Ah, father-son relationships. Every man is affected by them. Most try to keep them simple, but they never are. No matter what age and stage. In fact, they’re usually complicated simply by the refusal to acknowledge that fact.
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 diplomacy.
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 – based on 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.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.