A Good Day to Die Hard is a 98-minute crash course in how to make a complete waste of one of film's greatest action heroes.
It sends Bruce Willis' iconic Det. John McClane to Russia where he teams up with his CIA agent son Jack, played by Jai Courtney, to shoot up a bunch of lapsed Soviets dabbling in nuclear weaponry. John McClane has always been a difficult man for his family to love, his overdeveloped sense of duty and his penchant for putting himself in the line of fire conspiring to make that so.
But for us -- the audience -- it's quite the opposite. In the first four Die Hard movies, John McClane is a brash asshole ... but he's our brash asshole, seemingly valuing a clever quip over almost anything, including his own well-being. Not so in the fifth installment in the series. This time around, he's mostly a miserable old prick -- a sad-sack, pull-string doll meant to spit out catchphrases in between explosions and car chases to give us a vague sense of familiarity.
McClane's crotchetiness isn't fully revealed until the film's second and third acts. In fact, it's quite obscured by an enjoyable first act in which McClane chases his son -- with whom he hasn't been on speaking terms for several years -- around Moscow and gets unwittingly entangled in a web of espionage involving two Russian power players, the imprisoned Yuri Komarov, played by Sebastian Koch and corrupt government bigwig Viktor Chagarin, played by Sergei Kolesnikov.
In this case, having a chance to exhale away from dizzying action sequences on Russian highways is a big negative. Director John Moore clumsily tries to fashion some sort of extended bonding moment between John and Jack as they try to keep Komarov and Chagarin away from weapons-grade uranium. But because most of the interplay is between McClane and his son instead of McClane and a bad guy or 10, it's his son who winds up bearing the brunt of his sarcastic jabs, and they aren't even particularly good jabs by McClane standards!
It's one thing for Hans Gruber to be the focus of McClane's fury. It's quite another for his son -- someone you would think he'd care for, even accounting for his prickly nature -- to be on the end of it.
The film's waning momentum over its second half not only exposes the poorly constructed father-son dynamic, it also fails to reveal a compelling villain. Like many other movies in this genre, the bad guy can make or break it.
Die Hard wouldn't enjoy the reputation it does without Willis' pitch perfect performances over the years, nor would it have left such an indelible mark without bad guys like Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons. Without vintage Willis or a villain to carry on the Rickman-Irons legacy, A Good Day to Die Hard collapses under the considerable weight of the series' former greatness.