"You got a plan?" ~ John McClane
"Not really. I kinda thought we would just wing it, you know. Running in, guns blazing. Make it up as we go." ~ Jack McClane
Bruce Willis is back in his signature role, wise ass and lone wolf cop John McClane, who has a habit of annoying terrorists, in the fifth movie in the Die Hard series, entitled A Good Day To Die Hard. When this series started twenty five years ago, John was coming into LA to try to reconnect with his estranged wife, and happened to irritate a group of Eurotrash terrorists who took over a building to carry out a heist. Since then, John's gotten divorced, spent years estranged from his kids, and built up quite a death toll taking out terrorists and hijackers (when he wasn't taunting them by phone or radio). The character started out as a very different alternative to the invicible Schwarzenegger roles, an action character who bled, who got hurt, who could feel. And it made McClane all the more likeable.
Now in the fifth film in the series, McClane is back once again, this despite the fact that the amount of injuries he's sustained down through the years probably should have put him into early retirement, disability, or drinking meals out of a straw. Having had reconciled with his daughter in the last film, Live Free Or Die Hard, there's still the matter of his son, who he hasn't spoken to in years. Jack (played by Jai Courtney) is in legal trouble in Russia. John goes over, and little does he know that he's stepping into an undercover operation. Jack works for the CIA as a spy, and is involved in trying to protect a whistleblower (Sebastian Koch) in a situation involving incriminating files, shady politicians, criminals, and nefarious sorts.
There's deep friction between father and son (Jack calls him by his first name, rather than Dad). And John, being a magnet for trouble, pretty much needs little time before the bullets start flying, a dizzying sprint that involves a lot of guns, chases, damage and destruction, and a dangerous woman (Yulija Snigir).
The film has its issues. For me, the most glaring one is the choice of director. John Moore has a rather small resume, including Flight of the Phoenix (which I didn't mind), but also the film that should have been a huge red flag: Behind Enemy Lines, a testament to absolute stupidity in filmmaking (don`t get me started). Moore seems content to give us the standard quick cut edits of the genre, over the top stunts that have a lack of reality to them, dizzying chases that don't have the distance to allow the audience to keep track of what's happening, and some glaring plot holes that one assumes he figured the audience would just overlook, because what Western audience knows the difference between Russia and the Ukraine? I came out of the film wishing that another director would have taken the helm of this project. Someone who'd understand that for all of the action, what's given earlier films in the franchise real substance is its humanity.
What appeals about the earlier films is that humanity, that emotional connection McClane makes with the audience. We empathized with him, because he was so human, so down to earth. Moore seems to prefer endless action over character moments; he doesn`t seem remotely interested in investing in those nuances at all. If he had been, he would have cast a much, much better actor in the role of Jack McClane.
Jai Courtney is the other big problem in the film. He has the typical invincible ripped abs look of an action movie character, but no resonance, no gravitas, no humanity at all. He has a background in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and if he has any talent in that medium, it`s sorely lacking here. It`s an emptiness, a void of a role. This was not a problem in the somewhat silly fourth role, where McClane had a suitable and skilled actress in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead to give humanity to the role of his other estranged child. In this case, a completely different actor would have been far better.
Willis himself is still McClane: a snarky wise ass who smirks at the world, but who gives us a world weary man we can sympathize with. Sarcastic as he is, beneath it all, he cares about people. We can`t help but like McClane, and that`s the strength of Willis as an actor. The character actors inhabiting the doublecrossing world of the film are suitably cast, particularly Yulija Snigir as Irina.
I did like the film. I just would have liked it more... if not for a hack of a director and a profoundly miscast young McClane.