Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Die Hard Series Retrospective Part 4: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
When Live Free or Die Hard was about to come out, it was a pretty big deal for me. I had seen the three previous Die Hards numerous times and loved them - and this would be the first Die Hard I was old enough to see in theatres. Admittedly, for me, Live Free or Die Hard couldn't quite live up to the original trilogy, largely because a Die Hard film made in 2007 is a completely different animal than a Die Hard film made in the late 80s or early to mid- 90s, when the first three films where made. Of the Die Hard sequels I've seen (haven't seen A Good Day to Die Hard), it's my least favourite, though I feel number 5 will take that spot soon enough. The film suffers from a villain that's interesting in concept but not executed as effectively as he could've been, especially with a solid actor in the role. It's reconciliation story between father and daughter needed more development as well- since it comes across as more a plot device. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this film. It's actually a pretty good action film. Director Len Wiseman stages some memorable action sequences. The film also has some nice emotional beats and an intriguing plot.
The film begins with John McClane (Bruce Willis) being sent to pick up a computer hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) and bring him to DC. A computer outage at the FBI has led the FBI to seek out known computer hackers, finding them dead. Farrell is being taken in to protective custody. McClane finds out Matt was a pawn in a scheme by a man named Thomas Gabriel (tImothy Olyphant) to start what is known as a "fire sale," in which America's computer controls are hacked, meaning "every thing must go." Gabriel is a former expert for the US Defense Department. After 9/11 he tried to convince the higher ups that America was vulnerable. When he used his laptop to hack in to the the defense system, he was fired. The fire sale is Gabriel's way of proving he was right, as well a way to steal a lot of money.
I like the concept of Gabriel. He basically threatens the security of the United States in order to prove how vulnerable it really is. I wished they had devloped Gabriel's character a little more and expanded upon the theme of terrorism in a post 9/11 age and what that means for a series like Die Hard and the character of John McClane. Gabriel calls out McClane for being out of date- which is an interesting idea for the Die Hard series to confront- what happens when McClane gets older and his past glories are behind him. Unfortunately, the series doesn't seem to ever want to become a melancholy, introspective look at the decline of the 80s action hero, an ironic concept in regards to John McClane, who was the antithesis to that kind of hero- but he more or less became part of that group of guys as he slowly, or maybe not so slowly, evolved in to one of those iconic bad asses. The franchise just seems content to blow stuff up real good, as Roger Ebert would say. And on that level, it works pretty well. At this point in the franchise, they're not aiming for much semblance to the real world- so you basically have McClane drive a car in to a helicoptor only about half an hour in. You just killed a helicoptor with a car" Matt says. "I was out of bullets'' McClane replies. It's a nice punchline to the scene, letting us know the filmmakers, and McClane, know how ridiculous this stuff is.
A big criticism of this film revolves how McClane seems more like a super hero than the regular cop he was in the first film. And that's true. But there is one scene in this film that I think really nails McClane. It's when Matt tells him McClane that's he's not like McClane, not the hero type. McClane then tells Matt that while he doesn't want to be a hero, some one has to do the right thing. If someone else could, he'd let them. This scene really encompasses what John McClane is all about- the reluctant hero who rather not have go through these crazy adventures but has to because, ultimately, he's a good guy, and no one else will. "That's what makes you that guy," Matt says- John's speech has proved Matt's point.
Back to the action! The fight between McClane and Gabriel's lover/henchwoman Mai (Maggie Q) in an SUV hanging in an elevator shaft is really well executed, and the climax involving McClane in a truck facing down a fighter jet, while ridiculous, is spectacular. The henchman Emerson, who's jumping around like Spider-Man, still feels out of place for me in a Die Hard film, but the stunt choreography in his scenes is pretty great.
The subplot involving McClane's attempt at reconciling with his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), felt like it needed to be a bigger part of the film. At the heart of the first film was McClane trying to save his marriage- it was the metaphor of the first film. In this film, when Lucy is kidnapped, it feels more like a plot device then something that becomes an organic part of the film. I like Winstead and am glad they gave Lucy an assertiveness that becomes an amusing running gag in the third act- like father like daughter.
Overall, I don't have too much more to say about Live Free or Die Hard. I enjoy it, but I wish it felt a little more like the previous films. It still has the relentless pacing, the face-offs over the phone between McClane and the villain, but it feels a little too detached from the universe of the first three films. Still, I like Willis in this film, and his chemistry with Long. Olyphant is pretty solid and director Wiseman stages the action pretty coherently and with aplomb. I enjoy the film, but I think it'll always be somewhat of an outlier for me.
So, the retrospective is done. My ranking goes like this: Die Hard, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Die Hard 2, Live Free or Die Hard. Even without seeing A Good Day to Die Hard, I feel it'll probably come in dead last, due to what I've heard. It's been fun looking back at this franchise. I love it, and hope that when there's a sixth film, it's the last and takes the franchise out with a bang.