It has been 25 years since John McClane burst onto our screens in the iconic Die Hard. Pit in an impossible situation in the Nakatomi Plaza his working man’s hero managed to overcome an evil genius and save the day, but his greatest accomplishment was not to die. As the Die Hard series went on John McClane grew as a character, adding more depth and interest up until Die Hard with a Vengeance. When he was brought out of retirement for Die Hard 4.0 he was no longer recognisable as the old McClane. Sure he had the one-liners, but he was now older, gruffer and strangely invincible. By the time we reach A Good Day to Die Hard, he has surpassed mere immortality and is now the ultimate killing machine more akin to The Terminator, oh and he has a son. Who he thinks is on drugs. But is actually a spy. In Russia.
John McClane (Willis) leaves his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in the US to go and find his wayward son Jack (Jai Courtney) who is wanted for murder in Russia. Upon arriving, he discovers that Jack is actually an undercover CIA agent tasked with rescuing a former Soviet head honcho in hopes of retrieving an important document while being hunted by the Russian Prime Minister’s men who want them all dead. The three men end up in Chernobyl in a private vault full of weapons grade uranium as an even more sinister plot unfolds.
To say that A Good Day to Die Hard pushes the boundaries of reality would be an understatement, in fact the action is ramped up to such excessive levels by the end you start to suspect that the McClane family might just be superheroes. Jumping from tall buildings, past helicopters with no parachute or safety net is all in a days work for a McClane. There’s literally no situation that they cannot escape with simply minor cuts and bruises to show for their trouble. In terms of film this is not a problem, superhero films are so popular and widespread that we’re used to it by now. The problem is with the manner in which we’re exposed to their shenanigans. Relentless close-ups of quick-moving action scenes become disorientating and frustrating. The first proper chase scene in the streets of Moscow is so long and disjointed that you’ve forgotten how he got from his cab to his four-by-four and even worse you don’t care.
After these loud, stupid scenes there are moments of calm where the director John Moore can squeeze in some characterisation. This involves the McClanes bickering or talking incessantly about their history, but never actually going into any meaningful detail. This quickly drags and you find yourself missing the loud bangs and crashes. That is until they return and you’re forced to reminisce about the boring, quiet times. It’s the price that the film-makers pay for giving the audience nothing to root for. There’s no point getting behind the McClane’s because no harm can ever befall them and Willis couldn’t be phoning it in more, delivering endless one-liners in place of actually dialogue. In fairness to him, he is naturally charismatic enough to pull off half of them and there’s soon an explosion in place to distract you from those that miss horribly.
A Good Day to Die Hard is loud, stupid and intermittently funny, whether intentional or not is often left up to you. John McClane is nothing more than a cipher for US dominance globally and bringing back Soviets as the enemy is clearly only to allow them to use the tagline ˜Yippe Kay-ay Mother Russia.’ Comfortably the worst of the series so far, there’s little left to recommend it other than nostalgia for how you felt watching the original Die Hard and then Die Hard with a Vengeance. But with a sixth instalment already confirmed we’re going to find ourselves with two full trilogies worth of John McClane, one where he’s a character and one where he’s a one-line dispensing, invincible warrior. Personally I miss the character.