|Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Willis, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth
Winstead, Kevin Smith
Director: Len Wiseman
If there was any cause for hesitation going into “Live Free or Die Hard,” it was the last-minute announcement that the film had been rated PG-13. Surely there had been some sort of typo, since we all know John McClane deals with terrorists the R-rated way, but we also knew the possibility existed that Len Wiseman (director of those ridiculous “Underworld” movies) had castrated the franchise in favor of a teenage-friendly audience. Fortunately, he proved us wrong, because while McClane’s conversational skills aren’t quite as colorful as they used to be, this might just be the most action-packed “Die Hard” film yet. R-rated or not, “Live Free or Die Hard” kicks ass, and kicks it hard.
It’s been twelve years since John McClane (Bruce Willis) last thwarted the plans of Hans Gruber’s older brother, and he’s back working his usual beat as a New York detective when he’s sent to pick up a known hacker who may or may not be responsible for breaching the FBI mainframe. Enter Matthew Farrell (Justin Long), a mathematic algorithms specialist whose recent freelance work has just landed him in a world of trouble. He’s unknowingly helped a techno-terrorist launch a full-scale attack on America, and for his services rendered, he’s been ordered dead, but when McClane arrives to discover a group of professional killers knocking on Matthew’s door, he takes the kid into protection with the hope of figuring out what’s going on.
It seems former DOD employee Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) is a little disgruntled after the government ignored his suggestions to strengthen the country’s security systems. As a result, he’s put together a group of terrorists (including Maggie Q and Jonathan Sadowski) to show that with the push of a couple buttons, he can send the United States back to the Stone Age. Of course, McClane would love nothing more than to ruin his plans, and with the help of Farrell’s expertise, he hunts down Gabriel and his team before they can implement the final stage. Oh yeah, and Gabriel has also kidnapped McClane's daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), so, you know, he’s pretty pissed.
While certainly not in the same league as past John McClane adventures, “Live Free or Die Hard” works in more ways than one, and with the exception of a crappy title (what happened to “Die Hard 4.0”?) and an excruciatingly long runtime, there’s a whole lot to love about the latest installment. For starters, Les Wiseman isn’t fooling around, and while he’s had mixed results when working with vampires and werewolves in the past, the dude knows how to blow shit up. He’s managed to cram more action into the film’s first hour than any other summer movie released thus far, and though the set pieces do get a bit ridiculous by the third act (McClane vs. a jet fighter, anyone?), it doesn’t make them any less fun to watch.
On the performance side of things, Willis slides back into the role of McClane with ease. The veteran actor may be in his 50’s, but he still knows how to throw a punch (as well as take one) like a seasoned pro. He’s also remained a top-flight wiseass in his old age, and though McClane might not exactly understand all the techno babble that’s classified him as an analog cop in a digital world, he still manages to get under the skin of his adversaries like the good old days. Timothy Olyphant isn’t nearly as memorable as past villains like Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons, and Justin Long is no Sam Jackson by any means, but they’re both great additions to the cast.
The rest of the hired goons don’t hold a candle to the first “Die Hard” gang, and Kevin Smith’s eleventh-hour cameo leaves much to be desired, but this is only nitpicking an otherwise enjoyable experience. Is it as good as the 1988 original? Of course not, but it’s a tremendous addition to an already spectacular trilogy, and the first real surprise of the summer season.
Two-Disc DVD Review:
If you were one of the many fans disgusted by the news that “Live Free or Die Hard” would be released with a PG-13 rating, you can finally rest easy. The two-disc release of the film offers both the theatrical version and an unrated cut of the film, as well as a lively commentary track with star Bruce Willis and director Len Wiseman. The second disc of the set delivers even more, including a 97-minute making-of featurette (“Analog Hero in a Digital World”) covering everything from pre- to post-production, a 22-minute interview between Kevin Smith and Willis (“Yippee Ki Yay Mother******!”), and a short featurette on the series' legacy. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of the stronger DVDs that Fox has put out all year.