Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
“Are you always looking for trouble or does it find you?” John McClane, Jr. (Jai Courtney) asks his father at the end of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
“After all these years?” John McClane (Bruce Willis), bloodied and battered, responds with his customary smirk. “I still ask myself the same question.”
Oo! Oo! Me! Pick me! I know the answer!
In “Die Hard” trouble found him. In “Die Harder” he went looking for it. In “Die Hard with a Vengeance” trouble definitely went looking for him, but only as a diversion, and then he went after trouble because it played him for a sap. In “Live Free or Die Hard,” I think it went looking for him. I forget most of that forgettable movie. And in this one? “A Good Day to Die Hard”? Man, does he go looking for it. To an embarrassing degree.
Bummer. What made John McClane feel truly, heroically American in the original “Die Hard” 25 years ago was how much he didn’t want to be the hero; how, if Hans had opened the door for him, he would’ve walked out of Nakatomi Towers. That’s Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.” I stick my neck out for nobody. That’s the isolationist streak in the U.S. before World War II. Now John McClane rushes in, guns blazing, where angels fear to tread. The U.S., too.
Did this even have to be a “Die Hard” movie? What’s specific to the character of John McClane here? I kind of miss Holly, the wife who kept leaving him no matter how many times he saved her ass from terrorists. Her presence, with one foot out the door, helped make him John McClane. Unwanted. Ordinary. Like us.
So what’s he up to these days? He’s at a pistol range, working on his expert marksmanship, when a friend comes to him with information. His estranged, ne’er-do-well son, Jack, has turned up in a Moscow prison. John has to go there. He has to right things. He has to rush in.
Hey, he happens to show up outside the Moscow courthouse at the exact same moment his son and Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), the dissident Russian nuclear scientist and persecuted political prisoner, are being paraded inside for a show trial. Jack is supposedly going to rat on Yuri, claim Yuri paid him to kill a political enemy, but we already know, because we’ve seen the trailer, that Jack is CIA. He’s there to protect Yuri and spirit him out of the country.
Dad, outside, doesn’t know this. What’s the story like from his perspective? He has a fuck-up for a son who’s on trial in Moscow. Then half the courthouse blows up. Then, in the wreckage, he sees his son making a getaway with another guy.
You’re a Dad. What would you do at this point?
You stop the son from making his getaway, of course. You admonish him thus: “Jack! Jack!” You go over generic family squabbles as Russian forces gather. Then when your son pulls a gun on you and drives away (“You shouldn’t be here,” he says), and you see he’s being pursued by, presumably, the cops, you grab a truck and drive like a crazy man through the streets of Moscow to help him. When that truck gets flipped over countless parked cars, and you emerge with a few cuts, you stand in the middle of traffic demanding another vehicle. When a car hits you, and its driver admonishes you for standing in the middle of the street, you get up, coldcock him and take his car. “You think I understand a word you’re saying?” you say to him. Ha ha. To the pursuers, the bad guys, who could be police for all you know, you say, “Knock knock” as you ram them from behind. You say, “Guess who?” as you ram them from the side. When you drive over a woman in her car, crushing her car, and she screams, you say, “Sorry, ma’am.” Ha ha.
Bruce Willis used to have comic timing. What happened? Maybe he knows he’s in scenes that won’t work. Maybe he knows that his character, John McClane, will look like a horse’s ass. Maybe he knows that it’s a bad idea for the hero to spend the first third of the movie coming up to speed. Maybe he knows that all of this is the antithesis of who John McClane is. Or was.
Remember the way he picked shards of glass from his feet in the original “Die Hard”? Remember how you cringed? Nothing like that here. He bulldozes through everything, then emerges a bit winded, a bit cut, maybe limping, but otherwise undamaged. He’s the terminator as an old, bald man. Bummer.
So there are three big reveals in “A Good Day to Die Hard.” OK, two small reveals before one big reveal.
The first small reveal is that McClane’s ne’er-do-well son is CIA. But we know that if we’ve seen the trailer. Which we have.
The second small reveal is that Irina (Yuliya Snigir), the daughter of Yuri, betrays her father to his enemies, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic) and Defense Minister Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), for money. But that’s so like hot girls, right, man? Total fucking betrayers, man.
The big reveal, after Irina and Alik take Yuri to Chernobyl—which Yuri and Chagarin totally caused, by the way—is that Yuri and his daughter are in cahoots. They wanted to go back to Chernobyl. Not to retrieve a file that has information damaging to Chagarin on it. No, they want the weapons-grade plutonium there. To sell on the black market? To blow up New York? Do we ever find out? Do we need to? It’s enough that they’re bad guys and it’s Chernobyl and it’s John McClane and his son to the rescue wahoo.
But what does this mean in terms of story?
It means that Chagarin was sleeping with his enemy’s daughter and didn’t think she’d betray him.
It means that Yuri whored out his daughter to his political enemy to further his interests.
It means the CIA and John Jr. were played for saps, that the political protesters outside are backing the wrong pony, and that Yuri risked everything, many times over, to pull the strings at the last moment, to reveal himself as puppetmaster rather than puppet, chessmaster rather than pawn. On the way to this triumph, there were 12 ways he could’ve died. Then he dies anyway: thrown from a rooftop by John Jr., and grasping at the air in slow-mo, in homage to Hans, before the blades of his daughter’s helicopter chop him to bits. Splat! Then she gets hers in a kamikaze bloodbath as John and John, Jr., leap by, in slow mo, flipping the bird. Classy.
You’re in the movies now and I’m in your cartoon
“A Good Day to Die Hard” was written by Skip Woods, who wrote “Swordfish” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It was directed by John Moore, who directed the 2006 remake of “The Omen” and the Mark Wahlberg vehicle “Max Payne.” Talent.
What a shame. The original “Die Hard” was set in a high-rise but it was grounded. This is a cartoon. Yippee-ki-whatever.