There are two contrasting scenes at the beginning of A Good Day to Die Hard that perfectly encapsulate what is wrong with the American action film genre. The first finds John McClane in a taxicab in Moscow. The cabby learns that he is from New York and starts singing “New York, New York.” When McClane gets out of the cab, the driver tells him the ride was free because McClane let him sing.
The second scene is soon after. The first car that McClane stole to follow his son (so they could talk) has been destroyed due to his reckless driving that (although unseen) must have resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries to people whose only crime was to drive in the same city as this American asshole. He tries to get a car to stop for him. No one will. (Would you?) So he throws himself in front of one car, making the driver slam on his breaks. The driver gets out of the car and yells at McClane in Russian. I don’t speak Russian, but he was clearly saying something like, “Are you crazy?!” McClane wants none of it. He punches the guy and then says something like, “Don’t you know I don’t have any idea what you’re saying?!” With the driver unconscious in the middle of the road, McClane steals his car and drives off.
These two interactions demonstrate the noble and angry savage archetypes. The cabby was childlike. He didn’t need money; all he needed was someone to listen to him sing! He is, of course, the Good Russian. The other guy was angry that some asshole jumped out in front of his car. How dare he? Didn’t he know that McClane was an American? You don’t question Americans! And you sure as hell don’t speak Russian to them! If they want to steal your car, you smile and hand them the keys. You’re grateful! They’re Americans, after all! This guy, of course, was the Bad Russian.
This is what I hate about American action films. There is this idea that America is Good, True, and Right. What’s more, everyone should just know that. There is no understanding that other cultures may have their own pride. What’s more, they might be unhappy with things that the United States government has done to them. And in A Good Day to Die Hard there is a perfect symbol of this in the form of a jailed Russian billionaire. The US was a big reason that Russia moved recklessly towards a market economy that allowed most of the people to be robbed at the expense of unscrupulous billionaires.
Let me step back. Even apart from all the vile politics in this film, the best thing you can say about it is that it is short. All the other “Die Hard” films were over two hours. A Good Day to Die Hard was an hour and a half. Yet, it is long even at that. There isn’t much to the plot of the film. It is mostly a number of action scenes separated by some of the lamest dialog bits I’ve ever seen. Credit has to be given to Jonathan Taylor, the second unit director. He actually had a larger camera crew than the first unit. I figure that 60% of this movie was shot by the second unit.
The plot itself would have been great if this movie had been released in 1990. That’s because I remember being totally fooled by the plot twist in Die Harder. This film uses the same device and I saw it coming from an hour away. I’d warn you about upcoming spoilers, but really: how could anything spoil this film for you more than the film itself? It starts with a woman bad “guy.” The billionaire has to get his daughter out of Russian. What are the odds that the woman we’ve seen is the same as his daughter? And then, it turns out that the father and daughter are in cahoots! Who could have predicted it? Answer: Steven de Souza and Doug Richardson, who wrote Die Harder.
The film also had many of my most hated action film problems. 1. The bad guy didn’t care about the lives of his henchmen. Apparently, bad guys don’t have to worry about loyalty or anything. And why should they? The good guys don’t either, even if they don’t just blow up dozens of their friends on screen. 2. The bad guys are just vengeful for no particular reason. Rather than trying to get away, they go on suicide missions. 3. John McClane, despite lots of delays, still manages to get to the final scene almost as fast as the Mi-26 helicopter—which have a cruising speed of 158 miles per hour. 4. When they are alone, Russians speak English, unless they are minor characters, in which case they speak Russian. It is very confusing! 5. And…
God damn it! The flames of a fire are not what harm you. It is the heat. In a big explosion, if you are just outside of the fireball, you are still dead. And yet, John McClane manages to not even get his shirt burned. Of course, this kind of nonsense is found throughout the film. According to it, you can fall without harm, as long as you keep breaking through floors. There are so many times in this film that the characters would have died, it was just silly.
One more thing: Uranium. Weapons grade Uranium is 99% pure. Do you know what fuel grade Uranium is? It is 3% pure. The idea that someone is siphoning off Uranium from a nuclear power plant for sell in the weapons market is laughable. What’s more (and this was the same idea in the dreadful The Expendables 2) the idea that there is a billion dollars to be made selling illegal Uranium is ridiculous. The truth is, there isn’t much of a market. Terrorist groups, even well funded ones, just don’t have that kind of money. If someone were really smart, as the villain in this film is, he would steal bearer bonds or gold bullion—not fucking Uranium that would almost certainly get him killed if he tried to sell it.
I could go on. Do I need to? This film is even bad by action movie standards. Above all, however, it is offensive to our non-American friends and it perpetuates the worst stereotypes about America. At one point, a bad guy says that he hates cowboys. After watching the film up to that point, I had to agree. Yippee-ki-yay, my ass!