Dailies: Live Free or Die Hard

Almost two decades after John McClane single-handedly defeated a group of terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza, he returns to the big screen to save America from villain Thomas Gabriel. Of course, Gabriel is out to destroy all computer systems governing the United States. The result is an entertaining and at times preposterous blockbuster that is high on adrenaline-driving, testosterone-pumping action sequences and short on plot, character and continuity with previous installments in the Die Hard series.

Bruce Willis is physically impressive as John McClane, though his performance seems to indicate that he is somewhat tired with this kind of movie. He adds little nuance to McClane, and there is little sense that he cares about what happens to him. Justin Long (the Mac guy in the PC vs. Mac series of advertisements) plays computer hacker Matthew Farrell, who serves as McClane’s predictable, pedantic and annoying sidekick. Timothy Olyphant is rather underused as the villain Gabriel, but actress Maggie Q makes a striking appearance as Gabriel’s second-in-command. Filmmaker/actor Kevin Smith makes a memorable cameo as a computer geek.

Where Live Free or Die Hard really falls short is in comparison to the first three Die Hard movies. Take, for example, the development of John McClane. In the first three installments, McClane was a cop who was a little more clever and a lot braver than most of his peers, but he has since become an indestructible superman. There are glimpses, certainly, of the McClane we know, but they are too few to keep a consistent impression that this is, in fact, the same John McClane. Furthermore, part of the appeal of the first three films is the relatively claustrophobic feel created by a confined setting. Live Free or Die Hard has a sweeping epic feel, driven by the constant and overbearing American iconography peppered throughout the movie.

But the audience is not watching this movie for plot or character development; it is watching it to see wild stunts and unfathomable action sequences. In this respect, Live Free or Die Hard does not disappoint, though it stretches the limits of reason and even imagination. But regardless of how utterly impossible some of McClane’s antics may be, it is difficult to remember a movie with action sequences that are as audacious and stunning as this one.

In the end, the biggest problem is that this movie cannot decide whether it should be anachronistically campy or grittily realistic. It settles somewhere in between the two in an awkward balance that removes it both from its cinematic peers as well as its predecessors in the Die Hard series. Live Free or Die Hard is an entertaining American action movie, but in today’s movie culture, it seems like “a Timex watch in a digital world,” as Gabriel labels McClane. So unless you’re a Die Hard fan, you can “live free” of guilt if you wait to see this movie.

14 Comments

84,019

Anonymous reviewed…

This movie is gut-wrenching honest. It begs you to ask yourself that when nothing makes sense, when everything is a mess, when everything you hold dear is on the line, how far will you go? Think of the last scenecould you do that? Would you? Honestly? If it really mattered?

84,019

Anonymous reviewed…

When everything else is torn away and it comes down to live or die, which will you choose?

84,019

Anonymous reviewed…

A summer movie doesn't have to be deep... but it should at least not insult the viewers intelligence. I'm with you, man: in fact, I'm even less forgiving of it that you are and I find almost zero redeeming qualities in it, except for maybe Kevin Smith's cameo. But when a Smith cameo is the high point, the movie has problems.

84,019

Anonymous reviewed…

I didn't want the movie to be deep, I just wanted it to be as good as the other Die Hards. It wasn't.

84,019

Anonymous reviewed…

how in the world can you compare this movie to the other three? that's like saying "Rocky Balboa just didn't live up to Rocky". no kidding. this movie was supposed to have mindless action (it did). it wasn't supposed to make you forget the other 3 movies or appear to be something it wasn't. it was way better than i thought.

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