Ah, father-son relationships. Every man is affected by them. Most try to keep
it simple, but it never is. No matter what age and stage. In fact, it’s
usually complicated simply by the refusal to acknowledge that it is.
As you might expect, this is not one of those touchy-feely movies that get all
sensitive on you. At least not for very long. But in the midst of all the
bullets flying and the glass breaking and the cars crashing, it’s still
about a now-aging “mature” man and his grown son, and how to find that
right balance in relationship with each other.
The John McClane character, played by Bruce Willis, is now a veritable icon of
action films. He’s tough and resilient and resourceful, and he needs to be,
because at the end he usually looks like he’s been through the wars.
This time, John McClane looks for all the world like just another retired
American tourist. His grown daughter is dropping him off at the airport,
telling him to be careful, and not make things worse. He’s flying to Russia,
to make contact with his grown son, Jack (Jai Courtney), whom he apparently
hasn’t seen for some time. If there is a wife/mother figure, she’s
literally not in the picture. Nor is any kind of romance for our aging action
hero. It’s just about being a concerned empty-nester Dad.
Well, since this is such a “guy” movie, it doesn’t take long for us to
dispense with the preliminaries, like setting up the story, and get down to
the action. John finds Jack embroiled in some political prisoner liberation
scenario, complete with exploding courtrooms and tank-like vehicles crushing
ordinary cars like they were made out of matchsticks. John, of course, is an
immediate expert both in Russian vehicles and Russian roads. Language barrier?
We literally punch someone in the face and make a joke about it. So much for
John quickly discovers that the son he considered distant and uncommunicative
was that way for a reason: he’s a CIA operative. Except this particular
undercover operation has obviously gone completely south. John is glad to help
out, and at first Jack tells him very pointedly that he doesn’t want his
help, but then realizes after a while that his crafty veteran Dad can still be
pretty useful in a firefight.
There are some plot twists about who’s betraying whom and who’s working
for whom, but basically it’s all just an excuse to blow things up, jump out
of windows, and mow down the bad guys with submachine guns. As viewers who
want to see believable combat sequences, we readily accept the presumption
that it’s those pesky Russkies who are the bad guys again; something about
leftover uranium from Chernobyl that’s going to fall into the hands of
terrorists. And since the governments are too inept and slow-moving to stop
this, our father-son team appoints itself.
Well, we all know that the good guys are going to win, so there’s no real
plot tension, it’s just a matter of deciding to sit back and enjoy all the
explosions and chase scenes, which in fact are pretty convincing, even if the
immortality of our heroes isn’t. Oh, and they get to have the joyful reunion
with Sis at the end, and the world is saved from the evil terrorists, so
we’re free to bask in the afterglow of battle scars, and make jokes again.
Predictable? Sure. But a fun roller coaster ride, anyway.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,