Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
The Die Hard series is one of those movies you have to classify as “guilty pleasures.”
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is the fifth in the Die Hard franchise which began in 1988 (!!!) and follows the adventures of John McLain (Bruce Willis), a New York city cop who improbable stuff just happens to, a running joke in the series.
This is McLain’s first outing outside the country, if you don’t count the final scene in Canada in the third. Russia to be exact, although they kind of pass without mentioning that Chernobyl is actually in Ukraine.
And there was one jarring moment for me when I sat up and thought, “Hey that corridor looks familar, I remember it from Budapest!”
The action is unbelieveable, performed by heroes who are, to say the least, irresponsible. They blithely destroy property on a massive scale in car chases and shoot outs which miraculously never seem to cause casualties among innocent bystanders.
It’s kind of dumb fun, but it’s getting to the point of being done to death now. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the best car-chase-destroy-a-town was in the George C. Scott classic, “The Flim-Flam Man” (1967). Mordecai Jones (Scott) and and Curley (Michael Sarrazin) wrecked a small Kentucky town in a convertible, and somehow got more out of it than wrecking a downtown metropolitan area with armored cars and helicopter gunships.
Nonetheless there is something terribly appealing about the series that sets it apart from the usual crop of mindless action movies, seen today, forgotten next year.
The series’ formula rests on three elements underlying the action.
One is an unexpected series of plot twists. Good guys turn out to be bad guys and McLain has to figure out which, though observation, deduction, and intuition. Motives turn out not to be as they are originally presented. Which is fun, but also makes them harder to review without spoilers.
In the first “Die Hard” it was a gang of hijackers motivated by simple gain, masquerading as terrorists in the service of a cause. A pattern followed in the third sequel, and something like it in the latest.
Another is the underlying theme of bonding with an estranged family member. In the first two it was McLain’s estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and a supporting character (Reginald VelJohnson).
By the third installment Bedelia had evidently opted out of the series and was only referred to. The bonding-through-shared-action happened with Samuel L. Jackson’s character. In the fourth, it’s McLain’s estranged daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who was brought on scene for a few minutes to establish continuity in this installment.
In “A Good Day to Die Hard” it’s McLain’s estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney), who is also not what he seems at first.
“Your mother thought you were doing drugs,” McLain tells him. “I thought you were dealing drugs.”
Nope, he’s CIA on a mission to recover documents which will reveal the corruption of a powerful Rusian oligarch. Which turns out to be red herring about halfway through the movie.
The third element is banter.
Nobody does banter like Bruce Willis. Since his breakthrough role in the TV “dramedy” series “Moonlighting” (1984-1989) a great many of his roles seem to have been created to showcase his flair for devil-may-care spit-in-the-eye-of-death banter.
And starting with the third Die Hard, they created an oppositional dynamic to the McLain family dynamics. This was foreshadowed in “Die Hard 2” (1990) where the villaiins were a military “band of brothers” gone rogue.
“Die Hard with a Vengeance” (1995) introduced Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons) the brother of the East German villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) of “Die Hard.” Irons had a romantic partner in villainy who was a stone killer (Sam Phillips).
The trope was repeated in “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007) where a villainous romantic couple (Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q) are paired off against McLain and daughter.
In “A Good Day to Die Hard” it’s McClain and son against a father-daughter team of villains Yuri and Irina Komorov, played by German actor Sebastian Koch, and Russian actress/model Yuliya Snigir.
(Snigir by the way, aside from being easy to look at was awarded the title of Candidate Chess Master by the International Chess Federation at age 15.)
The twist is, the McLain family is dysfunctional. John and Holly love each other but wind up divorced. John McLain’s kids are estanged from Dad, until bonded by shared danger.
But the villains: comrades-in-arms, brothers, lovers, and now father and daughter, all have great relationships!
So if you’re in the mood, turn off your critical faculties and watch the heart-warming family drama of McLain and son bonding to the music of machine gun fire and massive explosions.