The question isn’t if A Good Day to Die Hard is ridiculous. If the original Die Hard lampooned action-movie histrionics even while indulging in them, the series had fully embraced them by Die Hard 2. The question, then, is if this fifth installment is good ridiculous or bad ridiculous. Perhaps I’m just feeling charitable, but I’m going with the former.
True, little of the original’s spirit is here. This is the first Die Hard movie on foreign soil – Russia – and John McClane (Bruce Willis) has gone from scrappy smart-aleck to full-on ugly American. (In need of a car during one chase through Moscow, he commandeers a passing vehicle, punches out the protesting driver and then screams, “Do you think I understand what you’re saying!”) And while Willis is far more invested than you might expect in the father-son dynamic that’s at the heart of the film – McClane has come to Moscow to help his estranged son (Jai Courtney ), who has become embroiled in a political conspiracy – the familial drama here is far flimsier than the one Willis and Bonnie Bedelia created in the first picture.
Yet A Good Day to Die Hard is true to the series in one crucial way: its zen-like commitment to wanton chaos. This is a movie that lets nothing – plot, dialogue, physics – distract it from unleashing mayhem on the screen. Usually this doesn’t do much for me, especially when it’s ineptly staged by someone like Michael Bay. But the Die Hard movies, no matter their director, have always known how to push an explosion, a car crash or a leap off a skyscraper beyond the point of spectacle and into the realm of giddy stupidity. A Good Day to Die Hard, competently directed by John Moore, is no different.
…true to the series in one crucial way: its zen-like commitment to wanton chaos.
Take, for example, that early, extended car chase, in which McClane ends up driving his stolen SUV off a bridge, onto the roof of a truck and across the hoods of a dozen sedans to get to the street below. Or a ballroom showdown later in the film, where the glistening chandeliers are just waiting to be exploded into brilliant bits by a relentless array of bullets. And without giving away the finale, I’ll just say this to give you a taste of its ludicrousness: a key moment involves McClane driving a truck out the back of an in-flight airship.
That climax takes place in Chernobyl, which, as a setting, may be the apotheosis for the series. What better place to conclude another installment of self-inflicted disaster than one of the 20th-century’s most notorious, man-made wastelands? You would think that Chernobyl had seen enough havoc, but then the McClanes arrive, angry and armed to the teeth.
Never mind the McClanes, though. What does this appetite for destruction say about us? Probably nothing ennobling. It’s always more edifying to create than destroy. But if you are going to destroy – or just watch destruction in motion – the Die Hard series still knows how to do it, even five movies in.