A Good Day to Die Hard

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 14, 2013

Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis  

A Good Day to Die Hard opens like "Zero Dark Thirty", with the unnerving cries of war playing over a black screen, and ends like "Flash Gordon," with the silliest freeze-frame director John Moore could find. It makes sense: with this, the fifth film in the most top-heavy franchise in Hollywood history - the first is a stone-cold masterpiece, the rest rank from disastrous to mildly atrocious - "Die Hard" tries to split the difference between the many tones it's employed over the past 25 years.

So on one hand, it wants us to feel nostalgic about everything John McClane - we get nods to many of the first films greatest moments (the glass scene, Alan Rickman's skyscraper dive - and of course, his most profane catchphrase makes a return), we get a Cold War era nuclear subplot, and we even get Reagan jokes. But on the other hand, this is a franchise that distributor 20th Century Fox wants to continue for a long time, so more than a few pains are taken to make sure Bruce doesn't come off too old. He may be slowing down, but they don't want us thinking that he's too old for this shit quite yet.

So when we first meet up with McClane, he's hanging out - alone - in a police officer's shooting range. And it's the only suggestion you get that he has a life outside this franchise - whether it's a job, his ex-wife, the idea of friends or family other than his kids, not a single personal detail earns even one expository line of dialogue (so much for the idea of franchises like this allowing us to "catch up" with our favorite characters). No, we jump right into the fire; ignoring any concepts of character or aging or continuity. "Your son's in trouble in Russia," he's told. "Hospital or Morgue?" "Worse." And off we go.

It's a Russian jail for John McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney, recently seen in "Jack Reacher,") and Big Poppa John heads across the pond to get him out. But in place of the screw-up drug dealer he expects to find locked up, 'Jack' actually is - surprise, surprise - a chip off the old block. That's right: not only is he an undercover CIA agent, he's doing battle with surprisingly charismatic Eastern European baddies.

And that's where it all starts to get hilarious. This may be a "Good Day," but the title really should be "Daddy Issues Die Hard." Jack, spurned for years, refuses to refer to John as 'Dad,' and spends most of the running time running away from him. Yuri Komarov, the prisoner/witness they're trying to escort out of Russia, is constantly putting his life on the line to get his daughter over the border with him. He and Willis even have an extended heart-to-heart after a chase scene, where they - without humor, it's played for heart - assure each other that it's "never too late" to reconnect with your kids.

Even the nameless Alan Rickman stand-in chasing after the McClane's (and their living Russian MacGuffin) gets in on the action! He gleefully prances around each set, later confiding to a tied up John that "I could have been a dancer... but no one supported me." (And no, I'm not joking about that last part.)

The first "Die Hard" was a fair bit silly too, but it also took place on Planet Earth. But much like the last installment, this one trades in Christopher Nolan-sized action sequences: not only does a truck drag a helicopter into the ground, let's say, but they also happen to land on an exploding tanker. The drunken, low-key, workingman energy of the original has been replaced with action-hero mythology, blockbuster-sized stunts, and sub-Stallone quips. John McClane used to be rough. Now he's smooth. That's the problem.