The Bourne films have been called America’s answer to Bond, but that’s not quite accurate. There’s nothing quintessentially American about Jason Bourne. More accurately, John McClane is the American corollary. Instead of an international spy, he’s a New York cop. He’s not glamorous, he’s rough-around-the-edges. He doesn’t drink martinis, he chugs Budweiser (presumably.)
Which begs the question: Why is the Die Hard franchise so unsustainable (i.e., bad) when the Bond one never seems to grow old? One reason is obvious: They cycle in new Bonds every few years, so the franchise isn’t reduced to one big “I’m too old for this sh-t” joke.
But it’s bigger than that: There are endless ways to spin a tale of international intrigue and adventure. There are only so many ways a working class cop can get entangled in life and death scenarios without it just seeming ridiculous. The Die Hard franchise passed ridiculous three movies ago.
So what do they do this time? They essentially turn John McClane into an accidental version James Bond. Bad idea.
McClane travels to Moscow (so retro!) because he finds out that his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney, a kind of poor man’s Tom Hardy), has been arrested. Once there, he discovers that baby boy is not a criminal, but an American spy. There’s an ex-KGB guy who has some information that could bring down the nefarious Russian Defense Minister (or somethin’) and it’s Jack’s job to bring him in safely. First Daddy Dearest screws up his son’s mission, then he helps. Then lots of macho male bonding occurs.
It says something about this film that I found it to be both simple-minded and hard to follow. Wait. Who’s the bad guy? Who’s the other bad guy? Who’s the other, other bad guy? (And why is he munching on a giant carrot?) And why exactly are they in Chernobyl? (I told you! Retro!)
Not that it really matters. All of this is just an excuse for one incredibly long car chase (that, to me, was only slightly preferable to actually being stuck in traffic) and for lots and lots of things to explode—buildings, helicopters, trucks, you name it. Automatic weapons are wielded casually and frequently. It wasn’t so much a movie as a munitions display.
There’s lazy writing throughout. The ongoing joke of the film is that McClane keeps blaming his son for ruining his vacation. But it was never meant to be a vacation: He was always coming to help bail Jack out of jail. Then, the film doesn’t even have the smarts to reintroduce the most crowd-pleasing character: A Russian cab driver who gives McClane a ride and sings Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to him in broken English. (I was sure he was going to factor into the final scenes, but I guess finding a way to weave him back into the plot required a little too much effort.)
A Good Day to Die Hard feels like what it is: A desperate attempt to keep a franchise going that should’ve died (gently) 20 years ago. Bruce Willis, for his part, looks miserable, even when uttering his inevitable: “Yippee ki yay” line.
You win this round, United Kingdom. But we’ll be back. (Have you seen our Hangover franchise?) (Groan.)