No matter how successful a movie franchise may be, most of them have a few faults – whether it’s a bad casting decision, a terrible script or plot, or having special effects that are not all that special. I am not talking about the straight-to-video Ernest Goes to a Crack House type movie, I am talking about the Lethal Weapon or Pirates of the Caribbean type of franchise. They are successful because you like the characters’ rapport and it makes the experience worth watching. Die Hard is one of those franchises that has stuck with a formula that works, even though with Live Free or Die Hard, it kind of missed the target.
Live Free or Die Hard is just another chapter of the Die Hard series. There is really nothing new at this point, except for the PG-13 rating. Even without the R-rating, McClane is still being thrown into crazy situations against terrorists armed with machine guns and explosives, yet somehow he beats the crap out of all of them for a final showdown with the mastermind. It’s a formula that has successfully worked for three previous installments. However, in
The computer infrastructure of the United State comes under fire by a high-tech terrorist organization led by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a former government employee who once shut down the entire defense department with his laptop. Now, he is trying to get back at the United State with something called a fire sale – a three step attack that will make Americans fear for their well-being. America’s last-line of defense is McClane and Matthew Farrell (Justin Long), a nerdy hacker who McClane is transporting to Washington to talk to the Feds. Since there are terrorists after Farrell, McClane has to resort to the same fashion of bravery he has been using since the original Die Hard in 1988.
McClane is a one of the greatest action heroes of all time, mainly because he kicks ass even though he has no real desire to be in the situations he’s being put into. For a good portion of Live Free or Die Hard, however, I felt as though McClane was too stiff and dull – it seemed more like he was Joe Hallenbeck from The Last Boy Scout, not the Die Hard fixture. His divorce from Holly Gennero has been finalized, and his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hates his guts for some reason. Maybe it’s the PG-13 rating, which didn’t allow him to complete his “Yippee-ki-yay” catch phrase, or the ridiculous plot, but this version of McClane is very different from that of the past – plus, this time he doesn’t work alone. Long actually adds some comic relief to the movie with his awkward behavior, and he doesn’t get overshadowed by Willis during any point of the film. His character is a nice complement to McClane, and even though the premise is a little out there, he helps move the plot along.
However, I don’t like that we’re dealing with computer-savvy people as the bad guys, because they’re not as threatening as Hans Gruber and his clan of merry men. Should McClane really be scared of some angry guy with a keyboard that knows his social security number? Is Gabriel going to beat him over the head with a writeable CD? Other than the occasional evil stare, Olyphant is about as menacing as a French poodle. Yes, the computer stuff hip and modern, but I’d rather see some bad ass who collects Nazi memorabilia and has a gun collection big enough to service the United State Army hidden in his basement. Give us a guy to be scared of, or feel like can really harm a portion of a city, not the entire United States – it’s too broad. It takes away from the characters, the action and everything that has made this a classic franchise.
While director Len Wiseman gives a more stylish approach to the action sequences, they begin to take on an “Are you kidding me?” feel, because there is no possible way a human being could survive anything going on in this film. What are some of the things McClane goes through during the two hours of Live Free or Die Hard? Well, he drives a truck through a building where he wrecks everything (except the computers, because that is an important part of the plot) and bulldozes into an elevator shaft where he hangs for his life on a cable. That happens after he gets his ass kicked by Mai Lihn (Maggie Q). McClane and Farrell also duck between two cars in the middle of a dark tunnel to avoid a car flying at them, which is before McClane basically hurls a car from the tunnel at a helicopter. He can drive a semi-truck and somehow dodge missiles from a fighter jet, as well as a falling freeway – all while talking on a CB radio to some tech-savvy nerd played by Kevin Smith. Oh, I almost forgot the point where McClane holds onto the wing of the fighter jet, basically with one arm, and jumps no more than a mile onto concrete before walking away unscathed.
The action is always fun, but here it is almost too campy to belong in a Die Hard movie. In the past, the action in Die Hard had a real and gritty feel, but here it feels too choreographed and timed. We know what is going to happen in the end - there is nothing new or groundbreaking being brought to the table at this point. But, Wiseman tries to give Live Free or Die Hard a technological boost with the plot revolving around computers and a more stylish approach to shooting the movie. McClane is an analog hero being thrown into a digital world in which he doesn’t seem to belong, and it doesn’t necessarily fit the Die Hard motif. However, the new look and feel to Die Hard doesn’t hurt the franchise either.
