Iconoclastic, take-no-prisoners cop John McClane, for the first time, finds himself on foreign soil after traveling to Moscow to help his wayward son Jack. With the Russian underworld in pursuit, and battling a countdown to war, the two McClanes discover their opposing methods make them unstoppable heroes.
In A Good Day to Die Hard John McClane goes on vacation. We know this because he says so half a dozen times throughout the movie. However, what John McClane is really doing is slogging through a low-level action film, and hoping his east coast charm can win audiences over for 90 minutes. Does he succeed? Hardly.
In Live Free or Die Hard we met Lucy McClane, John's precocious daughter, and in A Good Day to Die Hard we meet his son Jack, a CIA agent working an important op in Moscow. McClane, the bumbling idiot he is, sets out for Russia thinking Jack is in trouble, and since the two have grown apart in recent months, he figures that the best way to reconnect is to appear out of nowhere, at the worst possible time, and seek forgiveness. Of course, the elder McClane's presence only makes things worse for Jack, but not bad enough that the two can't team up and make it all right. What transpires from there is a standard father/son action flick with some light comedy elements.
With only 3 action set pieces to speak of, A Good Day to Die Hard doesn't give audiences their money's worth. Matter of fact, it doesn't really add anything new to the film franchise, or to action films in general. On the father/son dynamic side of things, the film is pretty generic, and on the Die Hard side it fails miserably.
At their most basic, the Die Hard films are about a dumb cop going toe-to-toe with a wily villain, and using sheer willpower to win. A Good Day to Die Hard, on the other hand, doesn't have a well-established antagonist, and makes John McClane out to be a bumbling fool. At times, he makes a funny quip or does something crazy for survival's sake, but ultimately this John McClane is a shell of his former self. He's a stilted cliché who can't help but constantly remind the audience he's on vacation.
To be fair, McClane still gets plenty bloody (a trademark of the character) and the film has its action moments, although they are extremely rare. Ultimately, the film does not live up to Die Hard standards, but keeps above a passable level. However, it's narrative is complete fluff and its characters, even McClane, are about as dynamic as a beige throw pillow. A Good Day to Die Hard is 90 minutes, 3 action sequences, and about 100 lines of total dialogue. 3 of which are "I'm on vacation." We get it McClane, you're on vacation. Next time don't take the cameras with you.
In most action films it isn't worth mentioning the cinematography, but in A Good Day to Die Hard's case I just can't help myself. Not because it's remarkable, mind you, but because of how obnoxious it is. Somewhere in pre-production, director John Moore decided that A Good Day to Die Hard would feature a ton of shaky cam and snap zooms. As a result, most of the action scenes feel disjointed, incongruous from shot-to-shot, and a little off-putting. A case could be made that the shaky cam/snap zoom approach helped the film seamlessly blend digital and practical effects, and in that respect it is hard to tell the difference between the two, but I found it all to be very distracting.
That said, there are a handful of moments in the film where slow motion is used effectively, either to heighten a particular stunt or emphasize a significant moment. It borders on cheesy, but one sequence towards the end of the film is so incredible the slow motion actually makes it better.
It bears repeating once more, just in case you glossed over it: A Good Day to Die Hard only has 3 action sequences. Not 3 major set pieces, or 3 big moments, 3 action scenes period. One of those sequences, a vehicle chase through Moscow, occupies nearly a third of the film, and isn't all that exciting. And as a whole, most of the action is pretty dry, and not that visually interesting. Moreover, the set pieces follow a pretty standard formula: watch father and son cause mayhem and destruction, then watch them narrowly escape death. These narrow escapes, however, are the most exciting moments in the film. For that fleeting minute or so, you see flashes of what could have been, whereas the rest of the film is pretty blasé. It's also worth pointing out that the film recycles the use of a helicopter for two of its three action sequences.
February 14, 2013