MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Maggie Q, Kevin Smith, Cliff Curtis, Jonathan Sadowski, Edoardo Costa, Cyril Raffaelli, Yorgo Constantine, Željko Ivanek, Christina Chang, Len Wiseman, Chris Palmero, Andrew Friedman, Bryon Weiss, Chris Ellis, Sung Kang, Matt O’Leary, Jake McDorman, Tim Russ, Rosemary Knower/Runtime: 129 minutes
I think it can be safely said that when the news first broke all the way back in the mid-late 2000s and a million and 15 years ago that film quasi-sorta icon Bruce Willis was going to be bringing back his legendary character John McClane and the immensely engaging Die Hard franchise with an installment called (get this) Live Free or Die Hard, I can hardly have been the only person out there to chuckle to themselves, look down, and mutter “uh-oh” since at that time I must confess: I really couldn’t see how audiences at the time would embrace a new chapter in this iconic franchise with open arms. I mean it had been, at the time of its initial release in theaters, at least two solid decades since the original movie came out and plus as immensely enjoyable as I found the 2nd and 3rd installments from 1990 and 1995 respectively, I do understand why some people argue that these slices of cinema really didn’t flesh out the character of John McClane beyond making him a smart-ass cop who could kick some serious bad guy butt even if he wanted to be anywhere but that given situation. With that in mind therefore, why in the world would 20th Century Fox decided to give this long-dormant franchise a 4th entry unless this was just a last-ditch effort by Willis to get one more gonzo action fest before being quickly and swiftly shuttled away to the same action star retirement home as other 80s action icons? Yet surprise surprise it turned out that was most certainly not the case and Live Free or Die Hard is actually pretty darn good. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that has certain narrative components that any fan of this series will immediately recognize with glee and yet at the same time this slice of cinema is also able to give us a wonderfully older and just as snarky as ever even if he really isn’t that much wiser McClane performance out of Willis and a pretty darn good collection of support performances……oh and something involving some truly incredible action beats. Suffice it to say this slice of cinema is most assuredly not as great as the original (though that is one bar that a lot of films have had difficulty overcoming), but honestly it is also thankfully by no means a cash grab and instead makes for a slice of cinema that at the end of the day is a truly fun time to be had plain and simple.
The plot is as follows: Live Free or Die Hard opens as we see a enigmatic individual and his sinister team of henchmen have recruited, and are subsequently bumping off, a group of the most talented hackers in the United States for a hack job that threatens no less than the entire infrastructure of the United States. However after one of the hackers’ data packets enables this shady group to hack into the government agency that is assigned to look into and deal with terrorist acts of a cyber nature, we see that a top agent at this agency takes charge and rather swiftly issues out a request for help from local law enforcement agencies to round up all the most notorious “black hat” computer hackers in the country who could have had a hand in making this scheme a possibility and bring them to DC so the Feds can question them. As a result, we see that one of these programmers is a young man living in Camden by the name of Matt Farrell and as a result our hero Mr. John McClane is reached out to by his superior in the NYPD to bring him to the Feds for questioning. Of course it should come as little to no surprise that not long after McClane makes his way to Farrell’s place does he save Farrell from an assassination attempt by a vicious hit team, but upon getting him to DC both are reluctant witnesses as the shady squad behind the scenes soon decides to unleash straight up havoc on practically every single thing of importance that is on a computer that this nation needs in order to function. However when the leader of this sinister squad decides to kidnap McClane’s little girl to raise the stakes we see our butt-kicking hero and his new albeit highly reluctant tech-savvy sidekick spring into action to both save the girl and the country from a plot that is truly unlike any McClane has ever faced before…..
