John McClane is an American legend. Over four movies and 25 years, he has defended Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. from money-grubbing German terrorists (Die Hard), disgraced American generals out for revenge (Die Hard 2: Die Harder), money-grubbing German terrorists out for revenge (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and disgraced American terrorists out for revenge—and money (Live Free or Die Hard). Only one of those movies—the original, much-copied Die Hard—is a bonafide action classic. However, Bruce Willis (Armageddon, Unbreakable) enlivens every other one of those otherwise conventional flicks with his career-defining character John McClane. McClane—with his physical bombast, self-destructive tendencies and caustic charisma—is the only man that can simultaneously save, infuriate and charm the victims of a terrorist attack. Before we had Christian Bale growling unintelligible one-liners in Gotham City, and before we had Jennifer Lawrence winging arrows at teenagers, Bruce Willis was the action hero of American cinema, always ready to jump off a skyscraper with nothing but a fire hose and a pithy, unprintable catchphrase.
Which is why it’s such a shame that McClane is stuck in a movie as pointless and dull as A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth in the series. No longer is McClane desperately trying to stop an imminent terrorist attack on a major American city. In fact, he is not even in America anymore. He is sent to Russia to find his spy son—(Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher)—and gets involved in a perilous Russian political controversy.
If you think a Russian political controversy sounds kind of dull, get ready to have all your expectations confirmed! It’s almost as if the studio opened up the drawer marked “Awful James Bond Scripts,” picked up the dustiest volume in the heap, tore off the cover page, slapped on Die Hard and called it a day. Now, no one goes into a Die Hard movie looking for an Oscar-winning story; they go for Bruce Willis’ shining dome and some crazy action sequences. But, when you devote around an hour of a 98 minute movie to coma-inducing exposition, there is no amount of Bruce Willis and his sub-machine gun that can save your movie.
Fresh off two great appearances in Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, Willis is as charismatic as ever, and he does his best to save the picture. Furthermore, the action scenes themselves are stylish and good-looking. However, A Good Day violates two more cardinal rules of a Die Hard movie: an entertaining sidekick and a smart, dastardly villain. John’s son Jack becomes slightly more fun as the movie progresses, but he’s certainly no Reginald VelJohnson (Die Hard) or Sam Jackson (Die Hard with a Vengeance). All that might have been remedied with a villain worthy of Hans or Simon Gruber, but alas, the fifth Die Hard cannot even decide who the real villain is—switching from one Russian man to the next, each older, hairier and more boring than the last. Without any character of interest besides John McClane, it is hard to really care about the bullets and bombs that hit the screen.
With Bruce Willis getting up there in age, there is some talk that A Good Day to Die Hard will be the last in the Die Hard franchise. I hope that is not the case. John McClane deserves better than to go out on such a weak and ephemeral note. Save your money, and go take out the original classic Die Hard or the infinitely entertaining Die Hard with a Vengeance from the library. Your wallet, your brain and John McClane will thank you.