Finally, a summer blockbuster that delivers the goods.
Step aside Captain Jack. Swing that web the other way, Spidey. You let us down, Silver Surfer. Yes, John McClane just kicked the $#%# out of all of ya’ll. “Yippee Ki Yay Mo…!”
Upon first hearing of another Die Hard sequel, my reaction was little more than a groan. The trend of aging action stars refusing to let it go is getting old. Despite strong reviews, a juiced up Stallone just didn’t do it for me in Rock Balboa. I’m an Indy fan, but people, a sixty-five-year-old adventurer? And McClane? Well, it’s been 12 years since the disappointing (and ridiculously titled) Die Hard With a Vengeance and 19 years since the action classic Die Hard.
Well, color this skeptic wrong. Live Free or Die Hard is freaking awesome!
The story, which is actually pretty cool, goes like this: McClane (Bruce Willis) is a broken down old cop…again. Our story begins as he tries to make amends with his estranged daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). After that doesn’t go too well, he gets a call about a hacker named Matt Farell (Justin Long), who people mostly know as the Apple guy) who needs to be picked up and transported from Jersey to D.C. Director Len Wiseman and writer Mark Bomback don’t make the audience wait too long from there as the bullets pretty much start flying the second Long enters the picture.
A cyber-terrorist named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and a band of renegade hackers have taken control of the nation’s computer intelligence, which pretty much controls, well… everything. Joining Gabriel is his tough-as-nails kick-butt girlfriend Mai Lihn (Maggie Q). And let me tell you, these are some no-nonsense foes. The best Die Hard villains since Hans Gruber. Of course, this is John McClane we’re talking about here. And during the course of a scorching 128 minutes, he more than lives up to his Die Hard analogy… This one might even be called Die Impossible… But no matter, it’s a blast to watch him nearly die in just about every other scene.
Willis doesn’t miss a beat stepping back into the shoes of McClane. At 52, he’s kicking a** like a teenager. Willis seems to be enjoying the role more than he has in years. For my money, he felt a little flat in With a Vengeance, but then again, so did the entire movie. This time, he’s rejuvenated, and what may have started out as a somewhat desperate attempt by an actor who hasn’t found a memorable part yet this millennium winds up as the movie that could actually rejuvenate his career.
When news of a possible fifth movie spread around recently, I rolled my eyes. But now I say, if Wiseman is on board again, bring it on!
And by the way, Wiseman’s work here is also a shocker. This is a guy who, frankly speaking, has failed to impress me as a director. I know they have their fans, but to me the two Underworld movies are little more than inferior shameless rip-offs of far superior genre fare. Leave the werewolves and bloodsuckers behind Len and stick to straight-up action. You’ve clearly found your forte.
Now let’s talk about the wonderful villains. Part of what made the original Die Hard so great was that, besides creating a beloved action hero, it gave us the unforgettable Hans Gruber, courtesy of master thespian Alan Rickman. Say it with me folks, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.” And while Willia Sadler was good in Die Harder, he was no Gruber.
Timothy Olyphant nails it as Thomas Gabriel, a calm, calculated, cold-blooded killer. Olyphant is an underrated actor mostly known for his role as the sheriff of HBO's Deadwood. He played a nasty guy in the surprisingly good Girl Next Door, but here he sells the coldness so convincingly he’ll have to be careful to avoid villain typecasting for the rest of his years.
Maggie Q is the perfect counterpoint for Olyphant, an expressionless minx who you want to hate even as you can’t help thinking, “man is she hot.” I won’t give away the details, but her square-off with Willis is one for the ages.
Finally, we have the comic relief of Justin Long. This is the role an unfortunate Sam Jackson was tasked with in the forgettable With a Vengeance. And, let’s be honest, the joke-spewing action sidekick is always a tough sell. Just ask Richard Pryor if you don’t believe me. But Long keeps a nice subtlety and never crosses the line from amusing to annoying. He’s happy to take a back seat to Willis, serving as a support arm rather than a distraction for the star of the show.
Of course, as good as Willis is this time around, the true star of Live Free is the mind-blowing action. You’ve seen a few cool scenes in the trailer, like the car vs. helicopter mid-air collision or the tunnel chase, but in their expanded form they are still riveting. My personal favorite is not given away in the trailer, so I won’t reveal it here. There are a few scenes that look a little too CG’d, but not enough so to ruin the fun.
I’m sure I’ve already made it abundantly clear that I really enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard. To be reasonable, I’ll throw in a couple of nitpicks. During a non-action driving sequence, there is a short scene featuring the worst green screen work I've seen in years. It reminds me of low-budget rear projection driving scenes from the 40’s. Luckily, it’s short. Kevin Smith makes a small cameo that really could be dropped. He’s okay, but it felt more like a distraction than a necessity.
Fans have been complaining about the PG-13 rating since it was first announced (the previous three were rated-R), but no need to worry. Aside from language, you’d never know that this movie wasn’t rated-R. It’s ridiculously violent and, maybe I’m getting old, but I’d say pretty inappropriate for kids. Parents looking for guidance from the continuously uneven MPAA could be in for a shock.
What can I say? Live Free or Die Hard took me back to the first movie, seeing it as a kid, wide-eyed and riveted. While logic admittedly goes out the window, Live Free has the spirit of the original, taking audiences through some of the most spectacular and