Can it ever really be A Good Day to Die Hard? The problems start with the title of the fifth installment in the franchise, but they don't stop there.
John McClane is back and this time he doesn’t know Jack. That's not saying he is stupid, though his brash American ignorance does provide some laughs in this Russian-set sequel. Actually, his son is named Jack, and John has failed to get to know him in the past. Their father and son relationship is so strained that everyone's favourite NYC cop is not even aware his own son is working for the CIA undercover in Russia. McClane Sr. takes off to the mother country to help his wayward son out of what looks like a serious bind.
Very quickly things get back to business. The stunts are nothing short of spectacular. Vehicular mayhem on the streets is followed by shootouts and jumping off buildings that are wonderfully OTT, but once again prove in fine style how hard to kill the McClanes are. The persistent use of old school stunts and practical effects is admirable with every crash of cars and crash landing being bone-crunching and glass-smashingly brutal. That is until the last act ludicrousness that also blighted the last entry in the franchise shows up again in some CG-assisted madness that is simultaneously explosively entertaining and just a little too far over the top. It is a problem familiar from Die Hard 4.0 with that film's jumping-off-jet action requiring a reliance on CG rendering that is disappointing to die hard old school action fans.
However, most of the action is delirious fun and what we would expect of the franchise. On the other hand Skip Woods’ script must shoulder most of the blame for the shortcomings of A Good Day to Die Hard. While McClane gets to banter with his estranged son and raise the odd smirk, the character feels like a third wheel in the first half, supplementary to requirements and crow barred into the action carelessly. There is a silly last act rug pull and some clangers as the climax approaches, while McClane has lost much of his world weary wit that has made him such a fun character to watch in the past. The relationship with Jack shows promise with some fun banter between the pair but soon descends into cheesiness.
It is becoming increasingly hard to care for what the McClane's are fighting for. While money has always been a factor in the villains' plots throughout the franchise, the first also had a building full of hostages, the second had planes threatening to drop out of the sky and the third has schools full of children at risk, and therefore to care about. Crucially the fourth in the franchise failed to raise this level of threat and it is a similar problem in A Good Day to Die Hard.
While few will dispute that there was never a better day for this franchise to have died hard than after the towering success of the first film, many (including myself) will also defend the rest of the original trilogy for their further attempts to make McClane die in the hardest of ways. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice, thrice, four times and now inconceivably a fifth time after all? Well the fundamental problem with particularly the last three in the series is that this is far from the same shit happening to the same guy again and again. In fact, starting with Die Hard with a Vengeance, John McClane's antics have been less and less constricted, the Christmas time setting was lost and much of what made the first film work was lost. Fans don't want too much originality from a sequel and McClane has never been as thrilling when he has a whole city to run around in.
The producers are very much like the villains of the series, dazzling audiences with spectacle while they secretly rob us of our money. Why a director like Moore and writer like Woods are hired for such a huge franchise is mysterious. Surely A Good Day to Die Hard should attract the biggest names in Hollywood, not the guys who brought us deeply average entertainment such as The Omen remake and The A Team film. Moore does a fine job and for the most part should be commended on his handling of the thrilling action sequences but the flaws lie mostly with the script. Those action scenes are shot and edited with a precision lacking in many modern action films but McClane's dialogue should be more fun than this. His repetition of certain grumbles is a constant limitation of the script.
A Good Day to Die Hard is incredibly short and feels it too. The running rime is brief compared to other films in the franchise and the pace is incredibly brusque. The set up is economical, the set pieces whiz by like bullets and before you know it the film is entering its final third with barely enough time to have reacquainted yourself with McClane or dug deep enough into the family history and reasons for John and Jack's hostility.
Die-hard Die Hard fans will, again, have to wince their way through the deeply saddening lack of bloody violence too. Again showing little respect for the fan base, A Good Day to Die Hard has been trimmed for a 12A rating and it definitely shows in places with a couple of climactic moments being surely snipped to appease the censors. It's not a family film so it’s deeply sad to see the scissors back at work.
One of the biggest problems with the film is the persistent musical refrains familiar from the rest of the franchise. While this wonderful music provides continuity through the series, it also emerges at pivotal moments and drags those of us far too familiar with the original film right back to the past glories and renders anything new insignificant in comparison. However a new generation not raised on the classic first installment will most likely find as much to love in this fresh entry in the franchise as oldies did in the first.
There is the temptation to hope for a sixth entry that can set the wrongs right and Willis and Fox will no doubt be all over it if this one makes a tidy enough profit. On the other hand, A Good Day to Die Hard is an improvement on Die Hard 4.0 and therefore it might be a good day to retire on a relatively high note. After all, a disappointing sixth entry might finally ensure that the franchise dies… hard.