Wow. I never thought I'd be writing another Die Hard movie review. After years of speculation and rumor, Die Hard 4 sounded like one of those pictures that was just never going to get off the ground, but low and behold, it's 2007, a good 12 years since Die Hard with a Vengeance, and we have Live Free and Die Hard, your Die Hard sequel for the digital age.
Long past is the day of straight forward action films, where you can have a rough but clearly protagonistic (note: not a real word, but it should be) character kicking ass left and right while fighting against a clear cut bad guy - and still have the movie be good. Normally we're stuck with drama-action films now, which are great in their own right but not always wonderful if you're looking to sit down with some buddies to watch some non-stop explosions and shooting. Of course, we could watch one of the several wannabe crapfests that star professional wrestlers, but who the hell wants to torture one's self like that? For some reason, the 1980's and early 90's managed to get that perfect blend of action, charisma and plot that is neither completely dumb nor overly elaborate or deep. Die Hard was about a terrorist who takes an office building hostage to steal some money. Die Hard 2 is about terrorists that take over an airport. Die Hard 3 has terrorists striking New York City, but are really just in it for the money. All of these had simple plots, but they worked without making the audience feel stupid.
So Live Free and Die Hard returns Bruce Willis to the acclaimed role of John McClane, your perfect action hero. He's not some muscle-bound weightlifter, and he's not perfect by any means - he's bitter, often drunk and is the reluctant hero. But he is incredibly likable, and allows the audience to take pleasure in every beat down he inflicts on the bad guys, and every beating he takes himself. Those skeptics who thought that the time of Die Hard had come and gone were just plain wrong. Willis is just as good as he was back then; he gets the crap beaten out of him and cracks jokes while he's at it. It's the same old John McClane, and it is absolutely terrific to see him back on the big screen.
The rest of the movie is as you'd expect. Going bigger and "better" than the previous film, terrorists have taken over the United States via an intricate display of computer hacking; without firing a shot (okay, that's not entirely true), the terrorists, led by Timothy Olyphant, who has that same sadistic stare he had in "Deadwood", take down every government network, knock out power to most of the Eastern seaboard and start hacking into the financial data of every person, business and government agency in the country. While Live Free or Die Hard takes things to the extreme, the concept isn't that far from what is really possible, and the movie takes advantage of it all the way, to show that 1980's action hero John McClane can still duke it out in a day and age where computers rule. The plot has its holes, but Live Free or Die Hard moves along at a good enough pace that you really don't have time to sit and ponder them. Despite the intricaty of the concept, the plot is still relatively basic (John McClane vs. terrorists), yet the movie doesn't make you feel dumber for watching it.
There are a few slightly slow parts as the movie devolves into technospeak (and it seems like when some revelation about the plot comes forward, three different scenes are devoted to explaining it in different ways) and some of the scene transitions seemed rushed for no apparent reasons, but Live Free or Die Hard, as you might expect, is a fairly fast-paced film that doesn't resort to action to fill in plot holes but certainly doesn't spend too long getting to the next round of explosions. Live Free or Die Hard has some great action scenes that put it on par with its predecessors; there is plenty of shooting, punching, blood splattering and explosions. Even though the film is PG-13, it is still brutal, and McClane gets punched around quite a bit.
There are a couple scenes that lean on the edge of ridiculous, namely a sequence near the end where a fighter jet attempts to take out the truck McClane is driving. For some reason, the jet decides to try to destroy the truck while it is under a major freeway, and ends up taking out a mile of the structure (why a mile of the freeway would collapse when one column is destroyed is beyond me, but oh well). Even if the truck is full of terrorists, wouldn't the pilot's supervisor be happier if he waited a minute to get the truck into clear sights where other people and billions of dollars of property aren't at stake? It's a fun scene, but one that definitely smells of "going above and beyond" when Die Hard really didn't need to go that far. A little more plausability could have gone a long way, but you're still going to have a blast.
As for the acting and screenplay, it's off and on. As with most action films you don't need an Oscar-winning screenplay, but there are a few parts where Die Hard could have benefited from some fleshed-out dialogue. Olyphant is good as the villain, but his straight-faced performance is almost too much to bear in a few parts. Maggie Q makes for a good (and hot) henchwoman, but how did McClane get the SUV from the parking lot into the secure control center to knock her down an elevator shaft? Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as McClane's daughter, is eye candy and that's enough for me, and Justin Long, best known now as "the Mac guy from those Apple commercials", is surprisingly effective - though no Samuel L. Jackson - as McClane's hesitant sidekick. Even though he can't compare to the character of Zeus from Vengeance, I give Long props for delivering an effective, entertaining and likable character.
Oh, and if you were worried that the franchise had lost its sense of humor based on the rather serious movie trailers, don't be! Live Free or Die Hard has just as many jokes as its predecessors, and they all work.
Live Free or Die Hard is not a perfect movie, and it's too early to rank it among the other films in the franchise (though I probably would put it below Vengeance and #1), but it is a fun and exciting action movie, a rare treat these days. Skeptics should give in and go watch this film, because you're guaranteed to have a blast. People were cheering at the end.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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