LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (or DIE HARD 4.0 outside North America) is surprisingly awesome!!!!!
The announcement of a new DIE HARD film twelve years after DIE HARD 3 made me cringe back then, when its synopsis was revealed, I was apathetic ("Right, cyberterrorists trying to take over the nation. John McClane is accompanied by a young hacker played by Justin Long... sounds verrrrrry promising"), even its casting news could only grab my attention perk my interest... for a minute ("We have Maggie Q and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom I liked VERY MUCH in SKY HIGH back in 2005, but so wot? Summer 2007? I care only about SPIDEY 3!!"), and when Len Wiseman was announced to direct this, I started to tune out ("oh god, he's going to turn this into something like those UNDERWORLD films, with Bruce kungfuing people around in slow mo and all.")
I knew I was going to see this (unless you haven't noticed by now, I make a point in trying to watch every single summer Hollywood blockbuster flick), but I didn't expect much. Thought it was just going to be some generic action film with an aging cop, and some lame MTV-methods (unnecessary fast cuts, silly slow-mos, wannabe gritty shaky cam, er... John McLane with wire-fu) to try make DIE HARD hip and cool again for the new post-MATRIX generation.
The original DIE HARD was so influential became a blueprint for many action films to follow during the 90s (you know, the type about an everyday cop facing fighting against terrorists). Keanu in a bus, Seagal in a ship, Van Damme in a... hockey arena. Even many films of Hong Kong and Korean cinema are influenced by this. But actions films have changed much since the last DIE HARD film came out in 1995. Gone where the days of wise-cracking macho action heroes battling evil terrorists (post-9/11, too sensitive to have terrorists appearing in films again), now we have sensitive angstful heroes who emote about the complexities of life more than having just a good time while killing baddies, and balletic martial arts scenes choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping are always involved.
When most big-budget popcorn blockbusters this year had drowned so much in their self-seriousness, along their attempt to be smarter than they are supposed to be by having multiple subplots going on at once, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD's simplicity is a breath of fresh air, and brings back memories of the fun popcorn action films of the 80s and 90s, but with action set pieces so over-the-top and thrilling that the audience members in the cinema today were cheering and laughing and gasping the whole time (people seemed more involved with the action scenes of this film more than they did when I was watching Spidey 3 or Pirates of The Caribbean 3). I guess that's the appeal of this film, the fact that it's less CGI-heavy compared to the aforementioned films, thus making people less aware of the eye candy and enjoy the old-fashioned thrills. Sure, suspension of disbelief is still needed, but the world LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is set in feels more realistic and less stylized than a fantasy-ish world like PoTC3, or a comic book world of superheroes in Spidey 3 (the first two films were much believable), great thing that Len Wiseman went for action scenes similar to something like CASINO ROYALE, without using any of the flow-mo, wire-fu stuff he did in the UNDERWORLD films.
Thanks to its balance of humour (yes, John McClane's one-liners and taunting remain awesome) and action (so outlandish can it can sometimes be viewed as comedy), film is paced well, it never drags once John McClane appears in Matt Farrell's apartment, it's just one action scene after another, each bigger than the one before, which you will read about in numerous other reviews of the film but I myself will not spoil here (though anyone who have seen the movie trailer would have already saw the part where McClane 'kills a helicopter with a car after running out of bullets').
Film is essentially a buddy film between the old-school John McClane (he's a Timex watch in a digital age, who knows nothing about computers and the Internet) and the Gen-Y Matt Farrell, who is a super hacker who is shocked by the sudden action and explosions he is embroiled in. Worlds apart with a major generation gap, the film obviously ends with them having more respect for each other, with the supposedly cowardly Farrell finally doing something heroic. I'm so used to seeing Justin Long in comedic roles (or playing some effeminate) in films that it's refreshing to see him playing a normal believable guy trapped in a crazy situation. Meanwhile, John McClane views everything with world-weariness and bemusement, it's not the first time he's saving the country, and main baddie Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) is no Hans Gruber (even though his motivations are very relevant to today's world)
The first three DIE HARD films had foreign terrorists threatening the safety of United States, this film's villain is a security expert who once worked with the US government, who tells America that all hope is lost by broadcasting a video cut together from the speeches of various US presidents, from Roosevelt to Bush. Pretty obviously telling us who have become the real threats to the United States after 9/11.
Maggie Q's great as the femme fatale Mai (guess we aren't going to see her in crappy Hong Kong flicks anymore), but Sebastian's review sums up better why she's good. Kevin Smith's funny as the hacker Warlock. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shows audiences that she's really... John McClane's daughter.
One thing that really took me out of the film is its hideous ADR (automated dialogue replacement, which means... dubbing) job. In order to make the film PG-13 instead of R, some efforts were taken to replace the dialogue with, probably, less profanity, but there is this one scene with Justin Long at the power plant (where he gives up in winning) which is so horrible (I hear dialogue even when his mouth wasn't moving) that was pretty hideous. Was one of those rare moments when I was took out of the film... well, before the next explosion.
Other than that, yeap, great movie, go see it.
Japanese trailer of Die Hard 4
Random Maggie Q video... (from the crap flick Naked Weapon)