Once upon a time in 1988 the talented director John McTiernan and the mega-producer Joel Silver teamed up to make a light summer action picture from a hard-edged novel, with minor TV star who had just a few years earlier been a wisecracking, harmonica-playing, Hollywood bartender. In making the original Die Hard, this team not only created one of the biggest hits of the decade, but one of the best action films of all time. Die Hard brought European cinematic techniques to mainstream Hollywood films, it made Bruce Willis one of the biggest stars in film history, and it reinvented the action-movie genre in ways that are still with us today. That said, in the past 25 years less than a dozen films have lived up to the promise of Die Hard, and none have equaled it.
This is certainly true of all of four of the Die Hard sequels, which have gotten progressively worse over the years, culminating in this meaningless mess. A Good Day to Die Hard has Willis going to Russia to find his estranged son, a CIA agent trying to protect a Russian whistleblower. The premise is thin to begin with, and the screenplay (by the writer of such disposable pictures as Swordfish, The A-Team and X-Men: Wolverine) is unforgivably empty. The script’s five beats proceed from one to the next with no finesse or style. The forced dialogue and flat one-liners--if you can call them that--just lay there like so much dead rubble from one of the films many explosions. When it comes to the explosions, more stuff blows up in this picture than the any of the pervious Die Hard movies, but you could not care less.
While watching the movie and trying to fathom why it is so bad, you become painfully aware that this is not a film made for an American audience. In fact, it is not even a movie made for an English-speaking audience. This is a film made for a generic world-market and therefore all it needs are explosions, an international star playing an iconic character, and a primitive central relationship. Once you understand that, the film suddenly makes sense in a very cynical way. But even if the script, locations and other production decisions were designed and produced by some kind of financial algorithm, that doesn’t explain why the film has to look so bad. As a director, John Moore is about as far from John McTiernan as one can get. He has no skill at setting up an environment, establishing a tone, creating suspense, or photographing action. In fact he shoots everything so tightly and cuts everything so fast that often you can’t tell what’s happening (not that you care).
When the original Die Hard came out, there were some who accused it of being nothing more than an overly packaged consumer product calculated to make maximum money, but most audiences and critics recognized the artistry in the film for what it was: an exceptionally well written and cleverly directed Hollywood action film produced with dynamic panache. The original Die Hard has stood the test of time better than nearly any other film of its kind. This Die Hard 5 really is nothing more than a way for a studio to make a lot of money--though probably little will come from the American market where this film will surely be rejected. Too bad - - I don’t see why a film that is trying to appeal to a worldwide demographic can’t also appeal to folks like me. I saw A Good Day to Die Hard the same week as the Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle The Last Stand, which also seems to be aimed at the global market, yet it has enough substance to recommend it.
It is a shame the Die Hard series could not simply stick to the formula of “Die Hard-on-a-Fill-In-The-Blank,” but since so many of the action films that followed the original co-opted that approach, the films in the official series have always attempted to be more than that formula, and always ended up being so much less.