and more enjoyable than its predecessor, A Good Day to Die Hard marks a surprisingly forward step for the franchise, even though it continues to milk the audience’s love for the original.
Sure, it removes a lot of the self-conscious humor regarding it’s often over-the-top and flamboyant action scenes that its predecessor possessed. But what it loses in that department, it makes up for in the story of John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his son Jack (newcomer Jai Courtney).
A Good Day to Die Hard begins as McClane’s son is arrested in Moscow for an assassination of a high power figure. Back in America, John McClane hears about his son’s whereabouts and sets off to Mother Russia to help him out. Little does he know how much crap he’s about to get involved in. Just as he’s about to get dropped off by his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Live Free or Die Hard fame), at the airport, Lucy looks to John. “Try not to make an even bigger mess of things”, she says. John looks over at her, smiles, and gets out the car. Here we go again.
A lot of people have a lot of problems with this film, and maybe it was because I was so conscious of them that they didn’t bother me as much. The previous Die Hard film almost knew it was a movie and never missed a moment to poke fun at itself. Most people expected the same thing out of this movie and were disappointed by the result. I, however, enjoyed the fact that it took itself a little more seriously, even considering the fact that its plot was no less outrageous or overly complicated.
You have to hand it over to the filmmakers. If they see any sign of the franchise coming to a close, it’s not visible on the screen. Rather, this looks and feels like a series they plan on keeping alive, even if it involves injecting high amounts of generic adrenaline into the set pieces and into its aging star. But speaking of Bruce Willis, this is the role he’s meant to play. Even if every other action hero he portrays in other films seems similar, John McClane is where those characters draw their inspiration from. Straight from the original film.
What makes A Good Day to Die Hard so appealing was that it felt like the reboot that Live Free or Die Hard should’ve been (I’m getting tired of these sentence titles, too). It pays homage to the original film in many, many ways and has fun subverting itself as well.
Like the original film, this new installment sees New York City cop McClane on the journey to a foreign land to enjoy what should be an interesting vacation. Like the original film, McClane finds himself on a mission to reconnect with a member of his family. And like the original film, our “antagonist” (though it really is hard to identify a single antagonist with this film) is quirky and sympathetic. Granted, it is impossible to reach the levels of genius Alan Rickman easily did with Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard.
Maybe it was the presence of a long-missed sentimentality that got me. After all, no Die Hard since the original really felt like the family-affirming affair that they should’ve been. Maybe it was the breath of fresh air with the inventive, explosive, and engaging action sequences that so contrasted the cliched and formulaic ones of recent (SEE: Parker). But that’s another disagreement I have with critics.
But mostly, I think the film just surprised me. Surprised me with its legitimacy. Surprised me with the fact that I got over how much of a “bad guy” Courtney looks like and accepted him as the “hero” of the story and potential successor to the franchise. Surprised me with its envelope-pushing and interesting action extravagances.
Even if it was forced, there was an emotional core to this film. Regardless of its theatrics, A Good Day to Die Hard is exactly what it aims to be: fun at the movie theaters. And if you look at the palette of “fun” movies of late, you’ll realize it’s actually a harder feat to pull off than you’d think.