Ask any genre fan what the best action film of all time is, and a fair percentage will say Die Hard without hesitation, myself included. Hell, the original trilogy in its entirety blew me away - They consistently offered tactically brilliant villains, and they went to great lengths to ensure they wouldn't be retreads of the original. Of course, film studios never let a financial opportunity go to waste... leaving tarnished legacies an inevitability. As a result, John McClane returned to the big screen 12 years after the fact in Live Free or Die Hard, but not without its share of controversy. In order to reach a broader audience, the film was edited to acquire a PG-13 rating. Was the outrage that followed justified? Somewhat, but to be fair, it was a decent action-packed effort that featured John McClane kicking ass once again, so I found very little to complain about. Ever since, all of our beloved action stars from the 80's have made a resurgence, so it was only natural for Fox to keep the ball rolling with A Good Day to Die Hard, a film which promised to introduce our favorite tough-guy to Mother Russia, and with an R rating to boot. Needless to say, this sounded like the installment we had waited to see since 1995... so why does it feel like even less a legitimate Die Hard than its predecessor?
Part of its problem is an ambitious plot that's executed with razor-thin focus. A political prisoner is about to blow the whistle on a corrupt Russian official, but the criminal mastermind acts with extreme force to ensure that never comes to pass. It's an intriguing setup that comes with lots of potential, but ultimately serves as a bunch of noise behind the film's far more transparent crux - John McClane's estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) is seemingly at the center of this mess, so he sucks up his pride and hops on the first plane to Moscow for an awkward ‘heart-to-heart'. John may be in a foreign land, but he's made to feel right at home when an attack erupts outside of the courthouse where his son is being held. Barely escaping with their lives, the father and son at odds rip through Moscow in a high speed chase that takes half the city along with it, and… well, the rest of the film practically writes itself. Although the duo start things off on the wrong foot, numerous encounters with bad guys itching to 'die hard' force them to bond in the only way the McClane's know how - By kicking ass and blowing shit up.
Sure, it's a cute idea to have John team up with his son and all (and incredibly corny for this release to come just before Father's Day), but at this point it feels like the filmmakers were throwing ideas at the wall, just hoping one would stick. This could have played out very well, but ended up as little more than a squandered opportunity. I can understand the primary concern was to deliver an action film first and foremost, but the action never lets up enough for the father and son's estranged relationship to grow organically. No, it just sort of 'happens', and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Apparently, writer Skip Woods and Director John Moore felt saddling McClane with a sidekick was obligatory, but all they've really done is showcase their inability to understand what made the series tick in the first place - John McClane. Let's be honest here - Die Hard doesn't need a gimmick. Just put our antihero in the right place at the wrong time, and allow him to do what he does best. The end.
I'm all for letting plot and character development slide as long as everything else works, but it's hard to ignore the fatal flaws that make A Good Day to Die Hard the weakest entry to date. For starters, there's absolutely zero chemistry between our two leads. Jai Courtney doesn't provide his character with much personality, and worse yet, Bruce Willis is just phoning it in, which comes as a surprise since he didn't want to retire the role until after the sixth installment. I'd like to think his lazy performance was merely the result of what the creative staff wanted - sort of a 'been there done that' approach from McClane's perspective - but there's a complete absence of urgency that leads me to believe otherwise. In addition, his age is finally beginning to show, and I was often left with the impression that stapling him to a co-star was more for his benefit than the actual story. Jai Courtney certainly tackled the physically demanding stuff with ease, but if it ever came down to it, his wholly uninteresting take on a McClane doesn't inspire a lot of confidence if they ever hope to continue the franchise with him in the driver's seat.
I know I'm probably coming off as overly critical, but without the trademark 'John McClane' coming from Bruce Willis, there's only one reason to watch A Good Day to Die Hard... the action, and I don't even think the filmmakers handled that well enough. Even Live Free or Die Hard understood there had to be a little room to breathe once in a while, but this entry just wants to explode in your face from the first frame to the very last. The problem with this is that the first major action sequence is the abovementioned chase through Moscow... and it's easily the most impressive part of the film. Although the rest of the flick strives to deliver big things, it mostly pales in comparison, and despite the film's frantic pace, I often found myself growing bored.
