Father to Son: Passing the Action Torch in John Moore’s A Good Day To Die Hard?

John McClane (Bruce Willis, left), his son Jack (Jai Courtney, center), and Russian refugee Komarov (Sebastian Koch, right) attempt to escape.

‘I fought with you, fought on your side,’ Freddie Mercury once sang in an early Queen song called “Father To Son.” In 2007, a then 52-year old Bruce Willis already played action hero John McClane as a daddy on a mission to save his child in Live Free Or Die Hard. Rescuing his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was then, but now he’s back to save Spartacus: War Of The Damned star Jai Courtney as his prodigal son. Can an aging Bruce Willis continue his recent string of enjoyable old-school action movies such as R.E.D. and The Expendables with the John Moore-directed sequel A Good Day To Die Hard?

John McClane (Bruce Willis) flies to Moscow to get his apparently wayward son Jack (Jai Courtney) out of prison. Upon his arrival in the Russian capital, however, he must find out that his offspring is really a CIA operative trying to protect a persecuted man named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) and get in the way of a heist of nuclear weapons. With the Russian underworld on their heels, the bickering father-and-son tandem has to team up in order to prevent a disaster – only to realize that the combination of their opposing methods makes them unstoppable.

Much like Harrison Ford’s ill-fated onscreen comeback as Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of Crystal Skull after a cinematic absence of almost two decades, Bruce Willis’s return as John McClane in Live Free Or Die Hard after about 12 years felt weird. That being said, that movie at least came with a decent story to begin with, which is arguably an awful lot more than A Good Day To Die Hard by John Moore has to offer. The ‘tale’ that the latest entry into the series tells feels like a mishmash of elements we’ve already seen elsewhere and others we most likely wouldn’t even want to see in the first place.

The best description for the screenplay by Swordfish writer Skip Woods is perhaps incoherent, and that’s a euphemism. What’s the fascination that American filmmakers with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, when a nuclear power plant in what is now Ukraine imploded? A Good Day To Die Hard isn’t the only Hollywood blockbuster in recent years to employ the abandoned, contaminated city of Pripyat as one of its settings, but the angle used feels too worn out. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say that novelist Martin Cruz Smith of Gorky Park fame used it in a much better way in his 2007 book Wolves Eat Dogs.

Despite Bruce Willis, John Moore’s sophomore effort doesn’t even come close to his flawed debut Max Payne. At least that film was an audiovisual treat, a feast for the eyes and ears, even demo material for movie theaters and home cinemas alike. A Good Day To Die Hard doesn’t really work in this regard, either. Granted, it doesn’t look or sound too bad, but that’s to be expected for a blockbuster with a budget in the 90-million-plus dollar range. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon by Michael Bay, another big-money project partially set in Chernobyl, had that going for it, too – although it was a terrible film in its own right as well.

The best part about A Good Day To Die Hard is probably the Moscow drawbacks, which go to show that it doesn’t always have to be about American cities in action movies. The Russian capital also does the trick, and quite nicely so. In a better film, it might even provide an awesome setting. Here, it barely manages to keep A Good Day To Die Hard afloat among all the blunt stupidity and brutality. This is not the way for Bruce Willis to go out as John McClane, one of the most beloved action heroes in recent Hollywood history.

The first and third installments of the series were great; the fourth, Live Free Or Die Hard by Underworld creator Len Wiseman, was still a pretty decent movie despite an already aging Bruce Willis. John Moore’s sequel, however, destroys all the credibility that the franchise has ever had. It’s basically a very expensive B-movie that could’ve (and probably should’ve) been done at a much cheaper rate and with much less fanfare.

Bruce Willis and – to a lesser degree – his supporting cast of Jai Courtney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Inhabited Island siren Yuliya Snigir, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, and The Lives Of Others star Sebastian Koch would have deserved a much better script and direction. So far, A Good Day To Die Hard by director John Moore rates among the biggest cinematic disappointments of 2013. It pains to say so, but as a movie, it’s not impressive by any means and – for the most part – a completely underwhelming and unrewarding experience.

Seen at Cineplex, Limburg an der Lahn, Germany, on 5 April, 2013.

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