Die Hard was the first “R” rated film I can remember my parents allowing me to watch. Sure, I’d seen a ton of “R” films before, but it involved a lot of sneaking around and watching late night HBO at my grandparent’s house with the volume at near zero levels. Not sure why they determined my 13 year-old mind could handle the violence, language, and bloodiness that is Die Hard, but I wasn’t going to question it. I wanted to see this flick and I couldn’t wait! (Although strangely, I was already a hardcore horror fan, maybe because horror is so obviously fake, they didn’t mind). Anyway, from frame 1 I knew there was something different about this movie. This wasn’t a by the numbers action flick like so many a Raw Deal or Cobra… There was something different about Die Hard. The film was flat out brutal. Unlike so many America action films of that era, Die Hard didn’t cut away when bad (or good) guys got shot, punched, kicked, stabbed, or blown up. Die Hard wanted you to see and experience every single moment in John McClane’s life. From the hero John McClane to the #3 screen villain of all time, Hans Gruber, everything about Die Hard was different…and perfect…
Is Live Free or Die Hard worthy of such Geek adoration…?
In a word, no. There isn’t anything wrong with Live Free or Die Hard, nor is there anything great. Unlike the previous Die Hard films (yes, even Die Hard 2: Die Harder), McClane’s newest outing feels like any other by the numbers action movie. All the elements are there and yet none of it comes together to make it a Die Hard movie. We’ve got John McClane as a burned out cop who once again becomes the right guy at the right time (at least from our point of view). We’ve got highly funded and very slick bad guys. We’ve got rather inept authority figures that don’t catch on until it is too late. We’ve got a hero who survives through sheer stubbornness. We’ve even got the less than efficient sidekick. (Yes, every Die Hard film has had one; they just had better writing and/or purpose in the film). Okay, so everything is there. Just roll them cameras and tell Bruce Willis “action”!
So, what happened?
They didn’t go for broke. They had all the elements in place, but seemed to lack the guts to go for it. Yes, I think this is a direct result of Fox’s request for a PG-13 Die Hard. Look, I am the first person to tell you that you don’t need an R rating to make a good action film; Indiana Jones is the perfect example. However, the very core of Die Hard all but requires an R rating. Die Hard is loud, violent, bloody, vulgar, and brutal. That is why they’re titled Die Hard! We never get to that level in Live Free or Die Hard. The camera always pulls away, an explosion or gunshot always drowns out the words, the extreme violence only happens to inanimate objects. It’s like the violence in 80s G.I. Joe cartoons… Crap blows up or gets shot, but you never really get the visceral experience. Yea, folks die but you never feel the brutal reality of it all. Live Free or Die Hard looks like the USA Network version of Die Hard 2: Die Harder. No, that isn’t a compliment…but, it isn’t really a dig either. From a technical stance, Live Free or Die Hard looks nice. Although, having seen both Underworld films and now this movie, I’m starting to wonder if Len Wiseman really is copying James Cameron. He lights darn near every action scene in that cool blue/green wash we all know from Aliens, Terminator 2, and The Abyss. Alas, Mr. Wiseman ain’t no Jim Cameron, but he’s young and the potential is there, so I’ll give him a chance to grow.
How about the actors?
Boy, you can tell Bruce Willis wants to cut loose, but the guy is a team player and pulls it back to maintain that PG-13 rating. Sure, the first time you see him on the screen, he is John McClane. He is burnt out, his daughter hates him, and he just wants the day over. He still laughs when he is in complete pain. He still fights like a cornered animal. He still lives in his black and white / right and wrong world. Bruce Willis is John McClane, but this is a John McClane stuck in a by the numbers action movie, not Die Hard. Justin Long wasn’t as annoying as I expected. In fact, I kinda’ liked his character. Yes, he is the wacky computer sidekick, but Long has just enough charisma to make him likable. Unlike most wisecracking sidekicks, Long grows as a character and you do care what happens to him. (Although I wish they had kept him as McClane’s son as written in the original script). Maggie Q is one of the above mentioned slick villains. She doesn’t really add much to the movie. She just looks hot and does kung-fu, but at least she doesn’t hurt the movie either.
Timothy Olyphant as the evil ringleader just doesn’t do it for me. I just didn’t get a shred of malice from him; indeed, he seems more akin to an annoyed Pottery Barn manager. He’s just another well-dressed villain from so many action movies. He only exist to move the plot along and say stuff like “why won’t you die”, or “you will beg for blah, blah, blah”. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in a fun performance as Lucy McClane. You do believe this young woman is John McClane’s daughter. She’s got a foul (as possible in a PG-13 world) mouth. She’s just as stubborn and cranky. In fact, were she a cop like her dad, I could see her in Die Hard: The Next Generation. Okay, now onto the other cast member that divides the Geek world… Kevin Smith. Let me just get it out of the way. He wasn’t bad. His scene is a comedic breather. Alas, he’s really only playing himself. Well, he’s playing a highly clich?d version of himself. And yes, as worried… His inclusion does indeed pull you from the movie. For a few minutes you aren’t watching Die Hard, you’re watching An Evening With Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis… But what can you do; Kevin Smith is my boy and I just can’t hate him… Hell, if I had the chance to star in a Die Hard flick, I’d jump as well.
Damn, this movie wanted to be Die Hard so badly…
Alas, Live Free or Die Hard is just another action film. If you are looking for another balls to the wall Die Hard film, John McClane’s fourth outing will leave you wanting. You’ll see the potential, you’ll see the setup, you’ll wait for the payday… but you won’t get it. In terms of summer 2007 action films, Live Free or Die Hard is the best of the bunch, so far. So, if you are looking for some big explosions and you can’t wait the week for Transformers, take in Live Free or Die Hard, but only as a matinee.
Not good, not bad… Live Free or Die Hard is 100% average. As such, Geek in the City gives Live Free or Die Hard 3 out of 5 Critical Hits.
Wow, went the whole review without one “Yippee Kay-Aye” reference… D’oh!