The decline of the Die Hard series continues unchecked with this empty cacophonous clanger that is so inert story-wise that no amount of explosions can blow the cobwebs away. In fact, let’s face it – the quality has nose dived since Die Hard with a Vengeance. That smart inventive second sequel proved irrefutably that action films can evolve away from the basic concept of a franchise while retaining real character, wit and heart.
The greatest charge levelled against Len Wiseman’s last pallid instalment was that it didn’t feel like a Die Hard film at all. Any hope that our own John Moore could arrest that creative slide departs within moments of the start. In fairness to him, the incessant action is handled competently enough but the script can’t find any reason to have action. It just insists it takes place. All the time. For no reason.
Therefore, the lion’s share of the blame falls on Skip Woods’ horrendously superficial screenplay. The credits haven’t even concluded by the time a tight knot of dread forms as the lazy action failsafe of a coveted ‘file’ is trotted out. In that moment, we know we are simply watching a chase film. There was a time when a chase was just a constituent consequence of story and plot that formed part of a film. Right now, chases are movie length and most of the time to paraphrase Morrissey – we are bored before we even begin. It’s definitely the case here So entire rooms, roads, buildings and city districts will be razed in pursuit of this MacGuffin ‘file’. It serves only as an excuse for action but it’s a sorry excuse that doesn’t remotely justify or explain the carnage that follows.
Woods seems to have literally lost the plot because no plot exists bar John McClane travels to Moscow to visit his incarcerated son Jack. Once there, Willis attempts to shake off jet lag by absorbing the full impact of not one but two vehicles in his seemingly crush proof chest. To rouse himself further, he spins a lorry over countless cars before emerging unscathed. All of the shattered glass in just this one sequence prompted a memory of the original Die Hard which brilliantly distinguished McClane as a vulnerable and human hero. The first film showed the damage caused by bare feet walking over broken glass. A simple scene that made us wince in empathy and admiration while making the audience feel genuine pain.
This film is painful too but it’s not the same thing. In this, car windows, chandeliers and glass ceilings exist only to explode or cascade. There is so little at stake that even the characters muse around the midway point that they have nothing at stake in the plot and could easily just leave. When your ostensible heroes can freely walk away mid-film, something has gone horribly wrong on the screenplay side. Ideally, they should be locked in an inescapable escalating scenario and be compelled to continue. Woods can’t even equip Willis with any decent quips. Sure, McClane talks away to himself in that established style of the series but now it seems more like the onset of dementia than cool movie patter. Judging by Woods’ back catalogue which began vacuous with Swordfish and has stayed vacuous through turgid fare like Wolverine and Hitman, he seems chronically incapable of writing a decent line of dialogue. The sloppiness is summed up when Woods misplaces the entire city of Grenoble.
So this film bellows along punctured with predictable outbreaks of inconsequential action. A simple game can offset the boredom – the second Willis walks into any room guess how long it’s going to take before gunfire reduces the set to ribbons. Or predict which surface is going to inexplicably explode first. Throughout, the action is expensive rather than impressive. There is no tension, ingenuity or intelligence to how any fight begins or ends. And just to quench any notion of hope you may have, the middle of each fight is blandly uninspiring too. In fact, those are the worst bits. Where once exposition was skilful in this series, now it amount to characters walking past a swimming pool. Oh, I wonder if that will prove useful. The daftness never gets endearing either but culminates with Willis jumping in one window only to jump back out of it seconds later.
The increasingly convoluted titles are symptomatic of how awkward and forced these sequels have become but I’m honestly a huge fan of the first three films. Die Harder was the runt of the litter when there were only three but with each passing instalment, its’ stock grows. In my favourite sequel Die Hard with a Vengeance, the action played out across the entire city of New York but still felt tense and important. This film is terse in terms of running time but there’s no tautness at all. Or personality. Wit, charm and heart have left the building and they ain’t coming back at this rate.
15A (see IFCO website for details)
A Good Day to Die Hard is released on 15th February 2013