Archive Review: Live Free or Die Hard

It had been 12 years since John McClane (Bruce Willis) last stopped a criminal mastermind’s mass terrorist plot and “Live Free or Die Hard” tries to make up for every single one of them. John drives three pedestrian cars, a police car, a mack truck and flies a helicopter; he survives at least three long-distance falls and outruns two or three explosions; he saves two lives (including someone close to him) and kills at least a dozen. Well, that last bit was at least expected.

The long-awaited fourth Die Hard film delivers on the explosive and inventive action fronts like any solid action film, especially one in this beloved series, ought to. Director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) proves he can handle the challenge of a mainstream action flick with ease and considering “Live Free or Die Hard” teeters on the edge of preposterous throughout its run time, the fact that he grounds any of this in realism warrants applause.

Mark Bomback and David Marconi’s story runs terrifically at full speed, though it is fairly obvious that the script had to be tailored for the likes of John McClane. The cyber-terrorism plot of hackers controlling all the major networks and servers in the U.S. and playing with traffic signals and interfering with police communications is not the first premise that someone writing a film for an old school hero such as John McClane would conceive. I was not surprised to see Marconi’s name on the story as the film was highly reminiscent of his 1998 thriller “Enemy of the State,” one of the first of what are now way overdone “techno- thrillers.”

The story has McClane working for Homeland Security and investigating a hacker name Matt Ferrell (Justin Long) after it appears someone has messed with the department’s network. Here is where John finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time yet again as someone’s out to kill Ferrell. Much like Samuel L. Jackson’s role in “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” Long gets to be the baggage to play off of Willis and also provide some sense of freaking out seeing as McClane has no reason to do that anymore.

Much of “Live Free” models itself off of “With a Vengeance,” not necessarily a poor choice considering that film was equally as exciting as far as pacing and action quality. Timothy Olyphant as the criminal mastermind Thomas Gabriel at least has a bit more practical motivation for his crime than Jeremy Irons did as Simon Gruber. In this film, McClane finds himself in the mix rather than the actual target partly a byproduct of making this script a Die Hard film rather that building one from scratch.

Olyphant is solid as a villain although it certainly takes a bit of time to take him seriously. Colorful villain is probably not his strong suit but its nice to see him in a lead. Long works well as a balancing act for Bruce. He’s one of few in his circle of comedian buddies that appears to have what it takes to cross into other genres and both play the lead or a character role.

At times, “Live Free” is like getting repeatedly hit by a car and not dying (which happens to at least two characters), but Wiseman clearly understands that McClane’s character (and all the characters for that matter) is most important in a Die Hard film. You simply can’t hinge everything on the action. No, the movie doesn’t evolve John as a character in any way, but it doesn’t suck him dry of his humanity either, even if he should’ve died at five different points in the film. Yet again, that’s the Die Hard shtick, love it or leave it.

3.5/5 Stars

Live Free or Die Hard
Directed by Len Wiseman
Written by Mark Bomback, David Marconi
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q


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