When hack director John Moore was announced to direct A Good Day to Die Hard I knew things would play out one of two ways: either Moore would rise to the challenge of directing an entry in one of the greatest film franchises of all time or Moore would drag the series down into whatever sewer he crawled out of. Well, the results came in earlier this week; critics have unanimously trashed the movie. And I can confirm that while the movie isn’t as bad as its rating on Rotten Tomatoes might indicate, it’s still represents the series’ nadir.
I’m a huge fan of the Die Hard franchise. I’ve seen all of the movies. I think the original Die Hard is a perfect action movie. Hell, I even liked Live Free or Die Hard even though it felt nothing like a true Die Hard movie. Even the worst entries in the franchise up to this point have been a cut above typical action fare if just for the fact that they all feature Bruce Willis hamming it up in his most iconic role. And that’s why it pains to me say that not only is A Good Day to Die Hard a crappy Die Hard movie, it’s also the first entry in the franchise to be a flat out crappy film by any standard.
The original Die Hard immediately set the high bar for action movies upon its release in 1988, and I think the best way to illustrate how badly this movie fails is to compare it to the original. Is it fair to compare the two? No. Die Hard is a perfect movie, and only a handful of flicks have matched or surpassed it in the past two decades. However, all subsequent directors had McTiernan’s original flick as a blue print for their own entries. The fact that John Moore screwed up A Good Day to Die Hard so badly shows that he either never saw the original film or he saw it and completely missed everything that made it so great.
I think the most striking thing about A Good Day to Die Hard is how John McClane has morphed into such a complete cliché. Yes, Bruce Willis is still in the lead, and yes, he still has the acting chops and the charisma to carry the franchise. But the character isn’t remotely human by this point.
In the original Die Hard, John McClane finds himself in over his head when a dozen terrorists crash a Christmas party, take hostages, and lock down a Los Angeles skyscraper. He takes down most of the bad guys in one-on-one confrontations, and he gets hurt…a lot. McClane was different from Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando or Sylvester Stallone in First Blood. He was actually vulnerable; a nasty fall or a hard punch would hurt him. A handful of terrorists were capable of killing him. Probably the most memorable sequence in the first movie is when McClane has to drag himself into a bathroom and dig broken glass out of his bare, bloody feet. John McTiernan’s John McClane was hard to kill, but he was human. That John McClane would have died thirty minutes into this movie.
This time around McClane heads to Moscow to save his estranged son. Early on, we see Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) gun down a shady individual in a night club; he’s immediately arrested. John hops on the first flight to Moscow and heads to the courthouse where his son’s case is being heard. It just so turns out, however, that Jack is being held in the same cell as an infamous political prisoner. Pretty soon explosions are rocking the courthouse and armed thugs are after both Jack and the prisoner. Oh, and Jack is also a CIA superspy.
John jumps into the mix along with his boy and the two slaughter at least three dozen baddies while surviving multiple car crashes, explosions, and running gun battles. In the first movie, John McClane was nearly taken out of commission when he had to run barefoot across a floor full of shattered glass. In A Good Day to Die Hard, John McClane is thrown several hundred yards from a spinning helicopter and through a plate glass window; he then gets up, launches himself through another window and plunges three stories down into a swimming pool. He walks away without so much as a limp.
Setting aside the protagonist, A Good Day to Die Hard also suffers from a murky plot and the complete lack of a good villain. Again, the original Die Hard was brilliant in its simplicity. Thirteen terrorists take hostages and lock down a skyscraper; in order to save his estranged wife, McClane has to kill the terrorists. We know that they’re evil because they’re being led by Alan Rickman. Each one of the bad guys in that movie is identifiable, even if they are only identifiable as “the guy with glasses,” “the guy with the long hair,” or “the black guy.” Each character is recognizable, and as a result, each kill John McClane makes carries at least some weight.
Having a limited number of identifiable henchmen always benefits an action movie. It seems counterintuitive, because you’d imagine that a higher body count is preferable to a smaller one. Bigger is better, right? But Robocop and The Crow are also amazing action movies, and that’s because they also sported a narrow list of baddies who are dispatched in memorable ways. Watching one memorable bad guy bite the dust beats the hell out of watching a hoard of anonymous goons getting wiped out all at once.
But A Good Day to Die Hard goes for the higher kill count. Before the movie is over, McClane and son gun down several dozen faceless thugs, take down a helicopter, and blow up half of Chernobyl. The main villain doesn’t manifest his presence until the film is nearly over and even then his intentions are murky.
And I think that approach particularly distinguish Moore’s and Wiseman’s movies from the first three entries in the series. Moore in particular clearly wasn’t trying to make a more memorable film with A Good Day to Die Hard, he was trying to make a bigger film. A Good Day to Die Hard sports more explosions and a higher body count than the first three movies combined, but it lacks the character of those earlier movies. The action is devoid of any consequences. Moore has transformed a beloved film franchise into a video game.
For what it’s worth, the cast is solid. Bruce Willis is his reliable self, and Courtney Jai actually works as Jack McClane—for starters, the man has boatloads of charisma and he actually looks like he could be Bruce Willis’ son. If the producers of the series want to continue on after Willis retires from the franchise, they wouldn’t do badly to continue on with the adventures of Jack McClane instead of remaking the original movie with a new actor.
But, in an ideal world, the Die Hard franchise would end after one more entry. My understanding is that director John McTiernan is currently sitting in federal prison after getting wrapped up in a wiretapping scandal. In an ideal world, 20th Century Fox would wait until McTiernan is released from prison and would hand the reigns back over to the man for one last movie. Only in that event would John McClane get the send off he deserves. If nothing else, the greatest action hero of all time deserves a better send off than A Good Day to Die Hard.