John McClane is back in the fifth installment of the Die Hard movie series: A Good Day to Die Hard, but does an aging Bruce Willis still make for a convincing action hero? The Die Hard series is known to consist of ‘fun’ action blockbusters with a serious undertone. Although all parts so far have been at least above average, the two, in my opinion, best films in the series have both been directed by John McTiernan. The first: Die Hard (1988) and the third: Die Hard – with a Vengeance (1995). Extrapolating that, we should be expecting something good for the fifth installment, although a different director is attached this time: John Moore.
The movie starts out by introducing the Russian dissident Komorov that plays a pivotal role in the rest of the movie. John McClane’s son has been arrested and is up to testify against Komorov. When John McClane learns of his son’s predicament, he goes to Russia (the actual scenes were filmed in Budapest, Hungary) to help him. The fact that John McClane even has a son is something the viewer has to take for granted. At least his daughter was properly introduced in the previous film: Die Hard 4, and she also plays a small part in this movie. Nevertheless, Jai Courtney delivers a good performance as John McClane’s son. The chemistry and teasing between him and Bruce Willis is one of the more enjoyable parts of A Good Day to Die Hard, even though it does not come as natural as between Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard 3.
Despite decent acting, and the fact that Willis can still amuse us with cool John McClane looks, the film suffers from one major defect: a villain that we don’t get to care about. In fact, there’s very little back story on the villain, which also makes his motivations unclear. As a result, the plot twists in the movie don’t seem to work very well. On the one hand, Die Hard movies have never had extremely deep antagonists, but on the other hand a more intellectual villain, like Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) in Die Hard 3, would have been welcome. In the previous installment, Live Free or Die Hard, we at least got to know the main villain a bit better. Even though that movie suffered from believability problems (truck versus F-35 jet anyone?). Anyway, despite the lack of a convincing villain, the storytelling in A Good Day to Die Hard is at least decently paced.
In terms of action, the new Die Hard does deliver. Although, an early car chase scene starts out quite messy, with overuse of shaky close-up cam work (similar to what Doug Liman did in the first Bourne Identity, but that movie actually had a decent plot). Some wide shots would have helped here. However, this is somewhat made up for by spinning cars with actually visible people in them, as well as well-timed usage of slow motions during pivotal action scenes throughout the movie. The computer generated imagery is quite good and certainly decent enough to not break the spell.
A Good Day to Die Hard is not a bad movie by itself, but previous Die Hard movies give a certain expectation in terms of story and character development. Despite a strong Willis and Courtney, a so-so plot and a weak villain dilute the Die Hard franchise to something akin to The Expendables. Sufficient perhaps for those looking for a 100 minute popcorn flick, but disappointing for those that expect a little more than just cool gunfights and good looking explosions. This is by far the weakest Die Hard yet.