Willis slays ’em in ‘Die Hard’ return

by W. Andrew Powell

Live Free or Die Hard

Rated: 8/10


John McClane’s return has been a long awaited, much heralded event that has left many people waiting, wishing, and praying for something momentous. We’ve been teased with trailers, and the fruitless attempts of other “heroes” to claim our consciousness, but deep down we all know there’s nobody who can whoop ass like Bruce Willis as Die Hard‘s John McCLane.

In the latest outing for our fearless, angry hero, McClane is charged with escorting hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long, possibly most well known for his role in the Mac ads) to the FBI after someone breaches federal computer systems. All hell breaks loose of course when it turns out that someone wants Farrell dead and McClane is the only one who seems capable of saving him and then finding out what’s really going on.

What’s really going on is a plan involving money, computer systems, and a lot of weapons and bad guys. These bad guys are led by a vindictive, but humorous Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) who isn’t pleased with the way Farrell and McClane keep showing up to ruin his plans.

We also get a quick introduction to Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), John’s daughter who doesn’t really want anything to do with him, especially after he shows up to save her from a lousy date early in the film.

Bruce Willis and Justin Long
Bruce Willis and Justin Long

Any Die Hard fan can already anticipate how these pieces will fit together, but nobody headed to see Live Free or Die Hard is going to be going for the massively ingenious plot. We’re there to see Willis crack wise as things get blown up, and listen to Long lighten things up when the action gets a bit serious. That’s the nature of the popcorn action movie and as those films go they don’t get much more enjoyable than Live Free.

Next to the other Die Hard films, Live Free certainly has the weakest villain (although Die Hard 2 proved mildly forgettable). Olyphant is an ideal actor to play the cyber villain, and he fills out the role of the cocky-comedian-bad-guy very well, but he isn’t given much to work with. So this time around our villain has been reduced to a caricature who’s there to just push the buttons and make sure McClane has enough obstacles to climb, or enough bad guys to knock off. Throw in a fighter jet here, or a seemingly unkillable high-kicking villainess, and McClane is off to find something to destroy them with. That’s about all Olyphant has to do, and he manages it well enough, it just doesn’t seem big enough for what we’ve come to expect, especially after the brilliance of villains played by Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman.

Like I said though, the audience, and the filmmakers are all in on this scheme. We know what to expect and Live Free delivers in spades in every other way. Long is a perfect companion – playing the shocked and frightened comedian as Willis saunters into frame covered in blood following some gigantic explosion. As in the other films we all wait with baited breath for Willis is shout “Yippee Ki-Yay” following some ballsy move, and once again, Willis and team delivers.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Timothy Olyphant
Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Timothy Olyphant

It doesn’t hurt that director Len Wiseman, of Underworld fame, knows the ground he’s walking and layers our path liberally with action sequences and set pieces that will make your jaw drop. Willis also has some guttural lines and quips that are almost better than anything we’ve heard before. And Winstead is the perfect, and I mean perfect, addition to the film as McClane’s mouthy, mean daughter.

Maybe Live Free doesn’t quite have the balls or the style to surpass the first Die Hard, and maybe there’s just a few too many pauses linking the film together. But there’s no question – Live Free is the best action movie so far this year, and Willis is a perfect ass-kicking, explosion inducing, action hero of the utmost degree. So go buy some popcorn, grab a drink, and sit your ass down, as McClane would probably say, there’s a blockbuster to see and it’s got your name all over it.

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