2/15/13: A Good Day to Die Hard

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What a curious thing, Die Hard. Die Hard is, in the eyes of many, one of the greatest action movies ever made. For good reason, of course. It has everything you could reasonably want in an action movie unless your idea of an action movie comes from the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich school of action movies. Die Hard is an intense film with well shot scenes, a hero you instantly get attached to, and a charismatic and oddly likable villain. Plus there’s a black guy! Everyone loves those!

Part of what makes Die Hard so…Die Hard is the central character of John McClane, a no-nonsense cop with a bit of a vigilante streak in him. He works so well as a hero precisely because he doesn’t want to be one. Sure that whole “How does the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” line in Die Hard 2 was played for laughs, but it perfectly encapsulates the John McClane character. The reason we like John McClane so much isn’t just because of his pithy quips or his prowess with a gun, it is because we enjoy seeing someone struggle against the odds. It makes for an exciting movie, especially an action movie, if the protagonist is in over his head. It makes the payoff all the sweeter in the end.

Back in 2007 fans of Die Hard complained that John McClane was going the route of generic action hero, that Die Hard was going for spectacle over situation. That it was killing what made Die Hard…Die Hard. They were wrong.

A Good Day to Die Hard killed it. And then shat on its corpse. Just to be safe.

The problems with Good Day are evident almost from word go. It just sort of…opens. The Russian Alec Baldwin talks to another Russian about some muddy stuff that has no real payoff. Some guy who looks like Sam Worthington’s stunt double shoots a guy. People in Langley stand around looking worried. It’s all very fast and all very poorly handled. The Sam Worthington lookalike is Jack McClane, son to super cop John McClane.

Jack McClane is the worst thing in the movie.

I’m not talking about the actor (I can’t be assed to look up or remember who it was), he was awful but so was everyone. I’m not talking about how he has no redeeming qualities. I’m talking about how this single character is responsible for making Die Hard into just another shitty action movie.

You see, Jack McClane wants to be in a Michael Bay movie. He wants to be the guy that waltzes into a room, fires a gun a few times and watches as everything explodes and inept guards fall over rails to their death. He would fit in perfectly in any other summer movie where people defend its quality by calling it “mindless entertainment.”

Fuck you if you’ve ever justified a movie with that excuse. Fuck you for accepting those types of movies as enjoyable.

You’re probably thinking “this guy hates the movie because it doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie”. Yes, that’s true. The movie has no reason to have Die Hard in the title. There’s nothing resembling a Die Hard movie present. But even if I went into it having no knowledge of Die Hard I would hate it.

A Good Day to Die Hard might be the laziest action movie I’ve ever seen. Everything about it screams lazy, from Bruce Willis’ performance which adds a new meaning to “phoning it in” to the fucking terrible camera work, the awful pacing, the non-threatening villains and the downright cringe-inducing script.

The script plays out like someone was told to write a script for a sequel to Die Hard and the only thing they knew about Die Hard was that at one point the main character gets a machine gun and he says “yippee kay yay, motherfucker”.

John McClane arrives in Moscow to spring his son, Jack, from jail. What John doesn’t know, because in true McClane fashion he has a strained relationship with family, is that Jack is working an assignment for the C.I.A. Jack is tasked with escorting a political prisoner out of Moscow for…reasons. John shows up as Jack is fleeing and ¬†fucks everything up. Father and son are now tasked with killing Russians who want to kill the prisoner for…I dunno they were bored?

The core of the movie is the relationship between father and son. Jack absolutely hates John because John was a terrible father and daddy issues are all the rage these days. The movie makes it a point to hammer this into your skull by having Jack constantly go “FUCK YOU, DAD” without ever going “fuck you dad”. Early on the only things out of Jack’s mouth is some variation of “damn you, John”.

Remember the part in Die Hard when they had Holly constantly point out that things are problematic? No?

BECAUSE THEY ESTABLISHED THAT IN THE FIRST FEW SCENES.

Jack’s entire character is just generic action guy who hates his dad. On the flipside, once reluctant hero John is now actively engaging in danger just…just because. Throughout the movie John keeps saying “this is supposed to be my vacation!”

Except, no, John, it wasn’t. You specifically went to Moscow to get your son out of prison. You specifically started a multi car pile up/high speed chase that ended with wounded in the triple digits. Are we supposed to think John’s idea of a vacation is ruining international relations and compromising a secret government mission?

The strained relationship could serve as an interesting backdrop if it was done well. It wasn’t. One scene has father and son at odds end and the next scene they are buddy buddy. One small conversation where John mocks Jack for crying as a kid and all the years of bad blood is resolved because it would be too difficult to stage an action scene where two people work like oil and water. Fuck character development for the person you clearly want to take on the John McClane role, no one wants a reason to care about the hero.

Speaking of reasons to care, the villains have the most vague plot that gives the audience no real reason to care about them or otherwise feel anything towards them be it hatred or sympathy. They are Russians and hate Americans and that is reason enough to hate them, I guess. There is some mention to the main villains being responsible for Chernobyl (yes, the whole thing) but that’s about it. Think of any iconic villain in an action movie. Not just Hans but any villain. Why do you remember them? Did they have a memorable appearance? Charisma? The villains in A Good Day blabbity blah are literal rent-a-cops in movie form. Without an interesting or compelling villain there is no real reason to get invested in the hero’s journey and thus no reason to care about the movie as a whole. A large reason why people loved The Dark Knight was because of Joker’s presence and menace throughout the whole thing. He was constantly a step ahead of Batman and that made people invested. Imagine if the villain in Dark Knight was that Russian guy that worked with Falcone and the other mobs. Would you care when Batman took him down? Fuck no you wouldn’t.

That’s the villains in Good Day. The laziest written villains possible. “Russian”.

A Good Day to Die Hard tries so hard to be a spectacle piece. It wants nothing more than to have an excuse for a room full of glass to be shot to bits and then blown up. In the process it loses anything enjoyable about it. There’s no soul in the movie. It feels like a factory assembled movie put together to appeal directly to the lowest common denominator. Judging by the way the people behind me in the theater spoke so highly about it (“That was fuckin’ AWESOME!” after every single action beat) I guess they succeeded.

Every scene not housing a big room that can be full of cannon fodder exists merely as a tool for Bruce Willis to smirk and look old. Rather than spend downtime attempting to give Jack or the villains any sort of motivation, they speed through these scenes in order to cram in yet another scene where the McClane’s jump through glass. It’s sad because there could’ve been a real movie here, with characters actually growing and everything. But no, we get this fast paced spectacle where no scene is given any time to breathe or develop. Sure we’ve had four movies to get to know John, but Jack has a fresh slate here. If you’re going to give the hero a sidekick, at least give the sidekick a personality. Like Argyle or Zeus Carver.

A Good Day to Die Hard is lazy. That’s the best way to put it. I suppose if you’re the kind of person who thought any of the Transformers movies was actually good you’ll come away from Good Day with a positive image. But you’ll be the kind of person who thinks “mindless entertainment” is acceptable. And you already know what I think of people like that.