BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
The writer and director of A Good Day to Die Hard (Skip Woods and John Moore, respectively), know their Die Hard history. More important, they know their demographic. When Live Free or Die Hard debuted in 2007, the viewers got a taste of how our all-American wise-ass hero John McClane fared in the age of technology. By casting then It-Boy Justin Long and cool girl Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the film took aim at a younger audience who might not realize why Die Hard is possibly the best action movie of all time (and Christmas movie, as has rightly been suggested here on Cinefilles). It worked well enough because it played with a key ingredient to any Die Hard sequel: Die Hard in a/n __________ (Airport! New York! Techno crisis! With a Fox!).
This go around the filmmakers have opted for a two blank formula as we do Die Hard in Russia: Retro! (The marketing campaign even relied on retro style info graphics of the first four films.) Everything old is new again as John, increasingly silent and grumpy with each sequel, having reconciled to with daughter Lucy last spin, sets out for Moscow to aid troublemaker son Jack (Jai Cooper). As it turns out, Jack is more than he appears, having taken a leaf out of Dad’s playbook, albeit better-funded and more rule-book-loving. Together they shoot, punch, and jump through glass as the necessary action revolving around a Russian political prisoner (Sebastian Koch) and corrupt government official (Sergey Kolesnikov). With a plot point centering on Chernobyl (which is in questionable taste) and some Russian/American spy play, the film has a distinctly 1980s feel (despite one character’s scoffing assurance to McClane that it is not 1986).
Beyond the plot, there are a number of references and throwbacks to the original 1988 film that kicked off not just a franchise but a new spin on action films. The film essentially starts with McClane on an airplane before riding in a cab with a talkative, musically-appreciative driver. One of the Russian baddies is a dancer (a sly reference to original Russian baddie Alexander Gudunov). A famous shot is even recreated at the climax of the film. These shout outs to the original remind us both how good it was, and how far the films have strayed. The franchise has been adroit in the past when casting the antagonist—A Good Day’s choice is by far the weakest to date. The ending only serves to remind the viewer how integral Alan Rickman was in making Die Hard explode on screen. Attempts to sub Cooper in as a new McClane to root for stumble as well; the actor is forgettable and lacks Willis’s charm and humour. Willis continues his trend from the fourth film of playing McClane as his generic hero character (see any Willis action film in the past ten years).
Another issue is that the McClane we rooted for in the first film could not, by logical rules, remain the same man. How does a smart-mouthed, descent guy with good instincts survive once the fifteen minutes fades (for the fourth time)? The McClane we see in A Good Day to Die Hard has lost his raw, wise-cracking appeal because that’s what life has done to him. It has turned him into an aging, lock-jawed action figure spouting the same stuff, unclear as to how this all keeps happening over and over.
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