I watch Live Free or Die Hard and I can't help but feel disappointed afterwards. It’s an action film that just happens to have Die Hard in the title. It’s better than it has a right to be but it doesn’t make for a satisfying experience. The goodwill garnered from the first three films can only help so much.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is ordered to escort young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to Washington D.C. for questioning after the FBI’s system briefly shuts down. It turns out that the shut-down was the fault of Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), an ex-government security expert who was fired after warning his superiors about America’s cyber-security vulnerabilities. He’s after the country’s financial information, which is stored in a secure NSA location. McClane quickly becomes a thorn in Gabriel’s side but Gabriel eventually gets the upper hand, kidnapping McClane’s college-age daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a.k.a. the ex-Mrs. ScottDS). McClane makes it to the NSA facility where Gabriel attacks him from behind, which allows McClane to shoot himself in the shoulder which kills Gabriel.
Willis does what he does best though he’s kind of on autopilot and if it weren’t for the name, I’m wondering if he’d be recognizable as McClane. I also have to point out an interesting comment I once read. An action film scholar and author named Eric Lichtenfeld (who contributed extras to the DVD of the first Die Hard) was once asked about this film. He said he knew it would be disappointing when he saw that McClane had a shaved head. His reasoning was that the bald look might work for Bruce Willis but it’s not something McClane would do. Interesting…
As good as he is in other things, Timothy Olyphant doesn’t make for a good villain. He isn’t nearly as threatening as he should be, he spends most of the film scowling, and he dresses like a hip bartender. His henchwoman Mai Linh is played by Maggie Q and she actually gets some good fight scenes. It’s too bad the filmmakers killed her off when they did; she might’ve come in handy at the end. This film was released in 2007 and even by then, computer hacking had become a cliché. We had seen The Matrix films and The Net and at this point we saw this sort of thing every other week on the various CSI shows. There is nothing exciting about watching people type and it takes a skilled filmmaker to make it even remotely interesting. Not to mention all the usual problems with computers in films, from unrealistic interfaces to incorrect jargon.
As of this writing, a fifth film, titled A Good Day to Die Hard is slated for a February release. (Tomorrow, actually.) I’m sure it’ll be fun but ultimately forgettable. In this one, it’s McClane and his son… in Russia. It’s directed by John Moore whose credits include Behind Enemy Lines, the Max Payne adaptation, and the remakes of Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen.
As for this film, it looks pretty and I confess it’s fun to see Bruce Willis kill bad guys but it’s all rather generic. A Die Hard film shouldn’t be just another action film, just like a Star Trek film shouldn’t be just another sci-fi film. But if you want a good fourth film in a franchise with lots of action, check out Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol instead!
“You're a Timex watch in a digital age.”