It’s easy to roll your eyes at A Good Day to Die Hard. Maybe you like art house, rom-coms, biopics or classic noir? I wouldn’t know because we haven’t met, but I do know that the popcorn action genre cops a lot of flak. As blockbuster budgets soar – up to $92 million in this case – there is a natural ripple shaking productions companies: If they’re going to spend a lot, they need a lot back in return. Catching wind of yet another sequel to Die Hard brought the dubious stench of a film banking on explosions and a franchise whose life has been extended short of life support to rake in the cash.
But I needn’t be so quick to judge. Director John Moore’s take on the classic franchise doesn’t pretend to deal out introspective politics (unlike a certain James Cameron film about a certain blue tribe), but delivers exactly what is expected: A straightforward, adrenaline and testosterone-propelled story fronted by likeable heroes and their snappy one-liners, with adequate plot twists to maintain a degree of brain activity among the audience.


This self-awareness is certainly the film’s greatest strength and lends itself to an admittedly unsophisticated but mostly entertaining narrative. Enjoying one his signature ‘good days,’ John McClane – played again by the returning Bruce Willis – continues to prove himself fiction’s second unluckiest man (the winner being 24’s Jack Bauer). McClane arrives in Russia to see his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) who, after being arrested for an assassination, winds up in a courtroom next to a high profile political prisoner named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who Jack agrees to testify against in return for a reduced sentence. After a escaping a bungled courthouse invasion orchestrated by a corrupt politician, McClane insists on travelling with the prisoner and delinquent son to establish justice in the Russian legal system and rekindle family ties.

Above: Bruce Willis’ reaction to the script.

Above: Bruce Willis’ reaction to the script.

If that synopsis didn’t sound too compelling, don’t hope for much more. Considering the heavy themes of espionage, deceit and suspicious imprisonment that drive the story, the film is unlikely to make you dwell on the events beyond the cinema doors. The context delivered is minimal, and with the McClane duo lacking any clear motives beyond shooting bad guys, it’s obvious your attention should be aimed at the action-packed chases and gunfights, which are pretty spectacular. In an age when absurd and impossible feats can be easily computer-generated, it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t in A Good Day to Die Hard – and that’s a feat in itself. The over-the-top sequences look unbelievably realistic and are a credit to either the digital artists or the classic special effects coordinators behind the scenes. Whoever’s responsible, they did a bang up job.

As mentioned, occasional but predictable plot twists ensue and push the story from locale to locale. Therein lies the next problem: A serious lack of locales. Despite the change of scenery brought by the Russian setting, the potential backdrops are severely under utilized – I don’t exaggerate when I say the film had four scenes. Four. Considering the story would be better off fading into the background, a variety of scenery could have picked up the slack. Instead, we’re subjected to beautiful shootouts in disappointingly few locations. In fairness, these four major scenes are separated by short interludes focusing on the McClane duo’s troubled father-son relationship, but the predictable dialogue and archetypal ‘you worked too much and neglected your children’ drama is mostly forgettable and fails to portray the characters as anything more than one-dimensional.

Above: Bruce Willis’ similar but contrasting reaction to the lack of variety.

Above: Bruce Willis’ similar but contrasting reaction to the lack of variety.

The film runs for a surprisingly short 97 minutes – roughly one minute of film for every million dollars spent on production. Though admittedly brief by today’s blockbuster standards (we’re still looking at you, James Cameron), the length is ideal – when pretty car crashes and blasts are tied by a lazy narrative, you can only watch for so long. The runtime is another show of self-awareness, condensing the action into something that feels fast-paced and almost bite-sized, keeping the viewer engaged and helping the film escape a common trapping of the modern popcorn-action genre.

Considering the weak story, dull character relationships and scarce backdrops, it may seem impossible to ignore the film’s crimes. But the visual elation, high-speed action and condensed presentation are gripping enough to forgive the wrongdoings. And that’s before mentioning the unexpected but welcome appearance of the ‘60s bossa nova classic The Girl from Ipanema – the fact that most films don’t feature this song is the true crime. By seeing a single advertisement for A Good Day to Die Hard, you’ve probably already made up your mind on this film – it looks like any other guns blazing action drama. But if you’re willing to look past the genre’s clichés, John Moore’s attempt at the franchise will certainly entertain.

Vincent Varney is a Sydney-based writer and blogger. Take pleasure in his misfortune by reading his blog.

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