It’s about damn time. Finally a movie that is a true summer feast and one that harks back to the steamy summers of decades past when studios regularly pumped out pure action movies with a sense of humor. When I think of summer, this is the kind of film that springs to mind; not heartless cash-ins like we have seen up until now. The season is about entertainment, thrills, and laughs; and Live Free or Die Hard delivers all three.
Admittedly I had a caution sign next to this project the day it was announced. The Die Hard Trilogy, as it stood, are three of my all-time favorites and I saw no reason for a fourth – especially twelve years after the release of Die Hard with a Vengeance. This seemed like a cash grab in itself, not as though Bruce Willis needs one. Adding insult to apparent injury was the PG-13 tag, something that was clearly not in mind by previous series directors John McTiernan and Renny Harlin. What’s a Die Hard movie without F-bombs and bloodtastic violence?
As it turns out, I must eat my words and thoughts and report that Live Free or Die Hard is a worthy addition to a stellar franchise. All of the signatures are in place: amazing action sequences, the trademark McClane attitude and wit, and the self-awareness that constantly gives the audience a wink here and there. It feels like a Die Hard movie, and that in itself is a tremendous compliment.
This time around McClane (Willis) is up against a team of cyber-terrorists who are scheming to systemically shut down the United States via elaborate computer hacking methods. The ringleader is Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant), a former FBI IT specialist who warned the upper echelon of government leaders that the U.S. was vulnerable to a security breach, but he was given the cold shoulder. Now it’s payback time. Helping out McClane is Matt Farrell (Long), a hacking wiz who actually helped code part of Gabriel’s deadly application. Unaware of the real-world consequences, Farrell now has no choice but to help McClane bring everyone down.
Running 130 minutes, Live Free or Die Hard rarely slows up. The action sequences and drawn-out, surprisingly brutal (this is definitely a stiff PG-13), and breathtaking. Director Len Wiseman uses as little CGI as possible, and it pays off big-time. The authenticity seeps through the screen in an early scene in which McClane must battle a few baddies who are after Farrell. One ends up attached to a fence which is subsequently attached to the car McClane is driving, and it’s truly suspenseful. I’m not sure at what time studios execs decided audiences preferred CGI over the real deal, but some of the stunts in this movie are as impressive as I’ve ever seen. Instead of laughing at the usually-weak effects, we gasp with delight. If you want action, you’ll get it.
The weakest link, especially compared to the previous films, is Timothy Olyphant as Gabriel. He’s not entirely to blame as the part wasn’t thoroughly written, but he doesn’t even hold a matchstick to the likes of Alan Rickman, William Sadler, and Jeremy Irons. Part of the appeal of the Die Hard films is their memorable villains, and Olyphant doesn’t even come close. His answer to just about everything is to flare his eyes and bark an order. Missing is a real suave, evil genius to truly despise.
Bruce Willis admirably steps back into the role and doesn’t miss a beat. This is the same McClane we all love; the attitude, the wisecracks, and the everyman demeanor. Screenwriter Mark Bomback adds some new quirks by playing off McClane’s age and his lack of understanding of current technology. This makes the interplay between him and Justin Long entertaining and unforced.
Live Free or Die Hard may end up being the surprise of the season. Perhaps it’s diminished expectations for this installment or the disappointment that has been met with nearly very other big-budget release over the past month, but this is the kind of action entertainment that has been sorely lacking at the cinema in recent years. Welcome back, John.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 130 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language, and a brief sexual situation.
Theatrical Release: June 27, 2007
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: Mark Bomback. Story by Bomback & David Marconi.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Jonathan Sadowski