Live Free or Die Hard [retro review]

I’m gonna go kill this guy and get my daughter. Or go get my daughter and kill this guy. Or kill all of ’em!

The Scoop: 2007 PG-13, directed by Len Wiseman and starring Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, and Justin Long

Tagline: Yippee Ki Yay Mo – John 6:27

Summary Capsule: Detective McClane romps all over Washington D.C. and plays tag with terrorists.

Justin’s Rating: John Wayne rides again!

Justin’s Review: How cool would it be to be Justin Long? I mean, not personally or anything or shilling out to the Mac corporation, but in spirit? Here’s one of an upcoming generation of actors who, like Ewan MacGregor and Shia LeBeouf, get to suddenly realize a dream of a million kids of our generation: to co-star in one of the most famous movie franchises of all time. I mean, I assume that Long grew up as I did, watching over and over the adventures of John McClane and his Quips of Bloody Death. It must’ve been completely surreal to find himself running and leaping alongside of our favorite wound-up NYPD detective, gradually realizing that other kids would grow up to watch this movie in the same way.

Not to say that Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4.0 to the non-American audience out there) is in any way equal or superior to the fabulous Die Hard… but it is incredibly close, vastly entertaining, and filled with some of the best reckless violence and wanton destruction the big screen is likely to offer this year – Transformers notwithstanding. Even with its “softening” from an R to a PG-13, Die Hard 4 is still capable of grabbing us like a wolf shaking a rabbit by the throat, and not letting us go until we’re adrenaline-drained by the end.

There’s nothing much new in McClane’s world, which means that everything decent around him has turned into dodo doodoo. Assorted terrorists aplenty, complex villainous plots, dysfunctional family relationships, massive explosions and implausible gunfights are the standard order of the day. It doesn’t reinvent the franchise, nor crib from it to the point of lameness, but instead achieves a satisfactory balance between plot invention and fanservice.

Called to pick up computer hacker Matt Ferrell (Long) for a suspected crime, McClane drops right back into the family tradition of spoiling terrorists’ fun. The series’ escalation of terrorist domination continues: first it was a high-rise, then an airport, then New York City, and now… the entire country. I won’t ruin the all-too-plausible plot, except to say that once again, this series does us right by not spelling out everything for us in advance, but making us discover what’s going on at roughly the same pace as the hero.

Speaking of McClane, he hasn’t softened much in his elder years; if anything, he’s gotten more gritty and cranky, which always spells bad news for the bad guy. As in Rocky Balboa, the movie hurries to make the obvious statement of an older actor reprising his spring chicken role. Only instead of suggesting that McClane is somehow too old (he certainly doesn’t move arthritic), the high-tech theme sharply contrasts with McClane’s low-tech upbringing, making his attitude more archaic than anything else. When everyone else around him has keyboards and satellite uplinks, and he just picks up a hefty wrench in anticipation, you can’t help but root for the old guy.

Some might find Justin Long’s stammering school of acting approach grating, but the guy’s just grown on me, and he seems to really enjoy being the tagalong witness to McClane’s constant insanity. Ferrell (Long) is not just the prerequisite “Get Out Of Jail Free” card that every hero needs from time to time, but he also helps ground the movie’s outlandishness with a bit of geek realism. And don’t get me started on the awesomeness that is Kevin Smith appearing as a (what else?) hefty computer hacker. That’s a weird circle of sorts, since Smith has been a Die Hard fan for years, going so much as to name his second interview special An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder.

I’m certain there will be quite a few Die Hard purists who will go all nambly-pambly about the supposed sacrilege to their series. You know what, guys? It could have been a lot, lot worse. Remember Batman & Robin? Yeah. So just shut up, take it as a polished popcorn action flick, and swallow it whole.

Despite it's smaller size and distinct lack of wings, the wily police car can often utilize the element of surprise to confront and overpower larger predators.


Intermission!