In short, the franchise has finally lost its identity. Yes, 'Die Hard' is in the title and Bruce Willis is the star, but the bottom line is that this could have been any generic action outing. The plot is barely able to stand on its own two feet, all three major villains were bland, the twists and turns were predictable, and Willis was merely along for the paycheck. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that watching this film was a terrible experience, but it certainly was a forgettable one.
A Good Day to Die Hard makes its Blu-ray debut with an impressive 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (1.85:1). Attempting to provide a gritty visual aesthetic, this movie was shot using 35mm film, meaning there's a noticeable amount of grain without being intrusive enough make the grain haters cry 'foul'. Despite the film's many shortcomings, this does help to lend the latest Die Hard with a tone of intensity, and this encode replicates the intended filmic look flawlessly. There's no DNR, nor any other digital anomalies to speak of - No edge enhancement, banding, aliasing or digital artifacts. The color palette is somewhat muted at times, but the film is dominantly shown through blue and orange filters, and this artistic choice is also replicated without issue. It's an attempt to keep the film somewhat dark and moody, but it sure does help to make the reds and oranges of countless explosions practically leap off the screen. Sharpness is immaculate, although there are some soft shots inherent to the photography, while black levels and contrast remain strong throughout.
A poor entry in the franchise, sure, but its 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track packs so much punch, your house will probably join the rubble left behind in Moscow. Immersion might even be an understatement - It doesn't matter if we're listening to cars get crunched off the road, or if we're under an audible barrage of bullets flying in every which direction, because every sound effect has been mixed with pinpoint precision and depth. The film packs quite a punch when things really get rough, but impressive dynamics make every shot, crunch, punch and explosion that much more impressive. Dialogue is crystal clear, and environmental ambience is so real, you'll practically feel like you're standing right next to McClane and son while they're kicking ass. If you want a new action flick to show off your home theater equipment, you're going to want to give this disc a spin.
-Commentary with Director John Moore and First Assistant Director Mark Cotone - Well, despite my negative perception of the film, these guys really put everything they had into making what they hoped would be a decent flick. They had to face numerous challenges and obstacles to bring all of the major action sequences to the big screen, and they detail the entire process in a fairly engaging commentary. Definitely worth a listen if you're a fan of the film.
-Deleted Scenes - It's understandable why most of these scenes were cut. They really would have thrown the 'wham, bam, thank you mam' pace off kilter. The filmmakers were wise to make the choices they did, and there wasn't anything I found myself wishing was in the final product.
-Making It Hard to Die - If audio commentaries aren't your thing, then you should give this hour long, 15 part documentary a try. It covers everything about the film's production, and I do mean everything.
-Anatomy of a Car Chase - Hundreds of cars get demolished in the film's first major action sequence, and being that it's the most impressive scene in the film, it's nice to see it get its own 27 minute 'making of' doc.
-Two of a Kind - It's a short segment that details the dynamic between the McClane's, but it acts as something of a promotional piece.
-Back In Action - This featurette focuses on John McClane and John McClane alone. It's interesting to give a brief look at how Willis is still able to step in the character's shoes, especially after all these years.
-The New Face of Evil - The third promotional featurette in a row, here we get to learn about the three villains.
-Pre-Vis - Some CG animatics for some of the film's more demanding sequences. The most interesting thing is watching what could have been, as some of the 'footage' is for a scene that never made it into the film.
-VFX Sequences - Basically shows us how many of the film's most complex shots were created.
Also included are Storyboards, Concept Art Gallery, and Theatrical Trailers. This release also provides us the option to watch the film on DVD or through Ultraviolet.
It's also worth noting that an Unrated cut of the film has been included, but I actually found it to be a bigger letdown than the theatrical cut.
It pains me to say it, so I'll just come right out with it - After all is said and done, this film is Die Hard in name alone. At this point, Bruce Willis is just going through the motions, and watching the mere shell of McClane for 90+ minutes is a disheartening experience to endure. If Willis had been replaced, this easily could have been the next Mission Impossible, Bourne, or Transporter flick. The action is loads of fun, but the filmmakers made an uneven experience by using what should have been their climax as the first major action sequence. Jai Courtney is uninteresting as well as unconvincing, and the villains are the most forgettable I've seen in a while. No fear, no urgency, no heart… no sale. But, since A Good Day to Die Hard does star Bruce Willis, curiosity is likely to get the best of you. Well, do yourself a favor and Rent It, because I don't think this particular installment comes close to warranting a blind buy. The supplements are worth paying some attention to however, and the A/V presentation is top notch.