There is no denying the huge contribution that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone made to the action genre in the eighties. But it was a certain Bruce Willis who came along in 1988 and completely re-defined the genre starring as New York cop John McClane in Die Hard. The film was a huge success at the box office and naturally two sequels followed in 1990 (Die Hard 2) and 1995 (Die Hard With A Vengeance). Now in 2007 Willis returns as McClane in Live Free or Die Hard.
Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and Mai Lihn (Maggie Q) set in motion a devastating plot to completely take down the computer and technological structure that supports the United States economy. A group of unknowing hackers aid his operation and are killed off one by one apart from Matt Farrell (Justin Long), who is inadvertently saved by Detective John McClane after he is called to pick up the young hacker. Now McClane, aided by Farrell, must track down Gabriel and stop his operation.
Die Hard is still very much the quintessential action picture; if you only own one it has to be that one. Looking at the genre since Die Hard was released, there are a few standout films that come close: John Woo’s Hard Boiled and Face Off, Jan de Bont’s Speed, Simon West’s Con Air, Michael Bay’s The Rock, and James Cameron’s True Lies.
All of those above movies contained the key elements to a great action picture: likable and believable leading man backed up by likable and convincing supporting characters. An over-the-top, menacing, sometimes hammed-up villain. Entertaining and engaging action sequences with spectacular stunt work, occasional use of CGI if need be. Also, witty one-liners from the principal character are a must.
Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With A Vengeance stuck to the above rules, so now does Live Free or Die Hard keep up the tradition? I am glad to report that it certainly does in general. Like most action films, in places it does get a little ridiculous; for example Maggie Q’s character apparently has nine lives. Her fight scene with Willis is very brutal though; Bruce actually ended up with 43 stitches in his head after filming it — ouch.
Overall, the action scenes are highly entertaining and I happily smiled through every one of them. The stunts are fantastic and CGI was only used once to aid the deliciously over-the-top finale. One scene in particular finds McClane out of bullets; the answer? He accelerates a car up to a ramp, dives out at the last minute leaving the car to propel airborne into a helicopter causing it to explode, and they really did perform this stunt with no CGI (now, that’s old skool).
Justin Long comes across as a very likable nerd perfectly playing off Willis’s tough guy. Timothy Olyphant hams it up just enough and is convincing but not very menacing; not surprisingly, he can’t hold a candle to Alan Rickman’s villain in the original Die Hard. Kevin Smith also pops up in a cameo role as a super-hacker known as the Warlock; it could have been cheesy but Smith plays it straight and is very funny.
Willis slips back into character with ease and is clearly enjoying every single second of the movie. The one-liners are aplenty and full of humour with Bruce delivering them straight as an arrow. Willis brings back all of McClane’s mannerisms including his tendency to rant to himself. And yes, he still looks the part.
I must give credit to director Len Wiseman who delivers easily his best film to date. He handles the action sequences very adeptly, keeping the thrills coming throughout the two-hour runtime.
Whilst Live Free or Die Hard never manages to hit the brilliant highs of the original (can’t really say I expected it too, either) it is still a worthy sequel much like parts two and three. Going back to what makes a great action film, this comes very close with the likable lead already firmly in place, and the bottom line is this: the main reason to watch Live Free or Die Hard is Mr. Willis as he expertly drives this very entertaining action vehicle. Yippee-ki-yay!