LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Hey gang, E.J.’s back with the “Die Hard” retrospective and today, I’ll be talking about the fourth movie in the franchise, “Live Free or Die Hard.”
Let me start off by saying that I never would imagine a new “Die Hard” movie would be made after the first three. A “Die Hard 4” was in the works for years, but nothing came about it and I never took the news seriously. At one point, it was going to be called “Die Hard 4: Die Hardest” with John McClane and his son kidnapped and dropped in the jungle where they’re forced to fight their way out. The son was even supposed to be played by Ben Affleck! That shows you a sign of the times. This was when Affleck had just done “Armageddon” with Willis, so I guess they formed a friendship. Years later, when I read that it would be about an old school hero like John McClane going up against new school techno-terrorists, I loved it. I actually had a similar idea for a movie, so it would seem like fate that an idea would like that became a “Die Hard” with John McClane smart assing and using streetwise tactics against a technology culture everyone is evolving with.
The first thing to note is now, they’re following the third movie’s example of using the title within a phrase which I didn’t see coming. Especially a title like “Live Free or Die Hard.” Although, I like it better than“ Die Hard 4: Die Hardest.” I don’t understand why they couldn’t use the international title “Die Hard 4.0.” It’s not a conventional title and it relates to the movie’s techno theme.
This one was based on an earlier script which was a techno-thriller called “WorldWar3.com.” I can’t help but think I would’ve liked this film as a stand alone movie more. But like the others, it was tailored to a John McClane story.
Here, John is no longer an alcoholic, but he’s definitely not happy with his life. He’s estranged from his kids and he had divorced from his wife, Holly. They use a device in reference to the first movie where his daughter, Lucy, uses the last name Gennaro instead of McClane to distance herself from her father. What the hell kind of a dad was John McClane?!
The terrorists here are a rogue organization that hacks into the government mainframe and begins to shut down important computer run programs that run society. It’s a scary thought. Especially since almost everything these days is digital. The foundation of the terrorists’ codes is written by a select group of hackers that are assassinated in the beginning of the movie. There’s only one left and McClane is called in to bring him to the F.B.I. So, he has this simple task which quickly turns ugly when the bad guys try assassinating the last hacker, Matthew Farrell. They waste no time getting to the action.
They get away and the terrorists put their plan into effect. First, they mess with traffic, then they mess with power and utilities before pushing the button to bring us all to a new stone age. It’s a reset of the system. The main villain this time around is Thomas Gabriel played by Timothy Olyphant of “Justified.” I have nothing against this actor, but he was just so bland. A good villain doesn’t have to necessarily be charismatic. I liked Colonel Stuart of the second movie even though he was a stone-faced bad guy archetype, but here, Gabriel barely even emotes. His voice is so monotone; it almost feels like a Keanu Reeves impression. I get he’s supposed to be a bitter and focused individual, but there wasn’t anything threatening about him. In the other movies, they may be villains, but sometimes they’re cool enough for you to root for them in some small way. Here, I couldn’t wait for McClane to rid of them.
So, McClane delivers Matthew to the Feds in Washington D.C. like he was assigned, but when they get attacked, McClane jumps into action to get them out of there. There’s a sequence where a helicopter chases them to a tunnel and the hackers open all the lanes and shut the lights out. This sticks the both of them smack dab in the middle of a colliding nightmare. This is a pretty exciting sequence and I believe the only computer effects used were to merge the actors in with the cars crashing. But it’s just so over the top! The physics are mindboggling!
Here, we see John act a little bit more like John McClane. He starts talking to himself. There should have been more of this. This kind of characterization is sorely missed in this movie. Most of the time, John barely smiles. He’s more melancholy. The best thing about the John McClane character is he’s complex without acting complex. He puts on a front and laughs in the face of danger as both a defense mechanism and intimidation. He probably seems the most pissed off in this movie. Later on, when he daughter is kidnapped, he becomes so serious. It’s understandable. But he and his wife were both stuck in a building riddled with villains in the first movie, he still kept the mood light. Maybe it’s a testament to how old he’s getting. Maybe something bad happened to him in between the last movie and this one, but John should not be this serious!
The Matthew Farrell character just didn’t track with me. I know he was supposed to be the polar opposite of John, but he came off as baggage. I don’t know why they felt the need to stick John with another sidekick. It worked in the last movie because the chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis worked. Here, the generation gap didn’t work in its favor as it could have.
I suppose I should address the rating issue. A lot of fans of the series complained about this movie being PG-13. The studio wanted it to reach a larger audience and a lot of teenagers go to the movies these days so they figured they’d market to a wider crowd by making the action more extravagant instead of violent. It’s quite noticeable how much more grand the action set-ups have become. But it would seem, they traded grit for comic book action. There is probably only one big-scale action sequence in each of the original three movies, but here, the action is elevated to such a huge scope. There’s a scene late in the movie where John actually faces off against a fighter jet and destroys an entire highway set-up. McClane manages to escape it as the jet explodes and there’s a shot of the collapsed highway and burning cars. It’s an image that looks like it belongs in an apocalypse movie. The music cue even sounds like a clip of “The Terminator” score. And does John have a funny line in this aftermath? No. No he doesn’t. He just says “woo.”
So, Lucy McClane is kidnapped in the end and John has to get her back. They make sure to have Lucy resemble her father, but I think they make her too tough. We lose the severity of the situation. Why should we be frightened of the bad guys if their hostage isn’t?
To be honest, I really liked this movie the first time I saw it and even went back for repeated viewings. But it just doesn’t hold up anymore with me. It’s incredibly far removed from the other movies and any suspense that the series had to offer was completely absent in this movie. I can still watch it on occasion and enjoy it on a popcorn movie level, but “Die Hard” should be more than that.
TWO STARS OUT OF FOUR.
But now, we have a fifth entry coming out. The buzz hasn’t been good due to the people behind the movie and early word is, it’s more of a forgettable action movie. I’m setting my expectations low, but to be honest, I’m pretty excited to see it. I’m just a sucker for John McClane. It’s like meeting up with an old friend. If it’s entertaining like the second movie, I’ll be pretty satisfied.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my take on the movies. You may have disagreed with my points and that’s cool. Entertainment is subjective. I just wanted to offer my perspective and give a little history about the series. There’s a reason these movies stick around. It was a game changer and like other game changers, it’s been duplicated so many times. It became almost a subgenre. People describe its clones as “Die Hard on a blank.” There are some entertaining ones though. But no matter how many there are, there’s just no beating the original.
E.J. is just a simple man who loves movies. Don't judge.