Now right off the bat I think I should let you know dear reader that, even in the face of nowhere near as enough blood as the earlier installments due to the MPAA choosing to saddle this installment with a crippling and completely absurd PG-13 rating, this slice of cinema’s helmer Len Wiseman is nevertheless still able to do a great job at conjuring up some truly riveting action beats that help to make this slice of cinema more than worthy of living up to the Die Hard brand. Indeed as this slice of cinema goes along, each action beat gets significantly bigger and more destructive than the one that came before it with such entries including cars annihilating a helicopter in mid-air, a vehicle going down an open elevator shaft, and in one of the more incredible stunts I have seen in an action film a jet plane takes on a semi-truck. Yet no matter how over the top these action beats get, they are still done with quite a bit of style and flair that they actually help negate the fact that this installment in the Die Hard series was neutered slightly in the departments that have made this series so beloved in the first place. Sure there are going to be avid fans of this franchise who might be a wee bit let down due to the studio clearly not giving this installment the faith prior sequels had been given, but the unrelenting action, the wonderful amount of comedy, some of the fairly well-written supporting cast, and the protagonist’s wonderfully continuous ability to survive just about anything the bad guys throw his way really make a case that you aren’t being cheated by that much when all is said and done. That and let’s face it dear reader: if there is one thing that movie goers who have followed McClane’s exploits from the very beginning ought to know by now, it’s the fact that this is one man who can stop a pack of armed to the t bad guys, has a quip for just about every single situation that he finds himself encountering, and just by and large manages to make everything he does look awesome and just plain cool regardless of if the slice of cinema he’s doing it in is given a PG-13 or R-rating by the MPAA. Suffice it to say therefore that if you are a movie goer who goes into this slice of cinema thinking you are going to find a movie that offers the viewer emotional moments of pathos or a narrative that even remotely borderlines on anything that resembles something akin to realistic you should know that this slice of cinema is most assuredly not for you by any stretch of the imagination. However if you are still willing to give this slice of cinema a chance, Live Free or Die Hard is one film that gives you, the viewer no less than an engaging hero, excitement from beginning to end, delightfully cartoony to an extent antagonists, and wonderfully wanton chaos and destruction that is usually brought into the mix courtesy of almost every single thing that its iconic hero is able to get his hands on being turned into a tool to kick some serious bad guy butt. Thus this slice of cinema may not be the year 2007’s Best Picture Oscar winner by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time it is without a doubt a fun and exciting popcorn movie in every sense of the word albeit one where brutal justice and insane action beats are served up with a chill factor that would rival that of a horrific blizzard.
Now it should be noted that although this slice of cinema’s cast of characters by and large operate very much in the respective veins that you can pretty much guess that they will, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that their various shades of development are still highly engaging and entertaining in equal measure. This, of course, starts with Bruce Willis as the legendary John McClane and, just as much as in the other installments, McClane is still a poster boy for tough-guys everywhere as he kicks bad guy butt and throws out a smorgasbord of sarcastic quips and retorts to whenever he is threated by the bad guys and their dastardly schemes. A pair of actions that not only have made this guy an action cinema legend, but that no matter how much updating the cast roster to fit in some new kids on the block as well as plot go through will always remain timeless for this particular genre. Speaking of the new kids on the block in this installment I feel that in his role of Matt Farrell, Justin Long does a great job of bouncing off Willis’ snarky retorts with skill and ease whilst also doing a great job period at just being his own three-dimensional character and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is absolutely fantastic as McClane’s daughter Lucy and manages to make a character who could easily have been a simple damsel in distress into a girl who is very much her father’s child so in this case she can throw a punch and be as snarky as possible to the head villain and it is a true delight. Now as this slice of cinema’s main antagonist I honestly really liked Timothy Olyphant in the part. No he’s no William Sadler and he’s certainly not an Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons, but Olyphant does a great job at being a guy who literally for most of his screen time acts like he has ice running through his veins with how chill he is in leading this nefarious scheme even though there is no denying that not only is he highly skilled at both shooting a gun and using a keyboard to kill you, but he is also a guy who does have some entertaining moments where we can see that he is quite clearly unnerved by how much of a wrench the seemingly indestructible McClane is proving to be able to hurtle into his various wicked and despicable plans. Sadly as much as I wish I could say that his pack of henchmen are just as good as the ones found in the first Die Hard that is definitely not the case. It’s not that the actors do a bad job necessarily; rather it’s that they are simply portraying mindless stereotypical henchmen who are only in this movie not only to give McClane more adversaries to go up against throughout the course of this slice of cinema’s 2 hour and 9 minute runtime, but also so the film can work in as many gonzo and delightfully over the top action beats as well. Finally, this section of this review would most assuredly not be even close to complete if I did not take this time to mention the wonderful co-starring work done in this by none other than Silent Bob himself aka Kevin Smith. Indeed Smith, who I have always enjoyed as both an actor and a director, does a terrific job as a character known as Warlock and who finds himself, for reasons I shan’t spoil here, saddled with explaining to McClane, Farrell, and you the viewer of course not only who they are up against, but why he is doing the terrible and evil machinations that he is undertaking. Yet rather than play this completely straight, and thus make this exposition dump quite snooze-worthy, Smith chooses to lean into his brilliant comedic persona to great effect here and as a result manages to make his 25-30 minutes of screen time some of the funniest moments that this slice of cinema has in its arsenal.
All in all I guess I should just say that if you are looking for a slice of cinema that has “awards contender” slapped all over it and has a collection of ingredients that then proceed to back up that label then I can honestly say that you might want to look into a different slice of cinema because this one is most assuredly not for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fun popcorn action film with a collection of fun performances and an equally as engaging collection of action beats then you definitely have come to the right film. Indeed Live Free or Die Hard may have raised some eyebrows when it was first announced, but this is one slice of cinema that proves to be both a worthy continuation to an iconic franchise whilst also proving to be a fun ride on its own and showing that action films may come and go, but there will always be only one John McClane and honestly we wouldn’t have it any other way. On a scale of 1-5 I give Live Free or Die Hard “07” a solid 4 out of 5.