  • This film addresses the apparent continuity error in earlier installments – McClane is afraid of flying in the first two films, but not the third. Here, he explains that he took flying lessons in order to face his fears.
  • In the beginning credits when Kevin Smith’s name comes on the screen. The “m” in smith disappears and you see “Sith” for a few seconds paying homage to Kevin Smith’s love of all things Star Wars, which also reflects in his character in the movie.
  • When introduced to an agent Johnson, McClane says: “Johnson, again?”. A nod to the two agents Johnson in Die Hard, despite the fact that McClane and the two agents Johnson never spoke to each other or met face to face.
  • In addition to the ‘Agent Johnson’ reference, several other elements from the first film are revisited as series trademarks. Among them are: crawling on broken glass, use of air-ducts, elevator shafts, and maintenance areas in corporate buildings, a henchman falling down stairs, an inquiry on the E.T.A. of a helicopter, and McClane’s “Yippie Ki Yay’ catchphrase.
  • The screen to the far left of all of Warlock’s hacking screens has the auction website eBay open with a Boba Fett action figure being watched.
  • The bad guy, Thomas Gabriel, points a gun at McClane and declares “On your tombstone it will say ‘Always in the wrong place at the wrong time’.” ‘John McClane is back in the wrong place at the wrong time!’ was a tagline used for Die Hard 2.
  • Prints were sent out to UK cinemas under the fake name “New Hampshire” – a reference to the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto and the movie’s original title – in spite of the title being changed to “Die Hard 4.0” in European territories.
  • In the elevator shaft scene where Mai Lihn swings on the wire and flies into the truck and hits McClane, the stunt double accidentally cut Willis’s eyebrow with her spiked heel and according to Len Wiseman in the DVD Commentary, she jabbed Willis hard enough that when medics examined the injury, the brow bone was exposed.
  • The film was edited down to a PG-13 rating for commercial reasons, thus making it the first film in the series not rated R.
  • The film was based on the 1997 article “A Farewell to Arms” written for Wired magazine by John Carlin.

Groovy Quotes

Matt Farrell: You just killed a helicopter with a car!
John McClane: I was out of bullets.

Matt Farrell: [large explosion] Did you see that?
John McClane: Yeah I saw it! I did it!

Matt Farrell: What’re you gonna do?
John McClane: I’m gonna go kill this guy and get my daughter. Or go get my daughter and kill this guy. Or kill all of ’em!

The Warlock: [to Matt] Why did you bring a cop to my command center?
John McClane: [laughs] Command center? It’s a basement.
The Warlock: [angrily] Who is this man?

Thomas Gabriel: On your tombstone it should say “Always in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
John McClane: How about “Yippi-kay-ay, motherfu – ” [gunshot]

John McClane: You must be just about out of bad guys by now.
Thomas Gabriel: You must be very satisfied with yourself.
John McClane: I have my moments.

John McClane: [after covering a webcam] Freddy, can you trace these guys.
Thomas Gabriel: Detective, covering the camera does not turn off the microphone.

Thomas Gabriel: I can’t talk to him, you talk to him. Help him focus. [hands cell phone to Lucy]
Lucy McClane: Daddy?
John McClane: Lucy baby?
Lucy McClane: Now there are only five of them.

Matt Farrell: Seriously, when was the last time you ever turned on the radio to listen to popular music? 70’s, 80’s? Michael Jackson was still black? Pearl Jam, maybe?

John McClane: You don’t like Creedence?
Matt Farrell: This is like having a pine cone shoved in my ass.

The Warlock: Oh… so you’re a fan of the Fett?
John McClane: [standing next to a stand-up cardboard cut-out of Boba Fett] No, I was always a fan of Star Wars…

John McClane: Then who are you?
Matt Farrell: My name is Daisy Duke. I took alot of crap for it as a kid to please do not add to the torment.

John McClane: You know what you get for being a hero? Nothing. You get shot at. A little pat on the back, blah blah blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can’t remember your last name. Kids don’t wanna talk to you. Get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me kid, nobody wants to be that guy.

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4 Comments

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