6 August 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free or Die Hard) Review

Die Hard 4.0 was always going to be an exercise in mistake management. For every one they made, they had to create a memorable 'Die Hard moment' to counter it. Unfortunately, they seemed to have forgotten exactly what Die Hard moment meant. Either that, or they completely misinterpreted it. Because Die Hard 4.0 goes on to make most of the mistakes that Die Hard 2 did - it loses the simplicity, and gains a whole lot of silliness.

This isn't to say that it's inherently bad. It's an entertaining summer blockbuster, and yes; Bruce Willis playing the role he was more or less born to play once again is fun, especially when he's bouncing off Justin Long's introverted-yet-fast-talking hacker. The conflict of personalities works rather well, and both seem to be having a great time. The villians are suitably menacing - Timothy Olyphant channelling his monotony into the slighted government official intent on bringing down the USA; and Maggie Q - whist hideously underused - is still silently malicious as the femme fatale. The supporting cast are a bit wishy-washy; neither awful nor particularly good - though of some note is Kevin Smith's brief stint as an uber-geek/hacker living in his mother's basement...sorry, 'command center'.

Unfortunately, Smith's role is part of the result of a grossly misjudged plot-line. Yes, it's modern. Yes, it's vaguely relevant. Yes, it's all very post-9/11. But it just doesn't feel like Die Hard - the threat isn't as palatable, as real as it should be. John McClane is supposed to be the everyman who's just having a very bad day. This just smacks more of a season of 24 compacted into 150 minutes. And this is yet another mistake made - John has once again turned into ye stereo-typical action hero - a Jack Bauer without CTU, if you will. It's not that his attitude has changed - he's still as reluctant and grouchy as ever; it's the things that he pulls off. In Die Hard 1 and 3, he was the every-man who got heroism thrust upon him - he did what we all might've done, given his training and situation; his methods were cack-handed, and whilst he is trying to save the hostages, he's got to survive the process! But in 4.0, as with 2, he's the tough guy destined for heroism - his ideas smack of rather careful planning, flukey set-ups and an almost willful disregard for his own safety. Again, it just doesn't feel like Die Hard.

Another mistake made is that the narrative sprawls just a little bit too much. The first three movies were rather tightly focused - there were scenes involving McClane, maybe a couple of scenes of background exposition and then those involving the terrorists, and McClane 'interacting' with them. Here we get those three, plus some bizarre, seemingly unrelated ones involving the Ministry of Defence - with Cliff Curtis and Zeljko Ivanek spouting off about homeland defence and some such. It's just far broader and less-focused than it should be - and this is probably no thanks to Mr. Bauer and his precious CTU. The final knife in the heart of part 4's Die Hard-ness is the fact that it's edited for a PG-13 audience - that means very little swearing (part of, I feel, John's trademark) and a cut-off catch-phrase that was particularly disappointing.

But don't get me wrong - there are many, many good things about the movie. Wiseman has a superb eye for action; and whilst not feeling very Die Hard, they are still entertaining and well thought out - a fist-fight in a freezing fan-room stands out to me as the most intense. The story is actually genuinely interesting, even if it is misplaced, and as I said earlier, the acting from the core ensemble is on the whole pretty decent. In fact, put John McClane on the list of great things about the movie - when he's not pulling of mind-boggling, eye popping feats of gunplay and general heroism, Willis does a fantastic job of bringing him back to the big screen.

So basically, if you're looking for an experience that maybe will stimulate the grey mushy thing in your skull, and definitely get your adrenaline glands a-pumping, whilst vaguely resembling some action flicks released 12-19 years ago, then this is definitely your bag. Just don't expect an 80's action throw-back of Rocky Balboa proportions - expect a competent modern action/thriller that'll just about keep you from nodding off.

Ross' Rating: 7/10

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