Less John McClane than James Bond, the fifth installment in the iconic Die Hard franchise puts our favorite maverick cop where he’s never been before: overseas and on his heels. Twenty-five years after he single-handedly foiled a sophisticated, well-financed robbery at Nakatomi Plaza—as well as rescued his estranged wife from the ruthless perpetrators—John (a grizzled Bruce Willis) travels to Moscow with much the same mission: Little Jack McClane (now big Jai Courtney) has landed himself in prison half a world away, and Dad travels there to bring him home—without backup or much of a plan.
It turns out that Jack doesn’t need his father’s help, and in fact John manages to screw things up royally for his son—Jack isn’t a criminal at all but a CIA operative undercover on a mission to extract political prisoner Komarov (Sebastian Koch). As a result, John finds himself in an unfamiliar situation—out of his element and not in control. When the pair’s paths first intersect, John is standing in the middle of the street with his hands in the air, and his grasp of events doesn’t get much better as he plays catch-up in a culture and scenario outside of his wheelhouse.
Throughout, director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods pay homage to the character and series. John’s signature phrase, “Yippee kai yay, motherfucker!” occurs right on cue at the climax of the action. (And this time it’s not truncated as it was in the PG-13-ratedLive Free or Die Hard—we’re fully back in R territory here.) There are also falling glass and a villain flung off a building (nods to the original film), kids who refuse to call him “Dad” (as in the fourth movie) and loved ones in peril (episodes one, two and four). John McClane may be a dirtbag of a husband and father, but he’s at heart a family man.
Older if not wiser, John’s at the stage in his life when he’s reflecting on what really matters and regretting not being a better dad to his son, which can get a little schmaltzy and stall the action. It’s much more John’s style when he tells Jack, “It’s good to see you” after they’ve, you know, decimated several city blocks with characteristically destructive car chases and artillery fire.
In true Die Hard fashion, the action sequences are stunning in their ridiculousness. Where John launched a car to bring down a helicopter in the last sequel, here he literally drives his “borrowed” Mercedes SUV on top of traffic to get where he needs to be—and that’s in the first reel. All the stunts are produced largely in camera rather than post, another hallmark of the franchise.
Yet the international location, the political intrigue and the 007 flourishes in Marco Beltrami’s anxiety-inducing score all suggest a fundamental shift in the series—or, say it ain’t so, a passing of the torch to McClane Jr. Courtney’s hunky enough, but he’s no Willis. Indeed, a significant theme in A Good Day to Die Hard emphasizes how different father and son are: Jack operates by the book where his father infamously does not. And when Jack reaches the end of a chapter, he doesn’t know what to do, compelling John to mock and berate him—“You’re not going to cry, are you?”—until he mans up. Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, making an all-too-brief appearance here), who proved to be just as stubborn and spirited as her dad in Live Free or Die Hard, is a more deserving heir.
Director: John Moore
Writer: Skip Woods
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic, Cole Hauser
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2013