(Personal note — I haven’t written movie reviews on the site in quite a while with thanks to participating at times in a forum discussion at Skyscraperpage.com about movies that were last seen. The following is an elaborated, blogified version of the post I made on the forum thread)
I had one question every time I saw positive reviews this summer for Live Free or Die Hard. It’s a rather basic question that no one would really answer — or would give aloof answers to: Does this film live up to the Die Hard franchise standard? I’ve posed this question directly to professional movie critics without an answer
|Die Hard, in general, was built on an ultra simple principle: a situation at a location with a reluctant hero caught in the middle of whatever the hell was going down. It’s part of a generation of action movies where everything was “Die Hard on a…” Die Hard on a Bus, Die Hard on a Plane, Die Hard on a Train, Die Hard on a Battleship…
The original — 1988’s Die Hard — set the standard for the genre and began the franchise with out-of-place NYPD officer John McClane – barefoot, out manned and outgunned, with the cops outside working against him. The second film (Die Harder) was Die Hard in the Airport: not as good but it was still the story of John McClane in the wrong place at the wrong time… Same character but with some graveness to his dialog which made the movie weird. Instead of a tower, it was Dulles Airport that was under siege.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance elaborated the setting. It wasn’t a fixed location but all of New York. It still worked if you ask me because you had McClane, you had a semi-fixed setting on Manhattan Island (and around New York)… You had deep links to the first movie with references to the past, and yet this time it wasn’t John out of his element, but thrust into things in his home. Oh and John McTeirnan directed (who filmed the first Die Hard). You can see the resemblance to the original with the cinematography employed, and McTiernan’s trademark directly-behind-the-actor light shots. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson played well off each other to boot. It’s not as highly regarded as the first but it beats the hell out of the second film.
Then you have this… this… this piece of shit that they pushed on moviegoers this summer.
The balance of good-guy, bad-guy (on screen time) is too even — that’s the first sign this doesn’t stand up. Less is more. It’s also hard to feel intimidated by “ready the video uplink”, “start the download”, etc…
Then you have McClane himself — it’s not the fact he’s older or his head is shaved, he’s a caricature of himself while playing a minimalist role. John McClane traditionally has been a a rambling, sarcastic, insulting, sometimes arrogant, belligerent asshole that isn’t the character portrayed on screen by Bruce Willis this time. Oh, sure, he’s got his moments but this isn’t McClane. This doesn’t feel like McClane. This felt like The Terminator — especially with all the shit MxcClane is put through, where he’s tossed around like a rag doll, falling several floors and bouncing off blunt objects and he still gets up and keeps going with seemingly no damage. That’s not John either.
I mean, come on! The every-guy, mortality of John McClane was one of the things that made him great. Who can’t remember McClane running around barefoot in Nakatomi Tower? And what happened — he got shot, he got tons of glass put through his feet, and you saw him suffer that and doubt he’d survive. You had less of that in “Die Hard 2”, but you had more of it (except the jump-off-a-boat absurdity near the end) in “With a Vengeance”. This time? No — he’s got some cuts but he’s too much like the energizer bunny (which he mocks in “With a Vengeance”) to be hurt. He wheels around Matt Farrell (the Mac guy, Justin Long) and who do you think of but Ah-nold playing the Terminator, wheeling around Eddie Furlong in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (all of this helped along by that minimalist dialog that I talked about).
Oh, and the location isn’t fixed. If the first three films can be directed at exact settings (“Die Hard. Die Hard at the Airport. Die Hard in New York”) this film can’t. (Die Hard America? Die Hard in Cyberspace with real world consequences? Die Hard avoiding Traffic?)
This might have been a great stand-alone movie but it sucks as part of one of the biggest action movie franchises in film history. It doesn’t fit. It’s odd that the original movie was conceived as an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle… Because Live Free or Die Hard plays exactly like one.