Synopsis: “The best of the best is back and better than ever” (WNYW-TV) in the latest installment of the pulse-pounding, thrill-a-minute Die Hard action films. New York City detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) delivers old-school justice to a new breed of terrorists when a massive computer attack on the U.S. infrastructure threatens to shut down the entire country over Independence Day weekend.
Locked and loaded with real stunts, genuine humor and nonstop excitement, Live Free Or Die Hard is “a slick piece of action entertainment” (Los Angeles Times). Yipee ki yay!
eyelights: Bruce Willis. Jason Long. its core conceit.
eyesores: its stereotypes. its unrealistic action sequences. its scope.
“You’re a Timex watch in a digital age.”
You know what made the original ‘Die Hard‘ so good? It was the simplicity of it: it showed an everyday Joe persevering against a more skilled and deadly opponent in a confined space through sheer will and wile. Oh, sure, it had its outlandish moments, but, mostly, it was a dude trapped in a highrise with a bunch of deadly hostage-takers.
The first sequel expanded upon this concept a little bit, giving the series’ hero, John McClane, a little bit more room to maneuver in. But, essentially, it was an everyday dude trapped in an airport with a bunch of deadly hostage-takers. The third film is when the series derailed, throwing McClane on a silly wild goose chase all over Manhattan.
‘Live Free or Die Hard’ ratches it up a few notches further, pitting McClane against hackers who are systematically shutting down the U.S. – which he tears through over a couple of days. It’s basically a non-stop, over-the-top, large-scale action movie that could easily have starred Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford or Will Smith.
It’s not really a ‘Die Hard’.
Which doesn’t make it less exciting: ‘Die Hard 4.0’ (its actual title in international markets, and the preferred one of star Bruce Willis and director Len Wiseman) is over-stuffed with well-constructed, pulse-pounding sequences that entertain just long enough to be threaded together by small moments of plot or character development.
Is it implausible? Yes.
Does it get ridiculous? Yes.
Does it overstay its welcome? Yes.
But it can be fun. And Bruce Willis is back in form after his morose turn from ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’. To top it off, he seems leaner and in better shape than he was even then – and that was twelve years prior. Add to this a decent interplay with Justin Long, who plays a New Jersey hacker that’s tied to McClane’s hip, and Willis shines.
It’s a good thing, too, because no one else in the cast makes a lasting impression. Though they’re all fine actors and they all deliver, none of them are Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton or even William Sadler. The only other notable turn is by Kevin Smith, as a master hacker who lives in his mom’s basement.
Of course, I may be a bit biased.
The action comes fast and furious: right at the onset, a hacker is blown up and then Matt, Justin Long’s character, is about to get gunned down by some French hitmen when McClane saves the day – in a machine-gun riddled sequence that made me wonder who would use such weapons if they’d rather not attract any attention to themselves.
But what can you say about a scene that finds McClane defending, with only one handgun, a small apartment from a handful of hitmen with machine guns? A scene that finds Matt’s apartment blown up because a Terminator statue falls on his PC’s DELETE button? A scene that has McClane and Matt hunted by a relentless parcour athlete?
And that’s just the opening salvo. It gets crazier.
The picture is so full of crazy action sequences that it belies its PG-13 rating, the first of its kind for a ‘Die Hard’ film. If you go in not knowing this, you could never tell. But it certainly says something about our ratings system (and our society!) when something as violent as ‘Die Hard 4.0’ can get a PG-13 rating; it wouldn’t have 20 years prior.
- After taking Matt to Washington DC, McClane is ambushed by an enemy chopper that riddles their car with bullets. They escape to a nearby tunnel, so the baddies electronically redirect traffic in McClane’s direction. The subsequent series of car crashes was jaw-dropping: it had car flipping in the air above our duo, crashing down everywhere. No one gets hurt.
- But get this: that’s the least of it! McClane then takes a car and launches it in the air at the helicopter. Launches. The. Car. In. The. Air. Like a missile. Even Matt is incredulous, blurting out “You just killed a helicopter with a car!”. McClane takes a massive tumble, having thrown himself from the speeding car. But he survives. So does parcour guy.
(For the record, the fact that the French dude is a parcour athlete and that the Asian girl is a martial artist, is pretty f-ing simple-minded, no? All that was missing was a Russian ex-KGB, an Italian gangster, an African-American gangsta and an Indian with a turban. !@#$)
- McClane is pretty robust: in this picture, though he gets bruised and scraped, and is visibly achey, he suffers no broken bones, no nerve damage and no severe bloodloss. Of course, it goes both ways: when McClane has a brutal fight with Mai Linh, the miniscule woman takes a serious beating, recovers quickly and then tosses him two floors down.
- But get this: He somehow drives an SUV up to where she and Long are, drives through the control room, hits her, and drives them into an elevator. Naturally, they’re both alive, and unharmed, even after the SUV drops into the elevator shaft. And despite the pummeling he took, he can still holds onto elevator cable as she falls down with the truck.
- It actually gets worse: Later, as McClane is trying to catch Gabriel, the head hacker, an F35 is sent after him – which leads to the most deranged chase ever, as the U.S. Marine devastates the city’s infrastructure to terminate McClane. Interestingly, there is no one else around. Then McClane lands on the F35, falls off of it and he doesn’t get hurt.
Whoever would have imagined that the series would take this turn back in 1988, huh?
Whatever sense of realism that made the original such a hit has been laid waste here. Though I can’t comment on the plausibility of a hacker instigating a “fire sale” shut down of the United States, it’s nonetheless an intriguing concept: can you imagine the state we’d be in if all transit, financial services, telecom and utilities were all shut down?
Still, the picture was slipshod in many other areas: How did the chopper know to find McClane in DC, when they were first in Jersey? How could Matt, who complained of being hungry at the start last two days without eating? How could McClane take a phone from a stranger’s hand without protest? How can Gabriel send exploding gas lines at McClane?
Even on technical level there were things that were poorly-conceived. Though the CGI carnage was mostly rendered well enough that it neatly blended with the live action, there was really crap green-screening (and exposition) during the drive from Jersey to DC. And Maggie Q and Justin Long’s hair was often in different positions in various takes.
Though not Bruce Willis’.
Ultimately, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ is a ride – no more, no less. An seemingly endless, and extremely convoluted, ride, but a ride nonetheless. If you allow it to take you along, then it serves as a decent way to kill two hours; it’s competently-constructed and Bruce Willis is on top of his game here. But make no mistake: it has very little in common with the original.
The spirit of ‘Die Hard’ has left us a long time ago. Mind you, death is not the worst of evils.
Date of viewing: December 14, 2016