The original Die Hard was never comfortable sequel material. Bruce Willis’ protagonist, John McClane, was just an off-duty cop who stumbled onto a large-scale criminal operation and had to improvise his way around it. “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Willis wondered in the sequel. By now, he doesn’t ask himself such questions. The blue-collar, vulnerable McClane of Die Hard wouldn’t even recognize the bulletproof, catchphrase-spouting superhero he’s become in the sequels. Similarly, the movies have changed dramatically from the ’80s-style stunts and explosions of the first one to the digitally enhanced action-fantasy of the most recent entries. Until now, the sequels have gotten away with the cynical franchising of John McClane, but A Good Day To Die Hard, the worst entry in the series by far, exposes the hollowness and stupidity of McClane 2.0.
After rescuing his estranged daughter in the last film, Live Free Or Die Hard, Willis heads to Russia to rescue his estranged son (Jai Courtney), a CIA agent on a mission to protect a whistleblower (Sebastian Koch) from a corrupt government official (Sergei Kolesnikov) with no shortage of destructive resources at his disposal. It turns out that Koch and Kolesnikov used to be partners and together were responsible for the Chernobyl disaster; Koch has an incriminating file he’s still keeping at the abandoned site, so it’s off to the ruins for a battle royal. Willis and son quickly end up as disposable supporting players in a much larger production, but they take their bullets and bruises and power through like Americans, bonding along the way.
“I’m on vacation,” Willis grumbles several times throughout A Good Day To Die Hard, in what counts as the film’s sole running joke, a lame placeholder until he arrives at the big “yippee-ki-yay” punchline. The line is supposed to play as weary and wry—classic McClane—but it’s lazy in the manner of Willis’ worst performances, encouraged by a script that deals in obligatory action beats, like an off-brand James Bond. (Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard is one of the great movie villains of all time; the most colorful villain in Good Day nibbles a carrot while speechifying.) As with Live Free Or Die Hard, Willis suffers injuries grievous enough to kill him a dozen times over—smashing through windows at high speed, falling through floor after floor of scaffolding, and getting whipped around in a helicopter like a ragdoll. There’s no danger threatening this digital cipher, thus no tension, and he and Courtney come off as a couple of asshole tough guys, invulnerable to everything but a heartfelt father-son talk.