Oh, how our mighty heroes have fallen! Our favorite, smart-alecky NYPD detective who always happens to be in the wrong place at the right time has finally met his match in this fifth installment to the massively popular 'Die Hard' franchise. Sadly, his downfall in 'A Good Day to Die Hard' is not some ruthless, conniving mastermind with delusions of grandeur and an excessive superiority complex. You know, the sort of villain that has made the series a long-time favorite with action movie fans. Even when it does not quite satisfy like the rest, as in the case of 'Die Hard 2,' at least, we have an intelligent and charismatic bad guy we love to hate, annoying our hero on his supposed day off. Here, it's never entirely clear who the wrongdoer is, and a trio of potential candidates are given too little screen time to show what makes them entertaining as worthy foes.
Unfortunately, John McClane's worst enemy is himself. At this point in his 25-year career as a familiar and beloved action hero, the tough to kill and hardnosed detective has finally reached the point of caricature. It's as if screenplay writer Skip Woods, whose last two scripts for 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' and 'The A-Team' provides a decent impression of his talent, based the character on his memories of the action sequences from all four previous movies rather than his personality, which is the reason we watch in the first place. In 'A Good Day,' McClane is someone's distorted facsimile of what they imagine or wish McClane to be, a superhero that seems to walk away from every explosion, potentially-fatal crash and exaggerated disaster with minimal injury and only trivial scratches.
Despite the movie's hollow feel, however, the filmmakers do make some attempt at adhering to the franchise's established storyline by creating a dramatic core concerning the McClane family. Wanting to reunite with his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney in cruise-control and ultimately forgettable), John (Bruce Willis showing his age but looking quite healthy) travels to Russia where Jack has been arrested for murder and about to testify against a man (Sebastian Koch) of high interest to the CIA. His visit unfortunately fouls up an escape plan, which creates a deeper riff between the two. A lame attempt in the script further exploring the parent-child theme in Yuri (Koch) and his daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) works for adding contrast, but then is botched by a ridiculous red-herring conclusion which only serves as an excuse for the explosive finale.
Although the plot ultimately fails, it at least tries to entertain as a decent entry to the franchise with a small shimmer of the old McClane we've come love over the years. The same can't be said of Willis, who appears to be sleepwalking his way through the role which made him an international star. His wise-cracking, sarcastic attitude is not the same, and he's no longer the average Joe caught in an elaborate, over-his-head situation and going against impossible odds. Along with the character, Willis's snarky performance has been crucial to the success of the franchise, but it's largely missing here because there seems to be a conscious effort in giving the boring Courtney almost equal screen time. It doesn't help that Willis's McClane also seems demoted to sidekick duties rather than central hero.
Worst still is the intricate action sequences losing much of their realism, except perhaps for the car chase through the Moscow streets, which was not only edge-of-your-seat thrilling but also felt promising. Granted, the 'Die Hard' movies are furthest from reality, but the action has always some semblance of realism and possibility. Although John McClane survives at the end of each film, he also walks away with a great deal of physical pain. This time around, a much older McClane survives two serious car crashes, is thrown from a helicopter and falls two-stories only to walk away with the most trivial of injuries. Added to that, none of the baddies provide much of a challenge or threat, at least not enough to make us think our hero might actually fail. In fact, I'm still not sure who the actual villain is in this storyline.
To the credit of director John Moore, however, 'A Good Day to Die Hard' comes with some stunning action sequences, particularly the aforementioned Moscow chase. Moore demonstrates he has the talent and panache for some thrilling visual delights, but lacks the quality script that will have audiences remember him. In terms of direction and style, this fifth installment is a worthy entry to the franchise, but after twenty five memorable years of duty ridding society of "scumbags," John McClane really should consider retirement because at his age... he should die easy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'A Good Day to Die Hard' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region A/B, BD50 disc is accompanied by a DVD-9/Digital Copy combo disc on the opposing panel. Both are housed inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase with a shiny cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
The Blu-ray also offers fans an unrated extended cut of the movie, clocking in at 101 minutes, which is three minutes longer than the theatrical release. The alterations are very minor, mostly adding bits of dialogue and violence, but the most noticeable difference is the lack of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's presence. Viewers can switch between the two versions when highlighting "Set Up" in the main menu.
The fifth installment to the 'Die Hard' franchise debuts with an excellent, near-reference 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode which often wows and amazes yet comes with a rough and gritty appeal. The picture is awash in a thick layer of grain that's very noticeable throughout but stable, providing the image with an appreciable cinematic quality and actually complements some intensity to the action sequences. The rest of the video is highly-detailed and very well-defined. The busy Moscow streets are crystal-clear, exposing every brick along buildings and every crack in the sidewalk. The tiniest debris from explosions and gunshots are resolute and distinct while the threading and stitching of costumes are plainly visible.
Presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted transfer displays outstanding shadow details, allowing viewers to revel in the wreckage and mayhem of the big, nighttime finale at Chernobyl. Comparative to the other films in the series, the cinematography of Jonathan Sela is a unique choice, as contrast falls on the lower end of the grayscale, creating a rather downcast and bleak look to the whole film. Still, visibility of background information remains intact, and whites are cleanly resolved. A heavily restrained color palette adds to the dreary appearance, but for the most part, primaries are accurate and nicely saturated with natural, revealing facial complexions. Black levels are also true and spot-on with many scenes of shadows penetrating deep into the frame, giving McClane fans a fantastic video to enjoy.
Without question, the best part of 'A Good Day' is this explosive, hard-hitting and earth-shattering DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that will overwhelm and leave listeners wishing the movie were actually better. Right from the start, the music of Marco Beltrami spreads to the back speakers and fills the room with a sense of excitement and unease. While several discrete effects during quieter moments widen the soundfield with great directionality, dialogue maintains superb clarity and intelligibility in the front. Once the story shifts into high-gear, namely the spectacular car chase through Moscow, the mayhem of traffic noise is heard all around, enveloping the viewer with edge-of-your-seat realism.
Along the front soundstage, panning is flawless as the movement of the vehicles smoothly travel from one speaker to the next and suddenly rush to the rears effortlessly. The sounds of bullets and helicopters also fly in all directions with stunning authenticity. Through all this, the mid-range remains sharply detailed and superbly dynamic, allowing every shard of glass, the tiniest debris fragment and the grinding of crashing metal to be plainly heard without missing a beat. But the real showstopper is a decisively authoritative and seismic low-end that will undoubtedly push the capabilities of your subwoofer. There are many moments of fun ultra-low frequencies that will make your sofa shake and walls rattle along with several other bits that are highly-responsive and precise. So if your sub can handle it, play this awesome lossless mix loud because it earns my vote for one of the best high-rez tracks of the year.
The latest installment to the 'Die Hard' franchise is an unfortunate disappointment story-wise with villains that fail to be much of a threat to Bruce Willis's everyday anti-hero. Amazingly, the movie somehow still manages to be slightly entertaining thanks to the work of director John Moore and his crew who create some stunningly elaborate action sequences. The Blu-ray arrives with a tough and gritty picture quality that certainly impresses, while the lossless audio is a fantastic, reference-quality presentation of explosive action. A healthy collection of supplements rounds out the entire set, but in the end, the package is another bad flick arriving on a good disc.