I’ve written quite a bit about this movie so for those of you who just want to TL;DR version that covers the important bits here it is:
- A Good Day to Die Hard is fucking terrible
- John McClane is even less relatable than he was in Life Free or Die Hard
- Jai Courtney is alright, but if you’re a fan you’ll wish he had a different big break into movies
- Die Hard is still the best Die Hard movie, and always will be (followed by “With a Vengeance”, “Die Harder”, “Live Free” and now “A Good Day”, and in that order)
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead needed to be in this movie more
So here we go.
In 1988 John McClane was a different kind of action hero. He was an everyman, nor an adonis or a martyr or highly trained ninja/soldier/pastry chef, he was just a guy who was thrust into the position of being a hero by shitty circumstances. He got the shit kicked out of him, no one believed him when he initially called for help, and when he finally prevailed he was so beat up it’s amazing he could still walk.
All of this worked because not only was John McClane more relatable than every other action hero (and indeed went on to be the template for so many other action heroes through the 1990s and on to the present) but because Die Hard was also a well constructed film. It’s an action movie yes, but it takes a good half hour before any of the real action starts allowing for a lot of character development and plot set up that’s often missing from the bigger more bombastic action films.
Fast forward to 2012 and the sad fact is that they’ve now basically unmade the character and fit him every so neatly into the mould he originally broke.
John McClane is no longer an everyman, he’s an action god, casually sending a flatbed mercedes cargo truck into an e-brake spin to avoid an oncoming RPG or driving a commandeered SUV through a guard rail on an overpass, landing it on a moving semi truck with a car trailer and literally driving over traffic to get to the road below, all the while spewing off bad one liners which have clearly been added in ADR.
I can’t tell if Jai Courtney is terrible or if it’s just the material he’s given to work with. He plays the son angry at his absentee father bit alright, but it’s kind of unbelievable. Especially when you consider that the reasons John McClane Sr. was absentee were a) his mother kept moving him away and b) John MCClane has literally saved three major cities and the entire country at this point, so it’s not like he was gone because he was a deadbeat dad, but that’s the angle they play it from rather than the “you were there for all those strangers but not for me” angle.
And since we know he was there for those strangers, and his exploits are known to people in that universe, it makes no sense that the bad guys don’t seem to know who he is and don’t kill him immediately when they find out. But of course they couldn’t even if they wanted to because the bad guys are actually incompetent in this movie. Previous bad guys just underestimated John McClane, these guys are actually idiots.
The main henchman even goes off on a cliched and pointless monologue at one point, after having John and John Jr. tied up, and they tie John Sr’s hands in front of him so he can lunge at a bad guy when the moment strikes, and John Jr’s behind his back so he can reach the super secret spy knife/gun –which they previously gratuitiously showed him putting in his shoe– so he can cut his bonds and strike said moment.
Oh, and that bad guy? He’s meant to be malevolent but it’s so poorly executed that quite literally the only thing about him that I remember, let alone dislike, is that he chewed a carrot with his mouth open during his excruitatingly terrible monologue. That made me dislike him, but not for the right reasons.
This is the problem with structure of the movie: there are no surprises. Literally everything that happens is so obviously telegraphed that you always know what’s about to happen.
Live Free or Die Hard was not a great movie but at least it tried to be something. I mean, it tried and failed, but at least it tried. A Good Day to Die Hard feels like a movie that was made with a checklist. Big car chase? Check. One liners? Check. Kill a helicopter? Check.
It’s just a shame the checklist didn’t include “make this all fit together in any decent way.” Or maybe it did and they didn’t get to check that item off.