Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard
By Matthew Huntley
February 19, 2013

We wonder how long the McClanes have been living in their car.

How to to enjoy (or perhaps tolerate) A Good Day to Die Hard: immediately accept it as a disordered, full-blown action movie that pays no respect to reason, plausibility, second thoughts or story. Maybe then it can serve as a guilty pleasure, but I have a feeling most viewers will still opt to write it off, simply because it doesn't have the same level of charm, excitement or craftsmanship as its predecessors, which is what a lot of people will be looking for.

This is the shortest entry in the long-running Die Hard series so far, and at just under 100 minutes, the filmmakers have all but abandoned any attempt to develop the characters or story beyond mere pawns of the wall-to-wall action, which includes the usual heavy-duty chase scenes, explosions, shootouts, jumps through windows, crashing helicopters, etc.-you know the drill. But the faster you accept this is all A Good Day to Die Hard is going to be, the less prone you are to leaving the theater angry or disappointed. Heck, you may even like it, just as I did, as a superfluous exercise in special effects, noise and utter preposterousness. But then, maybe I was just having a silly day.

Ironically, what made the previous Die Hard movies so memorable was not their action (although this played a role), but the everyman qualities and observations of its humble hero: John McClane (Bruce Willis, who else?), who, I'm convinced, really will never die. No matter how old he gets, this guy will always be able to take a beating, and no bullet, knife, shard of glass, hard landing or shock wave will ever slow him down. But in this installment, there are few, if any, scenes devoted to McClane's personality. It's as if the movie doesn't have time for that and settles on him being just another indomitable action star, which is another thing you have to recognize (lest you run the risk of growing frustrated): the good guys are immune to everything, and in spite of what their bodies are put through, they'll ultimately walk away unscathed. A shot to the thigh, for instance, doesn't mean they still can't sprint across a rooftop.

So, once you accept this movie as pure, incredible action, and nothing else, you can check your brain at the door and judge whether or not what it offers is enough to stimulate you. I'm on the fence, as it's hard for me to acknowledge a movie as only visual and aural candy without at least one interesting character or story thread to give it weight. A Good Day to Die Hard starts off loud and obnoxious but I found it gradually got better as it went along; by the end, it's still loud, but it's also kid of fun, in a ridiculous sort of way.

This time around, McClane, forever an N.Y.P.D. detective, finds himself in Moscow, Russia to help out his son Jack (Jai Courtney), a CIA agent who's been arrested for assassinating a corrupt Russian official at the request of an even more corrupt Russian official named Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Little does McClane Sr. know this is all part of an on-going CIA operation to bring Chagarin down and rescue a political prisoner named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch). Yuri allegedly knows the whereabouts of a very important file that could serve as incriminating evidence against Chagarin and plans on testifying in court against him.

It's never made clear what's so important about Chagarin or Komarov, at least in the eyes of the CIA, other than the former is a dangerous man who needs to be brought to justice. There's expectedly little substance to get behind in terms of the plot. The bottom line is one of Chagarin's henchmen, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), stages an explosion to kidnap Yuri and John and Jack McClane find themselves in the middle of it, trying to do good. Before the movie is over, they'll have taken part in and survived a mostly incoherent freeway chase; a massive shootout and free fall from an upscale hotel ball room; thousands of rounds of bullets; and a couple of big explosions at Chernobyl, Ukraine, where the bad guys plan on stealing crates of enriched uranium, either to sell to the highest bidder or start a nuclear war, take your pick.

About the aforementioned freeway chase: it recalled moments from the reprehensible Bad Boys II (and other terrible action movies) in which the characters, who are supposed to be the heroes, show absolutely no regard for the damage they cause or the innocent people they hurt. At one point, McClane Sr. steals an SUV, stops mid-way on a bridge (causing an accident), and then backs up and drives off the bridge onto bunch of other cars as if he were at a monster truck rally. Did I mention there are people in these cars? Are we supposed to think this okay and acceptable because it's all being done for the sake of catching the bad guys? My heart started to sink because I was afraid the whole movie was going to be like this and I'd start to view the characters as heartless monsters who never stop to notice anybody but themselves and that I'd walk away sickened because this is being passed off as entertainment.

Luckily it's not all like that. Eventually, A Good Day to Die Hard calms down and pays attention, albeit superficially, to the relationship between John and Jack, who haven't spoken in years. In a rather pathetic attempt at emotion, John tells Yuri he screwed up Jack's life by not being there when he needed him and Jack overhears him. It's cheesy, but in a later exchange that has John saying, "I love you boy," it feels more sincere and we appreciate the humanity that's restored to the McClane character.

But there I go talking about things like character and humanity when I explicitly said these are the kinds of qualities A Good Day to Die Hard simply doesn't take into account. In fact, the movie seems to have been thrown together by second unit filmmakers, who specialize in stunts and action, which isn't to stay they couldn't make a good movie, but the narrative is so loose and silly, we simply laugh at it and enjoy the film for its sensation, or at least try to. In the end, the sensation was so non-stop and absurd that its sheer audacity won me over. Other viewers might not be as forgiving. Am I being too soft on it? Perhaps, but I learned long ago that when it comes to action movies that are only about action, if the filmmakers aren't going taking it any more seriously than you are, you might as well sit back and try to enjoy the ride. That's not always possible, I know, but in this case it is, even though I'm quite sure I have no reason to ever ride it again.