Die Hard 4.0 (2007)
'Die Hard 4.0'. Or 'Live Free or Die Hard', as it's otherwise known. Or, 'Die Hard meets The Terminator', as it often appears to be. The fourth entry in the venerable action franchise (no seriously, how many other series of action movies are as long lasting and as good?) has arrived with Bruce Willis once again donning the dirty vest of his most famous character (not literally though). After all these years out of the limelight, does John McClane's latest adventure pass muster, or does it pale into insignificance when compared to the venerable original?
The story is about a bunch of 'cyber-terrorists' who take over essentially all of the computer systems that control U.S. infrastructure - that is power, traffic systems, communications, etc... in a so-called 'fire sale' attack, thereby bringing the country to a standstill. This is to the best of my knowledge utterly implausible, but so are a lot of things in over-the-top movies, so I'll go with it despite the fact that the previous movies weren't quite this extreme. In the thick of things is Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis), who saves the life of young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) from a bunch of highly trained killers. When other prominent hackers throughout the country are killed, McClane realizes Farrell is somehow a threat to the terrorists' plans and takes him under his protection. Aided by Farrell's technical prowess, he works to stop the terrorists led by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and his second Mai Lihn (Maggie Q), while also keeping his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) safe.
'Die Hard 4.0' doesn't feel like a Die Hard movie. Those movies were defined by a constrained environment in which a vulnerable 'everyman' hero fought against the odds to defy the plans of a ruthless villain. Even the third movie took place within city confines and the geography of New York was a large part of the film's character. The trappings of the location were worked into the storylines, and were often key elements. In this movie, the sense of place is completely absent, with the story jumping from one bland government facility to the next.
The hero is now John McClane in name only; gone is the brash, loud mouthed, happy-go-lucky guy fighting tooth and nail. Here, McClane is like a terminator walking from set-piece to set-piece, never in doubt about his ability to win, seemingly unstoppable and capable of surviving just about anything thrown at him. It's not the fact that he survives that sucks though; it's the fact that he seems so completely nonchalant about the whole experience, like a video game avatar walking around blithely, occasionally taking a pounding, and then continuing on his merry way. There's no humanity in the character, and Willis doesn't really seem interested in proceedings. His perfunctory quips and yelling and cheering ring false, although they are sometimes quite funny; plus, McClane's trademark profanity is absent because of the film's PG-13 / 12 rating.
The film isn't particularly well written, and the plotting is inane. The terrorists do some random things to scare everybody, including the government which appears to be beyond inept. In this film, the government doesn't even seem to be trying to do anything to stop the bad guys, and they make the incompetents that populate 24's CTU look good. Farrell, being a hacker genius, is able to figure out what Gabriel may do next and guides technophobic McClane while also being on hand to help work the gizmos where necessary. This basically allows McClane to get from one set piece to the next where he can kick some ass before moving on. Wash, rinse, repeat. The chaotic and capricious nature of the plots in the previous films is nowhere to be seen. Little sincere effort is made by our heroes to get the authorities to help out, and McClane glibly states that he's the only one who can do anything about the whole problem.
The villain is also somewhat lacking. Olyphant was really great in HBO's 'Deadwood', but his Thomas Gabriel is decidedly pedestrian, saddled with a permanent expression of vexation and lacking the authority and presence of his predecessors. His and McClane's exchanges are passable at best, never exhibiting the level of caustic energy that we saw in the first film. Only Maggie Q makes an impression from the bad guys, but that is mostly because of her stunning good looks and the fact that Len Wiseman wisely (no pun intended) chooses to linger on them.
On the plus side, DH4 is admittedly a very entertaining film. The action hardly ever stops and the set pieces are really well constructed and exciting, even when they are overblown and defy basic logic (like how McClane survives a massive drop, picks himself up, drives an SUV back up to the floor he fell from and rams someone into an elevator shaft seemingly without hurting them one bit). The best part about the action is how much of it appears to be real instead of CGI, with real stunts and real instead of virtual simulated destruction. It's refreshing in a film with action and destruction on such a grand scale to not be able to pick out any CGI doubles.
The other redeeming factor - and it goes a long way into breathing life into the film - is Justin Long's performance as Farrell. He's excellent as a guy terrified and out of his depth but still holding on to his sense of humour. Long brings some much needed life to the film, but unlike Samuel L Jackson in 'Die Hard With a Vengeance' he has no real rapport with McClane, mostly because McClane is stonily robotic. Also great is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane's daughter, who is believably as scrappy and indomitable as one might expect (the real) McClane's daughter to be.
It doesn't feel like a real Die Hard movie, but on its own terms it's still a decent enough piece of entertainment that is a mixture of old school 'real' action and modern tech laden excesses. While not nearly up to 'Bourne' standards, it's still better than last year's mediocre MI:3 (I called that movie good at the time, but it's faded from memory so fast I can't attest to that with confidence right now. MI3 and DH4 are in the same disposable entertainment calibre). It's better than Wiseman's previous films, and while it is enjoyable it is also ultimately forgettable and not a worthy follow up to the earlier adventures of John McClane. I have to say, though, that the 'Yippee Kay Yay' line worked out really well despite part of it being muffled out; in fact, I reckon its the most organic use of that line since the original!