Live Free or Die Hard (2007)Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language, and a brief sexual situation.
Starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.
McClane is Insane
I'm not sure we need this burgeoning trend of '80s movie franchise revivals. Live Free or Die Hard is, of course, the fourth Die Hard, 19 years after the first movie, and 12 years after the last one. It isn't the first of its kind -- that honor may go to Rocky Balboa, which came out last year -- and it won't be the last, not with the new Indiana Jones movie on the horizon. They all beg the question: who wants to see these once young heroes still duking things out when they might be past their prime?
Maybe that doesn't need to be answered as long as the movies work somehow. I haven't seen Rocky Balboa, but was surprised to hear all the good word of mouth it generated. And now that I've seen Live Free or Die Hard, I admit I enjoyed it. Perhaps the filmmakers are actually taking a pulse of the public and understanding what may appeal to moviegoers about these revivals. There appears to be an effort to take the ideas seriously, to give more of what made each franchise enjoyable in the first place.
In the case of Die Hard, I wouldn't say the result entirely lives up to that ideal, but its core is solid enough to anchor all the extravagances the movie indulges in. The previous movies weren't this over-the-top in terms of action -- the set pieces are now crazier, the dangers are more contrived, and the participants more superhumanly durable -- but at the center of it all is this smart aleck cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis), who can somehow live through anything, thus making the sophisticated terrorists he foils very uncomfortable. They think they're so smart, and they throw everything they have at him, and he keeps coming back with a smirk on his face, and somehow that very simple set-up is easily satisfying.
Of course, it only really works when the action works, since the plot's only purpose is to put the hero into different scrapes so he can escape or fight his way out of them. Give director Len Wiseman credit for making the ridiculous (some might say "imaginative") retain some semblance of gravity. The violence here packs a punch you can feel, even as the characters routinely get up for more after any normal person should've lost consciousness for at least a few hours; and Wiseman is able to use different environments to their best potential to frame the action. Most of the set pieces strain believability, but I think they are all pulled off well (with the exception of one involving a jet plane, which should've been re-written). If we are to believe much of the publicity, the decreased dependence on computer-generated effects seems to have really helped. Anyhow, all this is within the constraints of a "PG-13" rating as well, although it feels like an "R," and it really should've been an "R" all along (like the other Die Hards were).
It's likely none of this movie would be half as entertaining without Bruce Willis coming back as McClane, and Live Free or Die Hard receives big benefits from the first film being one of the all-time great action movies. Willis in the original Die Hard generated so much empathy from his role that the goodwill from it easily carries over to future adventures -- John McClane became an iconic hero because he was vulnerable, thought on his feet, had a family to protect, and backed up his smart mouth against the terrorists. In this fourth movie, maybe the stakes aren't as high, and he's definitely much more invulnerable, but we still don't want to see him lose, so when he takes on the new baddies, it's like we're still rooting for that guy who was trapped in Nakatomi Plaza, playing cat-and-mouse with Hans Gruber.
Live Free or Die Hard makes a lot of the fact that McClane is old-fashioned, that he's "analog in a digital world." He's partnered up with a computer genius (Justin Long), and their generation gap creates both humor and friction. Maybe, in the end, the movie is trying to say that only by combining the best of any two sides -- brawn and brain, old and young, experience and new ideas -- can we most effectively face the perils of our modern world. But I'm personally more fascinated by the idea that they've made McClane a lot more insane in this movie. In this outing, he really has it in for the bad guys, taking things pretty personally. He has an almost sick rage, and his humorous reactions to his own victories are just wrong sometimes, but, interestingly, it's also cathartic.
Live free in the irrational world long enough, and you may become more irrational yourself as you get older. And who knows, you might enjoy it -- I'd classify the making of this movie as irrational, but, hey, it surprised me.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jun. 25, 2007