By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Back in the mid 2000s, old action heroes were starting to make comebacks. Two of which were shepherded by one Sylvester Stallone. 2006 saw the well received Rocky Balboa, and 2008 saw the even better received Rambo. Sandwiched in between, was the return of one John McClane (Willis). Having taken care of the Gruber family, one must have wondered what would be thrown (in some cases literally) at McClane this time. Enter computer hackers. As Live Free or Die Hard was loosely based on a pre 9/11 article from Wired Magazine that details the dangers that come with having our information sprawled all over the internet. It was the job of the screenwriters (David Marconi and Mark Bomback) to come up with a way to successfully enter McClane into the mix of things that take place here. Enter McClane they did. Successfully they did not.
Let’s be honest: a decent fourth film of any franchise is an almost impossible task to pull off (hello Alien and Batman). And I will even go to bat for Len Wiseman & say he gives it the old college try. But unlike any of the past Die Hard films, not only was there a complete absence of endearing story points or likable characters. A big issue I had with Live Free or Die Hard was Matt, the sidekick of our hero (who has to, get this, leave New York and drive him from Jersey to DC) is an all around bad fit for it. Not that it is any fault of Justin Long. Long came in as a star of the TV show Ed. And, I feel his character and performance were very, very wrong for the Die Hard franchise. His one liners were grating (‘good luck at the bad timing awards’) and his one bonehead decision after another just made me want to see McClane leave him to be killed. I didn’t even come close to feeling that way about Samuel L. Jackson in the last film, because I felt he was a vital part of helping McClane get to that finish line. Here, they water Matt down to the point of him not even knowing what he was doing in order to endear us to him. And this juxtaposition hurts the overall quality of the movie. Well, that and the film’s rating.
Now I have already stated that I do not blame Wiseman for the lackluster quality of this film. And while I find his claims of not knowing what his film was going to be rated until three months into production hard to believe, I think he did a more than adequate job of directing Live Free or Die Hard. He gives the film a bluish palate which sets the mood nicely, and his action scenes were swift & fun. The guy is obviously a huge fan of the series, and you can tell he set out to make the best film that he could. I also respected his decision to keep the film’s CGI at an absolute minimum. My big problem with this film, as juvenile as it sounds, comes down to the film’s rating. Now, this has nothing to do with me wanting more uses of the F-word or graphic violence. It is the lack in danger of them ever happening. Instead, there are interruptions to certain catch phrases being completed or cut aways as violent things happen. In any previous Die Hard film, there was always a danger of a violent elevator shoot-out scene from the third or an icicle in the eye scene from the second. Here, about the closest thing we get is the scene with Maggie Q and Willis fighting in an elevator shaft. This scene, like the film as a whole, feels watered down and out-of-place. Yes, it is obvious that Wiseman wanted to pay homage to the original film by having this fight take place here. But suspense and intensity is gravely taken away at this its conclusion. And unfortunately, Live Free or Die Hard never recovers
Olyphant is another one who gives it as big of a try as he can. And I enjoyed his harshly calm delivery of dialogue. But, truth be told, one does not come off as foreboding by talking on a cell phone and hitting computer keys. No, Hans Gruber was not intimidating. But his henchmen were imposing enough to not have him be. Olyphant has none of that. And that adds yet another notch on the long list of things that hurt the film’s overall quality. However, where Olyphant’s character fails I think Willis’ excels. I thought I was going to fret seeing Willis at this age verbally spar with his daughter and Matt. But, in a way, I was more endeared to him as ever. And I enjoyed the over the top scenes of him hanging off an airplane and send a car into a helicopter. Overall though, I would consider Live Free or Die Hard a huge disappointment. To use a metaphor that has to do with the movie’s central theme, it felt as if I was mashing computer keys but getting no return. The film’s characters and dumber than dumb plot holes (why not just shoot the damn hackers instead of loading their computers with C4 set to go off with each press of the delete key?!) are impossible to look past. McClane doesn’t just have a bad day here. He has a bad script and even worse villain. Yippee Kay ay, Blankety Blank.
Overall Score: 2.5 out of 5