It’s hard to tell, at this point, if it is John McClane himself, or his legions of formerly devoted fans who are more tired of the Die Hard franchise. In the fifth and worst entry of the series, A Good Day to Die Hard, the tough-as-nails NYPD cop is once again thrust into a fish-out-of-water, bombs-and-bullets scenario that involves political prisoners, and—here’s a novel plot point for you—terrorism. It’s hard to believe that leading man Bruce Willis could sleepwalk through a role more begrudgingly than he did in the last entry, Live Free or Die Hard, but this latest snoozefest of an extended videogame cutscene from the immensely talentless John Moore (of Max Payne “fame”) does accomplish something noteworthy: it has made Die Hard boring.
Novelty is everything, and perhaps AGDTDH deserves more leniency, given its graying position as the fifth film in a series that’s outstayed its welcome by four features. Still, objectivity be damned, it’s hard to not look at the slick, glossy sheen of the last two Die Hard flicks and wonder how the hell we got here. Back in 1988, John McTiernan made an action film that changed the way audiences and the industry looked at action films forever. John McClane was not beloved by critics and moviegoers alike because he, like the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of previous years, was a superhuman wrecking machine, fighting the good fight. Die Hard, first and foremost, was an underdog story. We rooted for John McClane not because it was obvious he was going to win, but because it seemed obvious that he had no chance. In the original poster, the first time we ever saw John McClane, he doesn’t look like a tough badass ready to confidently mow down swarms of bad guys, he looks scared.
The “fun” action movies of today have sworn off such unthinkable trifles as a relatable protagonist in favor of human-skinned Transformers. In a way, the shoot-‘em-up flick has gone the way of professional sports; we no longer want scrappy heroes overcoming the odds and winning the big game, we want bigger, better, faster, and stronger. This “scorched earth” policy can make for immensely entertaining films when done with the right amount of self-awareness, commitment, and visual flair (the best recent example being the incredibly satisfying Fast Five, a fan-service epic that somehow manages to outshine the previous four films in a franchise that ran the gamut from “Ok” to “abysmal”). AGDTDH lacks the eye candy required to excuse such a dreadfully shopworn script, and gives us no over-the-top ridiculousness to rally behind. Instead, we’re forced to sit through scene after scene of a decrepit McClane and son obliterating wave after wave of indistinguishable grunts. The third act reveal would function better if the red herring of a villain weren’t completely undeveloped and devoid of personality. SPOILER ALERT: there’s an attempt at a throwback to the original Die Hard with the reveal that, once again, political idealism is being used as a smokescreen for monetary gain. However, a conceit that came off as a playful layering to what was ultimately a very dark action romp (McTiernan added the “secret heist” subplot to the original film in an effort to inject more “joy” into the film) reads as cynical and boring here.
Cynical and boring might as well be the two words appearing as pull quotes on the eventual bluray release of this product. The film isn’t interesting enough to warrant an impassioned hatchet job, as my ultimate takeaway emotion was depression rather than anger. AGDTDH is valuable only as an emblem of entertainment in our time. Many critic-assassins these days are fond of proclaiming that movies are no worse now than they ever were, but you only have to look at this franchise to know that things are dire. The difference between filmmaking in the 90s and today is illustrated perfectly by comparing each decade’s worst Die Hard film, and realizing that even in the cartoonish Die Hard with a Vengeance, Willis and Samuel L. Jackson were at least having a great time letting their characters bounce off one another. AGDTDH is completely devoid of fun, and is so stoically grim-faced and unblinking it calls to mind a depressed fourteen-year-old boy’s creative writing project. To quote another eminently quotable action franchise, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”