I saw this outlandishly, hiliarously stupid and terrible movie on a studio lot in a screening room with a Dolby ATMOS sound system. It was a booming, crispy, body-vibrating experience, full of explodo-noises that, if I had to spell them, would come out like "thonk," "smush," "flump" and "shrap." They were ugly, tympanic membrane-flogging sounds made by the patron saint of all Ugly Americans, John McClane (Bruce Willis), and they were highly satisfying.
I need to say this again, just to make it clear: this is a stupid and terrible movie. It is a bad example of cinema. It is a bad example of what can happen to a popular franchise, to a leading man, to an up-and-coming leading man, to logic, to intelligence, to plotting, to everything. It is a bad example of everything.
McClane, an indestructible man who has caused many bad guys to die hard over the course of his cantankerous, lone-movie-cop-goes-rogue career, enters Russia with no authority at all and starts destroying stuff. Why? Because to him it's still the Soviet Union, a snowy third world nation that needs him to right wrongs he has no business righting. All those communists or whatever they are now deserve it when he drives his stolen, tank-like, SUV-thing over their cars because he's in pursuit of terrorists who are mixed up in an underdeveloped plot that his CIA spy son (Jai Courtney, who has little to do but give pouty lip and show off the results of his gym membership) is trying to crack. When McClane is finished crushing those Russian cars, he's going to blow up some helicopters and get in the way of his son's operation and complain that the young man doesn't respect him. All those Russians should shut up and quit bugging him while he accomplishes these things, unless they have the courtesy to speak to him in English. Except when they do speak English it annoys him. Shut up, all Russians!
If you've come to see some Die Hard with a lot of Die Hard-level expectations, you're in trouble. It's the worst of the series, one I've loved since 1988 (even Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard With A Vengeance, against all rational thought). Instead of refining and 2013-ing its approaching, it chooses, instead, to inhabit that weird old space of know-it-all machismo, a paradigm that's been comedically shredded so many times that I wonder if we'll ever get it back. And this installment, in particular, is less a Die Hard film than a generic, extreme-action movie with Willis inserted into the middle. As a next chapter it forgets what book it's in, displaying doofus amnesia regarding McClane's previous displays of wit, the series' stylish monsters and a proper nod to the gravity and possible consequences of our everycop hero's failure to shut them down. It'll need the Skyfall treatment if a sixth film ever materializes.
I still loved all those noises, though. And the explosions. The destruction of property. The gunfire. The way Willis and Courtney jump out of windows with no thought for how or where they'll land (speaking of shredded machismo, watch The Rock and Samuel Jackson cameos in The Other Guys for the definitive film response to this sort of extreme stunt work). These are idiot spectacles I respond to almost all the time. My lizard brain needs that stuff. So when the film delivers those sorts of discrete body blows and boom-boom-boom, it's a blast. If only the people in charge had simply not involved Willis in it, not decided to call it a Die Hard movie, not set up my hopes for something more than gut-level, oomph-ish satisfaction, I wouldn't have felt so empty and disappointed when it was over. But I did. I still do.