He's back. The fly in the ointment. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the… well, since Len Wiseman
's Live Free or Die Hard is the franchise's first installment saddled with an audience-friendly PG-13 rating, we'll have to dance around that last quote. But that's about the only thing toned down as Bruce Willis resurrects his iconic blue-collar cop character John McClane for a timely, terrifying, and terrifically entertaining popcorn flick.
Chances are I enjoyed this new Die Hard, the fourth in the series, more than you will. Full disclosure time: The original Die Hard is my favorite film. Not my favorite Bruce Willis
film. Not my favorite action film. My favorite film, period. And Willis' invulnerable but impossibly human John McClane is, to me, the quintessential movie hero -- a street-smart civil servant with a knack for disrupting the best-laid plans of vicious malcontents. Article continues below
That being said, I loved this movie. It has problems, but they are forgivable. Live Free is a perfect Die Hard sequel. It captures the outmatched tone of the first two pictures, and reclaims McClane's trademark sarcasm that was absent in the clumsy, sloppily plotted third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance. In no way does Live Free measure up to the original. It would be unfair to think that it ever could. But as a continuation of the saga, Live Free delivers.
At 52, Willis can't ignore his age. The still-rugged actor's current take on McClane, though, is exactly how I picture the character to be at this stage. He's jaded, frustrated, unappreciated, and more than a little bored. When we first see him, he's staking out his college-attending daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead
), and shaking down potential boyfriends. We get the impression the beleaguered hero misses the action, and resents the complacency that comes with old(er) age.
McClane isn't listless for long. This is a summer movie, after all, and a Die Hard sequel, to boot. So we get a computer breach of our nation's internal security system that prompts high-ranking government officials (personified by Cliff Curtis) to round up a who's who of hackers to solve the crime. As part of a called-in favor, McClane must escort greasy cyber-geek Matt Farrell (Justin Long
) from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., with the ruthless mercenaries responsible for the national hack hot on their tails.
Farrell is a worthy partner for McClane, a window into the technically wired world that our hero willingly ignores. And Willis connects instantly with Long, who plays off his co-star's confidence with a quivering humor that gets big laughs. Winstead also dials into the take-no-prisoners mentality as McClane's daughter, making the most of what little time she gets.
A Die Hard movie can only be as good as its villains, and Live Free imagines impressive adversaries for McClane. As Thomas Gabriel, a genius computer programmer with a bruised ego, Timothy Olyphant
flexes his techno muscle from a distance. Gabriel could never go toe-to-toe with McClane, so he attacks the hero using the tools at his disposal. In one effective action sequence, Gabriel traps McClane and Farrell by manipulating traffic patterns to send speeding cars down opposite ends of a D.C. tunnel. As vehicles rapidly approach from all sides, Gabriel taps a few laptop keys and turns off the tunnel's lights. All hell breaks loose.
Wiseman takes a middle-of-the-road approach to the picture. He doesn't impress with his techniques, but doesn't steal attention away from his star by trying modern (choppy) camera flourishes. The action in Live Free gets increasingly bombastic, and only the final confrontation involving a semi truck and an F-35 fighter jet pushes the envelope beyond the realm of credibility. There's nothing quite as good as McClane jumping off a roof with a fire hose wrapped around his waist, and there's nothing quite as laughable as the character surfing on top of a dump truck as an aqueduct fills with rushing water.
Live Free works best because it gives us two additional hours with a character we thought Hollywood had retired. Willis slips comfortably back into McClane's shoes for another rescue mission, and we happily go along for the ride. "I'm getting too old to jump out of cars," Willis mutters at one point, and that much is true. This should be the last Die Hard, unless terrorists deem it necessary to infiltrate a retirement community 10 years down the road. Live Free succeeds the way Sylvester Stallone's recent Rocky Balboa did -- and yes, the comparison between the '80s action dinosaurs is intentional. Ending said storylines with either Rocky V or With a Vengeance would have been a disgrace. Live Free or Die Hard provides a superior cap to a fantastically entertaining franchise. It is a metaphorical horse on which McClane can gallop into the sunset. Yippee-ki-yay.