Despite a crazy plot, over-the-top action, and the main character not being everything he has been in the past, Live Free or Die Hard does deliver an action-packed adventure. While the movie is more than two hours long, watching McClane kick ass while dealing with numerous twists along the way is just as fun as the first three installments. Time seems to fly when you’re watching big explosions and people getting thrown down metal stairs in leather desk chairs, but, that’s the McClane way. That’s the signature of this franchise, and what has made it worth watching through the years. He might be cranky on the job, and he might not have everything he wants in life, but he always manages to give the viewer a good laugh and a jolt of adrenaline – even if the bad guy prefers to wreak havoc from behind his computer.
Live Free or Die Hard is not the best of the almost 20-year-old franchise has to offer, but it’s also far from the worst. It also gives you two discs, which contain a ton of material that will either make you more interested in the Die Hard franchise or ready blow something up just to say you did. Either way, like the franchise, there are parts of the features that are worth watching.
The first disc doesn’t contain any bonus footage, but it does contain an unrated version of the film and a commentary by Willis, Wiseman, and film editor Nicolas De Toth. As far as commentaries go, there is nothing out of the ordinary. I think it would have been better if it were just Willis and Wiseman, only because they have the most interesting perspectives on the film. Yes, De Toth has his own views on why certain shots were used, but it takes too much time away from Willis, who is really the one I want to hear talk throughout the commentary.
The second disc begins with a 10-part feature called “Analog Hero in a Digital Word: Making of Live Free or Die Hard.” It is your standard “Making Of” documentary, only you have the option of watching the parts you want to or the whole thing as one movie. There are some interesting sections, the most interesting one being “Attack of the Franchise.” It includes interviews with cast and crew members talking about the new approach to the Die Hard series. Wiseman, a fan of the franchise, says he wanted to reinvent the franchise and “make it new, yet keep it the same.” That is perfectly fine, but there was really nothing to fix. The franchise worked fine the way it was, and probably would have worked even better if McClane was more in his element.
One section that had me laughing was “Unimaginable Feats.” Brad Martin, the film’s stunt coordinator starts the feature by saying, “Everything that happens in this movie is more realistic. Everything’s grittier, dirtier, harder.” Sorry, fella, but that could not be further from the truth. Apparently Mr. Martin has hung onto fighter jets, falling down the side of a four-story building while crashing into pipes, or survived gas explosions big enough to demolish city blocks. I really want to know where he buys his drugs, because that must be some powerful stuff if he believes that. Other sections include Cast and Characters, Texture and Tone, Unimaginable Feats, Eyecandy, Sound and Fury, and Symphonic Boom.
The next feature is called “Yippee Ki Yay MotherF*****!” which features Willis and Kevin Smith talking about why Die Hard 4 was made, the business of making sequels, his experiences making all four movies and the mistakes that have been made in the process, the mythology of Die Hard, and the possibility of a fifth movie. It’s a cool feature because it seems like an honest conversation between Smith and Willis. The only problem is the fact that they never seem to discuss the catch phrase that happens to be the title of the feature.
Two features that are completely useless and have no business being on either disc is “Music Video: Die Hard by Guyz Nite,” and “Behind the Scenes with Guyz Night.” They wrote a song telling the story of John McClane, starting when he was “picked up by Argyle from the plane,” and suddenly their music video and a behind-the-scenes documentary about their song appear as a feature on the disc. My question is this: Besides the members of the band, who the hell cares? It’s not fun or exciting. It’s a bunch of “guyz” who made a punk rock song revolving around the movie franchise. Big whoop! Hey, I sat through Willis bombs like Hudson Hawk and Striking Distance, can I have a feature on one of those discs?
“FOX MOVIE CHANNEL presents FOX LEGACY” is another feature that deserves to be blown up, and hopefully the guy talking throughout the 6-minute feature will get burned badly by the fire. It is a useless feature that doesn’t add anything but time taken out of your life. The final two features are the theatrical trailers for Live Free or Die Hard, and trailers for The Simpsons Movie and Hitman, which stars Olyphant. As I said, every franchise cannot be perfect from beginning to end. But, if you’re a true fan, you will watch the whole way through and accept all of the faults along the way. In the case of Die Hard, while there may be plenty of faults to point out, whether it is in Die Hard 2, 3 or 4, the fact of the matter is, it’s a great action franchise. Nothing is ever perfect, but then again, McClane has survived in an imperfect world, so why shouldn’t we?