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Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard

Live Free or Die Hard
Directed by Len Wiseman
Written by Mark Bomback from a story by Bomback and David Marconi based on the article “A Farewell to Arms” by John Carlin

Being a huge fan of the Die Hard movies, Live Free or Die Hard looked like a welcome summer break from comic book mayhem, getting back down to basics by putting a real man into a tough situation, having to rely on his wits and good old-fashioned police work to save the day. But this new installment of the franchise might as well be called something else. It doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie, and the action sequences, which always had the quality of an average joe doing extraordinary things, have taken on some comic book liberties in believability.

In Live Free or Die Hard, the country is being hijacked with techno-terrorism by former government man Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). He wants to prove a point, and according to Die Hard law, probably wants to make off with some cash in the process. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has been asked to track down a young hacker, Matt Farrell (Justin Long), whose life is in danger after several other of his colleagues have turned up dead.

McClane gets into a bad situation again, having to save Farrell from an assassination attempt and then running into deeper problems once Gabriel starts up what is known as a “Fire Sale,” in which he causes mass hysteria with banks, power outages, broadcasts, and traffic. Gabriel has a God-like quality, being able to tap into all the cameras in the world, able to track down McClane and Farrell everywhere they go. Ultimately, McClane and Farrell enlist the help of another hacker, “Warlock” (Kevin Smith) to figure out where Gabriel is hiding and what he might be up to.

Eventually, things get personal, which is a trademark of Die Hard films, when McClane and Gabriel get into a pissing match over women in their lives: Gabriel’s girlfriend and top henchwoman Mai Lihn (Maggie Q) and McClane’s daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Know this: I’m probably in the minority when I say that this new Die Hard didn’t do it for me. I know it’s a new world we live in, movies have changed quite a bit since the last Die Hard arrived 12 years ago, but watching McClane do battle on a much larger playground (the Washington D.C. area and surrounding states) than he did in the original (a skyscraper), the second (an airport), and even the third film (all of Manhattan) takes away much of the gritty, tight-space action sequences that I’ve loved in the past. Watching McClane speed a car through a tunnel and think for any moment that it’s likely to ramp through a toll both and into a flying helicopter may seem very Die Hard until you realize that McClane always did things that at least seemed plausible.

Scenes like his “bungee” off the Nakatomi roof with a hose strapped to his waist, shooting out a window, and making it to a floor safely seemed real enough in the original Die Hard because despite its outrageousness, it looked like it just might be crazy enough to work. Scenes in this film just look entirely impossible for even a hero like McClane to navigate. A scene with a military jet just took the cake in stretching believability (you’ve seen it in the trailers, when he jumps to an inclined piece of road and slides down the road just before an explosion). Much of the charm of John McClane has been lost, and when he reacts in an all-too-calm manner when he learns his daughter has been kidnapped, the movie has officially lost me.

The other aspects of the Die Hard movies were that the villains had a plan and they executed it with brilliance, only to have McClane be the one thing they didn’t plan on (or as in the case of Die Hard with a Vengeance, actually plan on McClane being there but still losing). Timothy Olyphant, who has played great villains in Scream 2, The Girl Next Door, and Go, is limited by the script here and just isn’t as formidable as the other villains in Die Hard history. I just thought he was a bit too easy for McClane to find, and McClane comes after him, talking trash, and not once do you feel like his daughter is in any real danger or that there are any consequences to be had.

I felt really disconnected from this new chapter. As Gabriel says to McClane, “You’re a Timex watch in a digital world.” I think I’m a little too old school for this movie, which does try to avoid digital effects and works towards real stunts. It’s an admirable attempt. But when the action is just too much for an ordinary man to take on, it loses its “old school” cred. Maybe down the road I’ll grow to appreciate this, but as of now, consider me disappointed.

Follows: Die Hard with a Vengeance

Next: A Good Day to Die Hard

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