Up next, ‘Die Harderer?’
Vail, CO, Colorado
To many action fans, the original “Die Hard” is the perfect action film. With a seemingly ordinary cop pitted against insurmountable and terrifying odds in a claustrophobic environment, it set the template for countless copycats in the following decades.
But it was most revolutionary for providing a reactionary antidote to the invincible, musclebound He-Men of the day (your Arnolds, Slys and to a lesser degree, Jean-Claudes). Bruce Willis’ smartass detective John McClane got by on ingenuity and sheer luck rather than pure brawn, and he suffered mightily through his action sequences; Willis made you feel every bloody bruise, cut and gunshot wound.
19 years since his first outing and 12 years since the most recent, John McClane returns to battle disgruntled cyberterrorists bent on bringing the U.S. to its knees in “Live Free Or Die Hard.” Though McClane is older and balder, this time out he’s lost some of the vulnerability that made him so endearing before: He bleeds and gets tossed across the asphalt like a human projectile, but he stands right up and keeps going after maybe shaking off a slight limp. In addition to balding, McClane somehow picked up the properties of the Terminator in the intervening years.
The film opens with McClane surveilling his estranged daughter, who berates him for spying on her. But before he can patch up the family wounds, he’s called off to escort the young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to Washington D.C. McClane arrives just in time to save Farrell from feisty and inexplicably French assassins. Long and McClane quickly become sidekicks, and their banter proves one of the most enjoyable parts of the film; the grizzled, technophobic cop and sarcastic, technophilic hacker trade insults and one-liners as they speed from one bit of flaming wreckage to another.
Speaking of the wreckage, “Live Free” features some impressive action set pieces; they feel a bit more over-the-top than in a typical “Die Hard” movie, but director Len Wiseman stages them for maximum suspense and impact. The outcome of each terrorist onslaught is never really in question, but it’s hard not to smile when, yes, McClane “kills a helicopter with a cop car.” A duel between a semi and a fighter jet perhaps goes too far, but the final showdown is thankfully scaled back down to a taught, tense standoff with just guns and nerves as weapons.
Timothy Olyphant plays cyberterrorist Thomas Gabriel, and while he tries to inject as much menace as possible into a bad guy who essentially just barks orders over a walkie-talkie, he can’t really hold a candle to past “Die Hard” baddies like Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) or even Peter Krieg (Jeremy Irons). Maggie Q plays the nearly silent but menacing hacker/karate assassin/lover of Gabriel, and she’s the source of much of McClane’s fiercest put-downs. Ultimately, the film makes it clear that McClane’s biggest nemesis is the technocentric world that’s left behind an analog guy like him.
One hallmark of the “Die Hard” series was always the hard-R rating, which allowed for rampant gore and profanity. This is the first PG-13 entry, and while the filmmakers push it about as far as they can, some of the action seems a little bit defanged because of it. The filmmakers even have to find a clever way to cover the profane portion of McClane’s trademark catchphrase. It’s a bummer, but the film makes up for some of the lack of hard-R action by packing wall-to-wall car crashes with explosions and a high body count ” it’s truly not a film for anyone under 13, and even that’s a stretch.
McClane is likely Bruce Willis’ most iconic character, and even after all these years, he still fits like an old baseball glove. “Live Free or Die Hard” is missing some of the original’s foulmouthed, bloody spirit, but nearly makes up for it with high-tech, popcorn action and Justin Long’s comic relief. Just make sure to take your suspension-of-disbelief pills with your coda and popcorn.
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