Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard Review

This is a particularly difficult movie to review. On the one hand, there is the history of the Die Hard franchise to contend with. And on the other hand there exists Live Free or Die Hard completely separate from the older films. Yet, one cannot watch this new movie without thinking of that which came before it. And that is where much of the problem lies.

The movie begins when the FBI's Cyber Division is attacked. In an effort to discover who the hacker was, a list of possible suspects is compiled and tasked to local police districts to go pick these suspects up. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is given the honor to pick up Matthew Farrell (Justin Long, who most of you might know as the 'Mac Guy'), who just so happens to be marked for assassination by the terrorists since Farrell wrote an algorithm for them, not knowing who his employers really were. Of course, this sets in motion a series of events that range from completely absurd to somewhat cool.

To start with, the bad guys truly seem like non-threats. Yes, they are causing all sorts of damage but not one of them has the charisma or gravitas to even be put in the same league as Hans Gruber from the original or even Col. Stuart from the second or Simon Gruber from the third. What is rather interesting is how Timothy Olyphant has been rather satisfactory is some of his previous roles and even seemed to be more dangerous than he is here. His character Thomas Gabriel and McClane never seem to have the chemistry that Willis and his former villains had.
The third in command villain (whose name escapes me...if he even had one) is nothing more than a Spider-Man wannabe and his acrobatic feats seem completely out of place in the Die Hard universe. Whenever this character is on screen, the suspension of disbelief is lost because it destroys the gritty sense of realism trying to be portrayed, even if one might argue that the realism is already ineffective.
Maggie Q (from Mission: Impossible 3) plays Mai Lihn, who is Gabriel's second in command and also girlfriend. The only reason she seems to be in the movie is that she is attractive and to give Gabriel a reason to get even angrier at McClane. Otherwise she could be another nameless, faceless villain for McClane to contend with.

There are also a few massive plot holes that are difficult to get around. Thomas Gabriel could have been found much earlier in the movie if people would have shared certain information when it was pertinent. Unfortunately, the information needs to be procured by McClane first in order for people to realize that it is relevant. This seems entirely unrealistic and was obviously a ploy to keep the movie going.

The PG-13 is also felt. There are so many cut-aways from violent scenes that you just know they were not originally planning on PG-13. Die Hard is, and always has been, an R-rated franchise. McClane swears up a storm, not caring who is around to hear it or who he offends. He is a brutal fighter and does not let up. The bad guys have always been brutal, ruthless killers. But none of that is seen in this movie, and it is not better off for it. Even McClane's catchphrase is almost whispered and the "fucker" in "motherfucker" is cut off by a gunshot. There were even a few completely obvious dubs, when the character was saying something that obviously was not filmed that way.

Yet, that is not to say that the movie is a total loss. On the contrary, there are many enjoyable moments in the movie. Justin Long starts out as incredibly annoying despite saying a few humorous things. Although as the movie goes on, he tends to calm down and his character is much better for it. He never seems to be a true worthy companion to McClane but his presence is tolerable for the most part. McClane's daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is brought into the movie for no reason other than to "make it personal", but she is sufficient with what she is given to work with.

The action is also satisfactory. Director Len Wiseman (of the "Underworld" movies) crafts a few action set pieces that could probably be seen in just about any other movie. But no other movie has John McClane. His attempt at realism is a somewhat mixed bag. There are times where it feels like some of the most outlandish stunts could possibly happen in the real world, but McClane walks away from them with such ease that it jerks you out of that realism. If they were able to go for the full R-rating, then the action probably would have been slightly more than satisfactory as opposed to satisfactory.

Finally, there is Bruce Willis making his return as John McClane. How does he fare? Well, for the most part, he's still McClane. Sure the swearing is gone and he doesn't wisecrack as much as he used to, but the core character is still the same. A few jokes could have been better, but it was still nice to see him back in action. Yet, there is no reason for this to be John McClane. One could probably put in any other action hero and get similar results. Although, once again, it was good to see him.

Ultimately, the movie is a satisfactory entry into the Die Hard franchise and is overall a welcome return. Comparing it to the previous films, yes it is rather flawed, but so are 2 and 3. When it is working, it is working. But when it's not, it's not. And I'm sure we'll see the "Unrated Cut" on DVD in 6 months to a year, so I am holding out hope that it returns some of the gritty realism that is so obviously missing from the movie.


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