Far more than most action stars getting on in years, Bruce Willis has aged nicely into the role. Maybe it’s that shaved pate of his, a bullet-head that still looks primed for any chamber. Anyway, his look alone is sufficient to prompt this memo from the Department of Faint Praise: A quarter-century after it began, A Good Day to Die Hard continues the franchise without undue embarrassment.
Once again, it’s a family affair. At the airport, a grizzled John McClane bids his daughter a fond farewell before jetting off to Russia in search of his estranged son. That daughter, you might recall, was jeopardized in an earlier chapter, so she should know better than to offer this advice to her dear departing dad: “Just try not to make an even bigger mess of things.” Such heresy. Making a bigger mess of things is to action franchises what up is to ante. Everybody knows that, not least director John Moore, who wastes little time making the messy point.
But first a cute interlude on the streets of Moscow when, as a crazy Russian cabbie warbles NewYork, New York off-key in a thick accent, John looks out at the snarled Garden Ring and mutters those four words that echo through every corner of our global village: “Traffic sucks here too.” Of course, it’s about to get worse, when the baddies detonate an entire city block, just prior to a chase sequence that, complete with the usual battery of cars/vans/armoured trucks/rocket-propelled grenades, screeches and roars and rolls and explodes for 10 consecutive minutes. Can’t say it’s thrilling but it is hugely messy, which, in the lexicon of directors like Moore, amounts to the same thing.
Somewhere in those 10 minutes, John comes face to face with his boy Jack (Jai Courtney), who ain’t happy to see him. Turns out the lad is a CIA operative on a mission to encourage a corrupt Russian named Komarov to blow the whistle on an even more corrupt Russian named Chagarin. Not that the plot matters much. Really, this is just a bonding exercise between badass daddy and by-the-book son. Naturally, after much bickering, battering, bloodying and mutual declarations to “kill all the scumbags,” bond they assuredly do. Indeed, listen closely amid the Dolbyesque din of massive attack helicopters and not-so-safe houses blown-up-real-good, and you just might hear a tender, “I love you, boy.” Touching.
En route, John labours hard to re-establish his brand as a super anti-hero unblessed with super powers, unless you count the ability to crash repeatedly through plate-glass windows and tumble down the whole length of very tall buildings without sustaining anything more distressing than a manly scratch on that shaved pate. It’s a knack that stands him in good stead during the climactic visit to Chernobyl, which looks as post-apocalyptic as you might expect but, surprising to me at least, contains within a basement recess a treasure trove of enriched uranium.
But not to worry. The baddies, unlike certain action-movie directors, aren’t intent on blowing up the world. Instead, as John McClane/Bruce Willis rightly intuits, “It’s all about the money. When’s it not about the money?” And John McClane/Bruce Willis, the bullet-head of yet another franchise that refuses to die hard, knows of what he speaks.