Watching the original Die Hard back-to-back with the latest installment is a sobering, depressing experience.
The first Die Hard was the product of a very different era—an era in which dialogue, characters, and plot were permissible is action movies. Today, action movies are aimed exclusively at 12-year-old boys with poor attention spans and a limited grasp of the English language. Since dialogue, characters, and plot are things that can only be appreciated by those who possess some semblance of an attention span and a basic understanding of what words means, today’s action movies tend to just consist of one over-edited 20-minute-long action scene after the next. A Good Day to Die Hard is a typical example of this trend in motion. It’s not bad for its kind, but its kind is just awful.
The movie begins in a Russian jail with a tense exchange between a whistleblower and a corrupt government official. From what we can deduce, the whistleblower has some incriminating evidence against the corrupt government official, and the the corrupt government official doesn’t like it. We then cut to John McClane (Bruce Willis) at a firing range. Another cop approaches him and informs him that his son (Jai Courtney) has been arrested in Russia for murder. McClane doesn’t seem all that surprised by this development. The next thing you know, McClane is in Russia to attend his son’s trial, which is being held in conjunction with the trial of the whistleblower.
But before the trial begins, the courtroom comes under attack. McClane’s son manages to escape with the whistleblower, but the two are pursued by both the terrorists and by McClane (but, for some reason, not the police). And thus begins the first 20-minute-long action scene—an epic car chase through Russian traffic. Like each of the 20-minute-long action scenes that follow, the sequence features maybe two or three incredible stunts and about 100 average ones. (Also like each of the 20-minute-long action scenes that follow, it ends with McClane yelling, “But I’m supposed to be on vacation!”—a joke which does not get funnier with repetition.)
When McClane and his son have finally lost the tail, McClane’s son reveals that he’s a CIA operative. The three stop by a CIA safe house, but it too comes under attack, and before you know it, we’re into the next action sequence. The three eventually manage to escape from the safe house and try to retrieve the whistleblower’s files at a ballroom, but guess what? The terrorists show up here too. Cue the next big action scene.
The movie goes on and on like this until McClane and his son end up in Chernobyl, taking on the entire terrorist army by themselves. There’s a stunt involving a helicopter that’s sort of interesting, but otherwise, the big climactic set piece is a dud. It’s simply impossible to believe that a human being could survive the sorts of things that John McClane is subjected to here (i.e. crashing through a glass window at 50mph and falling through five stories of scaffolding), let alone survive without sustaining serious injuries. The movie is advertised as a Die Hard sequel, but it may as well be a Superman sequel.
In the original Die Hard, John McClane wasn’t an invincible superhero with only one facial expression (Bruce Willis’ patented “Can you believe I’m getting paid for this?” smirk) who only said 100 words. The original Die Hard had impressive action scenes, but it didn’t play like a two-hour-long demo reel assembled by the world’s most self-indulgent stunt man. The original Die Hard had a memorably charismatic villain (Alan Rickman), not a one dimensional cypher who, if it weren’t for the carrot that he chews on constantly, would be virtually indistinguishable from his henchmen. The original Die Hard is representative of 1980s action cinema at its best. A Good Day to Die Hard represents 2010s action cinema at its worst.