There is only one, key, core ingredient to a Die Hard film. Only one thing a Die Hard film needs to be a Die Hard film and it’s not violence, action, small, claustrophobic setting or even the words “Yippee-Ki-Yay.” It’s the person saying them.
Regardless of why people like Die Hard, the most successful aspect of the films has been John McClane. Bruce Willis created a character who was wise-cracking, funny, brave and knew how to take care of himself. Even better, he was an everyman, representing everyone and anyone. He didn’t have huge muscles like Arnie or Stallone and couldn’t do martial arts like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. He was the right guy in the wrong place.
That’s why I enjoyed Die Hard 1 and 2. That’s why I didn’t mind Die Hard 3 being a bigger setting, straying from the more familiar setting. Its even why I really enjoyed Die Hard 4, because even though it was getting sillier and more extreme and further away from the setting and magic of original, it was still John McClane. He was still being a wise-ass, making jokes in the face of adversity and talking himself out and into situations he just shouldn’t be in.
Imagine my disappointment and frustration when throughout the fifth film in the series, I was anxiously waiting for a sign that the bald, Bruce Willis character on the screen was John McClane, and it never appeared. This meant that the film never really felt like a Die Hard movie. It felt much more like a generic, well filmed and action-packed movie, but never really a Die Hard film.
It’s not like it didn’t have the other ingredients. There was a story, although a pretty shallow one, that comfortably brought the main characters together and kept the film going at a decent pace. It did feel rushed at the beginning, almost like they were desperate to get McClane in amongst some action and explosions but once it slowed, the story began to emerge.
It had some decent characters, the most notable being John’s son, Jack McClane. They never really gave enough attention or effort to this dynamic either though. The two were thrown together, animosity made known very early, and then some begrudging, forced scenes that never really worked were used as a way of the character’s “bonding.” There was much more chemistry and closeness between Willis and Justin Long in Die Hard 4 then there ever was between McClane and his son in this movie.
Die Hard 5 also had some great action. This couldn’t be faulted. A fantastic, action-packed car chase opened the movie. Explosions, gun fights and Willis and son jumping off buildings repeatedly, followed. The action did feel very Die Hard but without John McClane in the middle of all that action, it was never going to be a true Die Hard film.
It all comes down to the writing. There was never a moment when you felt John McClane was reluctantly saving the day. He never felt truly out of his depth or like he was thinking on his feet, improvising his exits and ways of dispatching the enemy. It felt a lot like Bruce Willis just showed up and said a few lines to bridge the scenes where he shot people and jumped out of windows. The film could have been sold as “A Good Day to Die” and people wouldn’t have made any connection with the brilliant action series.
Overall, A Good Day to Die Hard is a very good action film. Its got a decent enough story, watchable characters and some fantastic action set-pieces, particularly the opening car chase. Unfortunately, the one ingredient you need for a Die Hard film, John McClane, isn’t used and instead we are left with a generic action film. Some people think you need a small setting and more realistic action to make a Die Hard film; I argue that all you need is John McClane and Bruce Willis just doesn’t play him in this movie.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)