Gone is the brilliant craftsmanship of John McTiernan (who directed the first and third films) or even the adequacy of one Renny Harlin (who did film #2). For some unholy reason, the franchise was handed to Len Wiseman, the guy responsible for those crappy “Underworld” flicks. Here’s a filmmaker whose idea of style is using blue-tinted lenses as often as possible and putting some emo/goth music on the soundtrack. He thankfully doesn’t indulge in that too much here, but this is still a shoddily crafted, generally unexciting movie. A lot of shit blows up, sure, but we all know by now that more doesn’t mean better. There are five times more explosions here than in the original movie, but none of them has the same impact as the classic rooftop sequence, for instance.
The most saddening thing is that there are actually some good ideas in “Live Free or Die Hard”, namely that of terrorists going after the whole American computer infrastructure, effectively paralyzing every transportation, communication and industrial system. Alas, they botch the thing, barely showing the consequences beyond some expositional dialogue and a coupla shots of stalled or crashed cars and blackouts. Wiseman should have taken some pointers from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, which remains the most harrowing depiction of 9/11-like chaos I’ve seen (even WTC didn’t come close, ironically).
I also like the idea of John McClane being an “analog” cop in a “digital” world and, even more interestingly, how this old-school 80s action hero comes face to face with more current action staples like post-Matrix kung fu fighting chicks (embodied here by gorgeous Maggie Q) or crazy dudes doing Parkour (represented by Banlieue 13’s Cyril Raffaelli). The ensuing fights are pretty cool – well, from what we can see of them. Yup, they’re badly staged and confusingly edited, as seems to be the norm these days. The film also borrows generously from True Lies, throwing in a kidnapped daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an exploded bridge and mayhem on top of a fighter jet but, you can probably see a trend here, Wiseman < Cameron. Basically, everything here is better in concept than execution
Still, there are some enjoyable touches: the searchlights of the 20th Century Fox logo being shut down, the Alt-Ctrl-Del bombs (!), the revelation that McClane loves his Creedence (like The Dude, heh), the Presidents montage (you’ll see), Kevin Smith’s cameo as “The Warlock”… And Bruce Willis, of course, is still great as everyone’s favourite wisecracking badass, even though they stuck a punk-ass hacker sidekick with him, limply played by Justin Long. If you’re gonna have Willis share the spotlight, give him a costar of his caliber à la Sam Jackon in “Die Hard With a Vengeance”, not the goddamn kid from the Mac ads!
As a standalone action movie, “Live Free or Die Hard” is watchable enough, if hardly distinctive. But as a sequel to what might be the best action movie ever made, it’s an embarrassment. At this point, I’d rather they just leave McClane alone, but if this subpar entry in the series turns out to be a big hit and they make a fifth “Die Hard”, a simple request, guys: Bring. Back. McTiernan.