Is Good Day to Die Hard in on its own joke? How could it not be? Within 10-minutes, John McClane (Bruce Willis) touches down in Russia to save the son we never knew he had. Ten more minutes, and he is barreling over heavy traffic like a monster truck and taking down one ton military vehicles with civilian cars, all without the audience in on why we’re doing this. Only McClane knows how he does it.
Movies are rarely this preposterous… or this ambitious. If Jason Statham was hopping over the parody line with his Transporter films, Bruce Willis just cut that line with novelty scissors. This is not so much a riff on the action genre so much as it is the reputation Willis has built smashing asteroids, blowing up cars, and shooting infinite numbers of bad guys. With the right mindset, it is impossible not to have overtly violent fun.
The Internet once took to Chuck Norris, raising him to an unreal level of action film god. Bruce Willis just killed Chuck Norris jokes for good. Did Norris ever think to flip the bird to his enemies as they crash? Did Norris ever take a dive off a 20-story building under construction and live? Did Norris ever flip his car twice in the same day and not bleed? No to all those, because no one has. This is the era of the hilariously invulnerable Bruce Willis.
So the movie is stupid, reprehensibly stupid in most cases. A Good Day to Die Hard tries to ground itself with a family motif, muddying waters of a confusing plot, fitted with double and triple crosses galore. It is also another one of those recent movies where the villain planned to be captured all along. How his concoction works as long as it does it anyone’s guess, explanations lost to often jarring editing that lacks cohesion – action and dialogue scenes alike.
Now we have Jack McClain (Jai Courtney), taking some of the bulk off his father’s everyman shoulders. The kid is not so bad himself between the hammy, oppressive “bad father” act that slips in during the 20-minutes or so of total downtime. This film never seems to stop moving with a breathless and relentless style that is absolutely unequaled.
Is this a Die Hard movie then? No, not all quite frankly. Part of their classic charm comes from seeing Willis tackle a singular villain with human mind games while being inadvertently drawn in to full scale combat. This John McClane accepts his situation willingly, and the actual villain(s) is strained as the script tries to twist & turn. Someone in the back during development and planning of action scenes must have spoken up: there needs to be some basis for all of the explosions. Thus, Russians do stuff as an excuse to see them die. There was a time when McClane seemed to hate these scenarios. Now, he gleefully piles on insurance claims just to chat with his son, as if he knows he cannot be hurt.
Maybe it’s not Die Hard’s fault. The action genre requires increasingly absurd set pieces, partially caused by this franchise, and also partially by a fan base who always wants more. Bruce Willis blowing up a jet? No, that’s passe. Bruce Willis walking through Chernobyl unharmed, setting off gas lines, tackling a helicopter, and splattering the bad guy? That’s better, if not set within the framework of the franchise. At all.
Good Day has become a champion record holder. Color grading slathers on more abusive orange and teal tones than any other, making it the official leader in this race to make all films look identical. Entire action scenes, especially the ludicrously awesome opening car chase, are basking in nothing other than teal. There are no flesh tones, no primaries, and no saturation. Russia is gray overcast, with a sun that has turned off color.
Fox’s AVC encode challenges the coarse, thick grain structure to a duel, and mostly wins out. Certain sequences, those with a predominantly softer focus, showcase artifacts swarming over faces. A handful of Willis close-ups appear duller, a shred digital, and lacking in fidelity. His aging face makes for spectacular zooms elsewhere however.
Otherwise, the disc manages a striking filmic appearance, sans a hint of ringing which drops into the frame. High contrast edges can be bothersome. Texture is preserved behind the digitization of grain, facial detail resolved thanks to (inconsistently) premiere sharpness. Russian skylines are stunning too. Much of this mirrors the theatrical projection.
Awesome black levels heighten depth, holding onto their grip well into the night, which Good Day uses for its finale. Dimensionality is fantastic, rich and deep along with preservation of shadow detail. The flipside is a contrast that comes and goes, falling between hyper white and dull flatness. Light sources dictate the glow, at times wiping detail, other times letting slide.
Die Hard returns triumphantly to audio circles with what are easily some of the strongest, boldest gunshots ever committed to a sound scape. Ferocious LFE blasts the soundfield with every shot, the clashing high-end equally heavy in its impact. Machine guns and helicopter rounds are dominating, wholly encompassing the mastery of action movie design. Not only is this DTS-HD 7.1 mix a low-end fury, it handles the surrounds with wondrous precision.
Sure, Good Day is heavy on the guns, bullets ricocheting and scattering audible debris fields. That is wonderful and super precise. Better, if less important, are the subtleties. Listen as the McClane’s escape from the car chase into a small shopping district. Scattered papers blow from one speaker to the next, utilizing each channel as they pass through. Shouts and yells wander into the stereos, and scattered protestors outside a courthouse are filing as characters work through to their destination.
Of course, flying litter is not worthy of a demo. Smashing cars, with their engines splitting the fronts, carry and broaden images. Panning helicopters blast shattered glass in a beautiful balance, and explosions rip across the soundstage. It is beauty in sound.
Director John Moore is joined by first assistant director Mark Cotone for a commentary on the extended cut. Note that this version is not only longer, it cuts Mary Elizabeth Winstead from the film – adding more father/son dialogue in her place – and shortens the ending Making it Hard to Die is a one hour making of, superbly done with outstanding production value. The enthusiasm of this crew is infectious, and it is a must watch, even if the section on color grading doesn’t cover color choice.
Eight deleted scenes run 15-minutes, and from here, the featurettes are fairly direct. Anatomy of a Car Chase is the longest, near a half hour, detailing the process of shooting the wild opening action. Two of a Kind is blase character discussion, Back in Action separately focused on McClane the character.
New Faces of Evil details the crowded row of villains, before diving into a plethora of art. Sixteen dissections of visual effect sequences, five storyboard sections, and six more on conceptual art tell the story of the production off-camera. The disc closes on a fun montage of McClane’s greatest quips.
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