Live Free or Die Hard
begins with a bang. Several of them, actually. It launches straight into the action within seconds of the theater lights going down and doesn’t stop until the lights come back up. Deafeningly loud and breathtakingly kinetic, the action is nonstop, fiercely uninterested in giving the audience a chance to breath.
When Det. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is sent on a routine assignment to pick up a young computer hacker for questioning, he is the last person to imagine that young Matt Ferrell (Justin “Mac” Long) is the unwitting pawn in a conspiracy to bring down the United States government. But when the entire computer-based infrastructure of the country begins to collapse, it isn’t long before McClane and everyone else realizes the country is under assault.
In a crippling 4th of July attack, the terrorists strike at America’s transportation, finances and utilities. With the nation debilitated and plunging into anarchy, computer mastermind Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) takes advantage of post-9/11 infrastructure consolidation and in a move that is as much to make a point as it is to make money, prepares to walk off with billions of dollars.
But high-tech Thomas Gabriel never counted on low-tech John McClane.
As usual, the Feds are out of step, but with Ferrell’s technical know-how, McClane single-handedly takes on the terrorist network. The stakes have never been higher. As if saving an entire country wasn’t enough, Gabriel kidnaps McClane’s estranged, now college-aged daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as insurance. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Lucy is, most definitely, a chip off the old block.
There is a line in Ocean’s Thirteen
in which a character tells our heroes, “You’re analog players in a digital world.” There is a similar line in Live Free or Die Hard
, but it seems to fit here far more organically than it did in Oceans. Live Free or Die Hard
exults in its throwback hero from another era. For all their technical wizardry, the bad guys are no match for McClane’s old-school ingenuity and brawn.
In the same way, Live Free or Die Hard
itself feels like a nostalgic throwback to an earlier time. As more and more movies rely on massive CGI enhancement and Hong Kong choreographed wire-rigged fights, Die Hard
revels in good, old-fashioned fist fights and real, immaculately executed stunts. While the film does incorporate some digital action, it is largely limited to one particular scene (a completely unnecessary and implausible truck vs. jet battle) and never overwhelms.
The action in Live Free or Die Hard
is as high octane as anything you’ve ever seen. Have no doubt about it, Bruce Willis most definitely still knows how to kick ass and leave carnage in his wake. The stunts are phenomenal, especially those by Frenchman Cyril Raffaelli. (Like Sebastien Foucan in Casino Royale
, Raffaelli is one of the disciples of parkour
, a style of free-running movement based entirely on momentum and ricochet. Reminiscent of early Jackie Chan movies, Raffaelli dazzles with the untapped potential of the human body.) The seductive Maggie Q plays Gabriel’s beautiful paramour, setting up an East vs. West showdown and one of the most satisfying, down-and-dirty moments of the film.
It’s great to see Bruce Willis back in the role that made him a star. His usual cranky, wisecracking, sardonic self, Willis’ McClane is certainly older than the barefooted hellion that scampered around Nakatomi Towers in 1988, but he is no less convincing. (I am reminded of recent pictures on the internet showing a much older Harrison Ford donning the immortalized hat and whip for the next Indiana Jones
film). McClane is most certainly not a superhero. In a cinema awash with indestructible deities, McClane — always in the wrong place at the wrong time — is a beaten, bloodied mess by the end of the film. Par for the franchises’ course. And as far as being a hero is concerned, he tells a shell-shocked Ferrell that all heroics have gotten him is a divorce and estranged children. “Then why are you doing this,” Farrell asks. “Because there’s no one else,” McClane replies.
Director Len Wiseman (the delectably slick Underworld
films) has made a movie with little to no character development. Does he consider the first three films as set-up enough or does he realize that we don’t go to action films for character-driven plots? Wiseman seems to borrow elements from and even pay direct homage to a number of action films that have gone before his, including Goldeneye, T2, True Lies
and, of course, the other Die Hard
films. There are the familiar troupes: witty, testosterone-fueled exchanges over walkie-talkies, fiery action in elevator shafts, etc.
If there is one major fault to Live Free or Die Hard
, it is that at some point well into production, the decision was made that an R-rating would hurt its commercial viability and a slightly more family friendly PG-13 version was decided on. Unfortunately, large amounts of the R-rated dialogue had already been recorded, forcing the filmmakers to go back over their earlier work and complexly retool what existed. The result is a sort of Japanese dubbing effect in which the character’s mouths are out of sync with what they’re saying. It is, in a word, distracting. It is also fundamentally disappointing — even the now famous Die Hard
mantra, “Yippe-Ki-Yay…” doesn’t escape unmolested.
As Live Free or Die Hard
appeared on everyone’s radar screens, magazines and websites fell all over themselves trying to compile lists of the best action films ever made. Almost without fail, the original Die Hard
finds itself in the top spot. While certain action classics haven’t aged well, Die Hard
, with its story of a man trapped in a skyscraper overrun with terrorists is still an undisputed thrill ride from start to finish. Live Free or Die Hard
isn’t nearly as smart a film, but it certainly is a fun, entertaining one. Don’t think too hard — just lean back, enjoy the ride, and remember a simpler time when Hollywood built sets rather than virtual environments, created jaw-dropping stunts instead of digital animation, and threw real punches instead of graceful, cartoon ballets.