Yip-ee-ki-yay Mother Russia. At least, that's what CultureGeek Jr. said on the way to the theater. I nearly smacked him (because of course I never swear), but then I saw it was actually on on the movie poster.
Unfortunately, that tagline was most of the fun in A Good Day to Die Hard, the most humorless and bland outing for the unlucky Det. John McClane as yet. It's not like action movies have to be comedies, and there's some seriously dark stuff in the first one (and prototype for all action movies to come thereafter).
But John McClane is a wiseass, and his best villains have been the ones who can snark back at him - not to mention the sidekicks. The first and third movies are the best not because of the increasingly-elaborate plots, but because McClane needs someone to trade wisecracks with - whether sidekick or villain, it really matters not.
Die Hard, original flavor: Awesome villain, embodied by the richly disdainful Alan Rickman (or, as my son yelped, "It's Snape!"). Brilliant, snarky, cool and evil, first inspired McClane's signature line. Sidekick: smart cop suffering from PTSD, snarky but focused on the job, the only one in the LAPD with two brain cells to rub together - if there was a flaw in Die Hard, it was that everyone on the ground was a moron and the FBI was run by a pair of lunatics escaped from a Rambo movie.
Die Harder: Yawner of a villain, notable mostly for a spellbinding nude-martial arts scene in the beginning that was unceremoniously slashed from every TV rerun. Hey, I found it spellbinding, at least. Other than that, charisma-free and not much of a twist. No sidekick to speak of, unless you count the tech nerd he rescues or the janitor who lends him a coat. Yawn. But McClane was in top form, had plenty of idiots to yell at (Dennis Franz!), and driven by the extra impetus to save his wife again, whom he truly loved. We were invested in these two! This is important later.
Die Hard With a Vengeance: Best outing of the series (stop those tomatoes, I'm serious) with a fun villain and the best sidekick ever. Jeremy Irons happily gnaws the scenery as Alan Rickman's brother - figure out that gene pool, if you can - and gave the late-90s mad-bomber craze a fun twist as McClane and Samuel L. Jackson jumped through his hoops. Jackson was at his snarkiest, firing off one-liners with McClane with terrific timing. It should be no surprise that this movie began life as a Lethal Weapon script, and was adapted to the Die Hard franchise - the dialogue shows. Good pacing, fun stunts and shot in a pre-911 New York so it didn't smack us with too much reality.
Live Free and Die Hard: At least the villain was smart. Not even close to Rickman or Irons, but Timothy Olyphant at least had a slight point to his thievery and it addressed the fact that the world changed a lot between 1995 and 2007. Villainous taunting was light, but Justin Long (a.k.a. The MacGuy) made up for it by snarking McClane with great panache. Rumor has it Long's hacker sidekick was supposed to be McClane's son in earlier drafts, but then they changed their minds. So they wrote in daughter Lucy to keep the trend of McClane's family always being in jeopardy. I guess the thought of Lucy BEING a hacker never occurred to any of them (grr feminist growl) but at least she knows how to fight. Which leads me to...
A Good Day to Die Hard: Oh my, what a missed opportunity. They made much of the fact that McClane is a fish way, way out of water in Russia, caught up in a CIA-vs.-bad-Russians plot that was left on somebody's desk blotter in 1986. Set aside the tackiness of using Chernobyl as a plot device and final showdown setting. Set aside that our villain(s) are about as well-characterized as Boris and Natasha, the plot is a muddled mess and the CIA appears to be far less competent than the last movie (and only a step above the crazed FBI agents of the first one).
Here the sidekick is McClane's son, who is about as fond of dear old Dad as Lucy was at the beginning of the last movie. At least Lucy had personality. Jai Courtney may be able to act, but he does not appear to have done so in this movie. No humor, no warmth, no personality - just a paint-by-numbers spy action flick that was less engaging than some of the lesser Bond movies or the occasional Mission Impossible outing (you know, the ones that sucked).
Partway through the film, I realized this did not have to be a Die Hard movie. You could have taken any estranged father and son and it would be the same movie. Someone called it the Superman IV or Jaws: The Revenge of the series, and I think that's too harsh. Bruce Willis still pulls off McClane's bafflement with the world and his unerring ability to find loud, explosive, supremely silly trouble in any city unfortunate enough for him to visit. It's not his fault he was playing opposite a carved-wood statue in Jai Courtney, or that the villain(s) stepped whole and breathing out of a Rocky-n-Bullwinkle cartoon.
SPOILERS!! It was not until the final moment that I realized exactly how this movie could have been fixed, and it's giant spoilers so STOP READING if you haven't seen it. Not that you were expecting differently, but McClane and son get off the plane at the end of the movie and are greeted by Lucy, who was last seen dropping Dad off at the airport and gently snarking him as she gives him the Idiot's Guide to Russia. I liked Lucy the first time I saw her, and hoped she'd show up in this movie.
That's how this movie could have been saved. I would have taken the script home for a weekend and rewritten it so Lucy goes with McClane to Russia. Bingo! Someone for McClane to snark at, someone who gives as good as she gets. Someone who knows how to fight, too. And when they meet up with Wood McClane, he can be as sullen and pouty as he wants - she's going to needle him the way any sister needles her brother, and watch McClane turn into Dad as peacemaker, or maybe they'll all be interrupted by gunfire.
See? In that structure, the movie is about a McClane family reunion. The supreme idiocy and inconsequence of the plot fades into the background (though improving the villains certainly couldn't hurt), and it doesn't matter how much of Moscow we destroy. We've always loved the Die Hard movies because we're all about the McClanes. And I'd have ended my version of the movie with Bonnie Bedelia meeting them at the airport, because she needs to come back one more time - as Willis himself has repeatedly said.
Unlike other reviewers, I don't think Bruce Willis is too old and I don't think they should stop making Die Hard movies. On the contrary, they need to make at least one more to redeem the franchise - and Willis has said he'd do one more before retiring John McClane's battered badge forever. I think it's time the younger McClanes take up the family business, perhaps with a recasting for Jack Jr. and definitely with the former Mrs. McClane dropping by again, as the best thing that ever happened to a bum like him.
But you can safely skip A Good Day to Die Hard. Wait for the next - and probably final - installment, which I'm writing in my head as we speak. Hey Hollywood: I work cheap.
Side note: Leverage star Aldis Hodge is one of the few actors to appear in more than one Die Hard movie. He was one of Zeus' adorable nephews in Die Hard With a Vengeance, and he appears in this latest installment as "Foxy." Now, I am wracking my brains, but I cannot remember seeing him in this movie. No internet search has come up with a screenshot or other reference to his appearance. Anyone? Bueller?