Die Hard V Is Absolutely Terrible

It’s really, really tempting to start by saying that the only reason A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t the worst Die Hard movie ever made is that it’s not a real Die Hard movie. I’m resisting that temptation, because if an action movie with “die hard” in the title and Bruce Willis as John McClane isn’t a Die Hard movie, we have to have a serious talk about how and when to renounce heretical non-canonical installments in an action franchise, and that’s inherently silly.

So let’s start with this: A Good Day to Die Hard is the worst Die Hard movie ever made. By a wide margin. (Fun fact: I just had to look up the title of this movie on Wikipedia because I’ve just been referring to it as Die Even Harder Than Previously).

Here’s how the franchise breaks down: you have one great movie, two decent ones (you can tell watchable Die Hard movies by the fact that their titles make sense: Die Harder is all about repeating the first movie but bigger and louder, and With A Vengeance is about vengeance, but can anyone explain why the fourth one is called Live Free or Die Hard?), and then some total bullshit (someone needs to be punched in the face for even thinking it would be OK to release a PG-13 Die Hard movie). You don’t need me to tell you why the original Die Hard is so great, because you’re on the internet, with cracked.com over here and the-isb.com over there, where you can read thousands of words detailing why it’s so great. I’m going to tell you anyway, though, because I do what I want.

Die Hard is a masterpiece of narrative craftsmanship. A Swiss watch made out of ass-kicking and explosions. It is one of the most immaculately constructed scripts in history, and there is not a wasted word or image from beginning to end. John McClane is one of the greatest action heroes ever, Hans Gruber is hands down the single best action movie villain of all time, and every single member of the supporting cast is a memorable, sharply defined character with a clear role to play in the ferocious drama the film enacts. I’m counting the location as one of those characters, because Nakatomi Plaza is a clearly defined and vividly drawn setting that defines the action taking place inside its walls. Most of the movie is a chess game between two dramatically different men, and the players, pieces and board are introduced to us clearly and efficiently. At every moment the stakes are clear and constantly escalating, we always know where the hero and villain are in relation to each other in their cat and mouse game, and everyone’s motivation (with one exception) is always clear. It’s a rare scene that doesn’t have at least two layers of significance to it, as plot, theme and characterization are packed into every frame of the film. John McClane is a very tough, very skilled, and very lucky man, but his human frailties (both physical and emotional) are what define the movie, and there’s never a time when he’s anything other than tired and desperate (even before Gruber’s men seize the tower, he’s worn out from an agonizing plane ride and taking a desperate shot at fixing his broken family).

Everything that Die Hard is, A Good Day to Die Hard is not.

After four successive sequels, everything human about John McClane has been stripped away, until all that’s left is the cast-iron and granite of an Action Hero. No more physical frailty. No more emotional vulnerability. John McClane: Franchise Star feels neither pain nor fatigue even when enduring impacts that would kill mere mortals, and the only emotions he feels are crankiness and sarcasm. And sarcasm isn’t even an emotion. He’s also passed these traits on to his son, John McClane Jr., who is essentially a tougher and less-amnesia-ridden Jason Bourne. Al Leong emoted more in the scene in Die Hard where he ate that candy bar than Jai Courtney does in this whole movie. There was a scene where young Jack McClane had a piece of rebar stuck in his side, and I didn’t even realize it until they pull it out at the end of the scene, because both McClanes are carrying on a conversation exactly like two people who didn’t have a piece of rebar stuck in either of their torsos. It was surreal.

Where the original film is a model of precision and clarity, this thing is a shambling half-baked mess, starting with an incoherent prologue and continuing through the most half-assed “why is this character even in Russia?” scene imaginable (“John, your son who you haven’t kept track of for years but suddenly decided to look up is in Russia, and he’s on trial for a bunch of stuff in a couple of days.” “Well, shit. Guess I better go over and…do stuff?”). They could have replaced it with a title screen that said “And so John McClane was in Russia for some reason.” Considering how surprised McClane acts when he first encounters his son, that might even have made more sense, and I would bet they at least toyed with that idea while writing the thing. McClane then literally wanders into a CIA extraction like Mr. Magoo (SPOILERS: turns out his son’s trial was part of a hugely elaborate and deeply stupid CIA extraction scheme to grab an informant, and McClane blows the whole thing when he walks up to his son’s getaway vehicle and starts lecturing him). The resulting freeway chase scene crams a lot more cars and real estate in than the scene from The Matrix Reloaded, but somehow manages to be deathly dull in spite of that, and if this were real life rather than an action movie that had transcended the self-parody event horizon, John McClane would be personally responsible for several innocent dead commuters.

So John McClane has wandered into a James Bond movie and is trying to heal the rift between him and his son, which is complicated both by their complete lack of emotion and the way bad guys keep showing up out of nowhere to shoot around them. There are double crosses, triple crosses, constant submachine gun fire, and explosions and breaking glass all over the place None of it does anything but cosmetic damage to the McClanes, including that thumb-sized hunk of rebar that was the sole consequence of their plummeting about a dozen stories. Filling a room with broken glass that doesn’t hurt John McClane seems downright perverse.

There are crosses, double- and triple-crosses, Chernobyl’s involved because of course it is, and Bruce Willis lets out a contractually-obligated-sounding “yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” before doing some green screen work that makes his Sin City stuff look like The Bicycle Thief. None of it makes much sense, and none of it matters because there are no stakes whatsoever.

Throughout this whole shambling mess of meaningless crap, Bruce Willis looks, acts, and sounds like a cantankerous invulnerable grandpa. There’s a scene where his son is driving them to the scene of the next shootout, and every second they were in that car was a second I expected him to start angrily demanding that they stop at a Cracker Barrel because he was hungry and needed to take his meds. John McClane is no longer tired, afraid, stressed, or battered; he’s just pissed off about these kids today with their hippity-hop music and their baggy pants.

If I had paid money to see this embarrassment, I’d be angry. As it stands I got paid to see it, at what works out to double my hourly salary and with free gourmet food thrown in, and I still feel cheated. The movie ends with a title card telling you how many jobs the production created, which I think was necessary because the filmmakers realized that at that point audiences would be demanding to know what the point of all this was. It was a lot of jobs, but I still feel like everyone would have been better off it they’d just re-released Die Hard.


2 Responses to “Die Hard V Is Absolutely Terrible”

  1. I found the big chase scene reminiscent of a Mr. Magoo cartoon, where this entire scenario of grave importance is happening around him, and he’s too blind and dumb-struck to realize it. He just keeps on driving around, knocking over pedestrians, driving ontop of other people’s cars, answering his cell phone during chases… all while yelling “I just wanna talk, son!” Talk about surreal.

  2. The canonical (according to Morgan) names for the films in the series:

    Die Hard
    Die Harder
    Die already!
    Die, dammit, Die!
    Aren’t you fucking dead yet?

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