McClane Family Reunion

It has been well established that I love Die Hard. So of course I would go see the latest installment, the stupidly-named A Good Day to Die Hard, despite the toxic critical reception (the movie currently holds a dismal 15% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and my own misgivings about it.

When it was announced that the fifth Die Hard would take place in Russia and would feature John McClane’s estranged son, my first reaction was “meh.” We had his estranged daughter in the fourth movie, so now let’s have his estranged son! And we’ll set it in Moscow to mix things up a little! And we’ll hire a C-grade director, who is best known for the critically-derided movie adaptation of the video game Max Payne, and whose other films include the Owen Wilson action flick (now there’s a phrase that makes no sense) Behind Enemy Lines and the remake of The Omen, which we only decided to make so we could release it on June 6, 2006! (6/6/06, get it? Since it’s a movie about the devil? Aren’t we movie producers just so darn clever?)

Whew. Sorry for the run-on there. I get the impression sometimes that movie people think in run-on sentences, just adding more and more nonsense to an idea that didn’t make much sense to begin with.

Anyway, I allowed myself to get a little excited when the first trailers were for the movie were released, since it looked like it could be fun, and I was encouraged by the news that it would be rated R, instead of the more family and commercial-friendly PG-13 rating, so maybe it would hearken back to the good old days of hard-R, bloody, sweary action flicks of the 80’s.

So does it deliver on the promise of old-school action and thrills? Largely, yes, it does. Does it offer much more than that? No, it really doesn’t. The character nuances from the first film are largely gone, replaced with increasingly over-the-top action, in which the once very human John McClane (and now his son too) survive a barrage of explosions and gunfire that would kill any normal human beings many times over.

There isn’t much plot to speak of, though I have to admit that I kind of liked the setup. John McClane somehow finds out that his son is in Moscow, so he heads over there to try to reconnect with his son, whom he hasn’t spoken to in a couple of years.

And wouldn’t you know it, he just so happens to run into John Jr. (called Jack, presumably so the audience wouldn’t get confused) in the middle of a dramatic escape from some bad guys. John Sr.’s yelling at his son somewhat hilariously draws the attention of the bad guys, and a frenetic and extremely destructive car chase begins.

Turns out that Jack is actually an undercover CIA agent, and Dear Old Dad has inadvertently blown an undercover op that took years of preparation. This is actually pretty damn funny, and it’s easily the cleverest plot beat in the film. It also kind of makes sense that Jack would resent his father for this, in addition to the whole “never-being-there-for-me-while-I-was-a-kid” thing, which does admittedly start to wear a bit thin after a while.

The rest of the plot was mostly pretty boring, to be honest. Live Free or Die Hard may have been preposterous, but at least it had some interesting ideas, and a villain who had some motivation. The villains’ motivations here seem mostly arbitrary, and again are pretty boring. There is a distinct lack of memorable villainy in this film, which is really a shame when you think about some of the previous villains in the series, especially Alan Rickman. Jeremy Irons was a fun villain in the 3rd movie too.

I did like the actor who played Jack though. His name is Jai Courtney, and he’s best known for “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” the first season of the bloody, sex-filled, awesome Starz TV show. He was one of the most likable characters in that first season, and (SPOILER ALERT) his heartbreaking death scene makes me a little misty every time I watch it. He plays Jack as a gruff but likable fellow, and he has good chemistry with Bruce Willis. It’s also undeniably fun to hear John Sr. tell bad guys that “Me and my boy here, we’re gonna put a whuppin’ on ya.”

There’s some nonsense about weapons-grade uranium, which I’m honestly really getting tired of as a plot device. “Don’t let the bad guys get the uranium or plutonium or whatever” was pretty much the entire plot of Expendables 2. As far as I could tell, the villains didn’t even have much of an evil scheme, aside from getting their hands on the damn uranium.

It’s mostly predictable and ends more or less how you’d expect it to, with bad guys dead, good guys alive, and the McClane family experiencing a resurgence in family togetherness. There are some fun action scenes along the way, like when John and Jack jump out a window of a tall building and crash through a scaffold conveniently located outside while a helicopter shreds the building, and that car chase was pretty awesome too. None of it is particularly original or memorable but it’s fun enough while it lasts. I don’t think it’s the death of the Die Hard franchise as the critics would lead you to believe, but it certainly isn’t up to the high standards of its earliest predecessor.

As for the R rating, it’s pretty tame. The movie earns the rating overall, with enough mayhem and scattered F-bombs to make it get the R rating, but it’s really nowhere near as violent or sweary as the first three films in the franchise, or, heck, even the unrated version of the fourth movie. At least old John McClane does get to say his famous catchphrase uncensored, so that’s something.

Overall, I enjoyed A Good Day to Die Hard. At a lean 98 minutes, the new movie is a good half-hour shorter than previous entries in the series, which is a good indicator that there’s not much plot to go on, but in my opinion it was 98 minutes entertainingly spent, and that was good enough for me on a Thursday afternoon.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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