So I just watched Live Free or Die Hard and I have to say I was pretty impressed. I had my reservations about it being PG-13 and how old Bruce Willis looks, but he pulled it off well; after all it was the role that made him into a star, so it's not like the performance was going to be awful. Timothy Olyphant as the smarmy computer hacker villain was awesome. Seriously though he is two decades too late; had he been around in the 80's he could have made a whole career playing the too-smart foil for Arnie or Mel or Sly. He was one of the best parts of the movie and a big reason why the movie felt 20 years too late. And that's a good thing. More thoughts after the jump...
The magic of Dish network allows me to see these movies about three years after the fact, but hey, at least I don't have to overpay at the theater and sit next to a big smelly guy on his cell phone. The movie was a call back to the early Die Hard pictures; that is to say it's a call back to the action films I love so much from the 80's and 90's. The only problem is that that style of action film seems so out of place in 2008 (well 2007 was when the movie was released). It's heart is in the right place: action scenes that have a real sense of danger and awe, also action scenes that seemed grounded within the reality of the plot (read: less reliance CGI to make things look cool), and recognizable and likable characters; most notably John McClane who was doing the snarky anti-hero thing long before it became popular in the action films of today. However, for as big a smart ass as he is, he is always loyal to the law; there is no ambiguity with John McClane he is always going to fight as long as he can for the good of the city, state, or (in this films case) the country.
The lack of ambiguity by the hero is so common in today's action films. Directors almost want their heroes to be just as "cool" as their villains. But however antiquated a film like Live Free or Die Hard may seem, it is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air. The plot is familiar and like any kind of Die Hard film. Olyphant plays Thomas Gabriel, a real smart guy who set up some banking back up system after September 11th so that their wouldn't be an economic crisis should terrorists strike again. Of course the government and especially the secret sectors of the FBI and NSA didn't appreciate Gabriel enough, so the natural thing is to make them pay attention to you. So he controls the system he created and begins an elaborate plot to syphon the money from the accounts on the back up system; you know, so maybe now they'll pay attention to him. Hmm sounds like any Under Siege movie, too. Poor bad guys, no one pays enough attention to them.
Formulaic plot aside (really the plot is irrelevant) the action scenes are pretty great, especially a scene involving a semi truck and fighter jet; especially the scene that follows where McClane jumps from said semi-truck and onto the jet as it is crashing towards the ground. It's a pretty amazing and virtuoso scene, and again, made all the better by making it look like a legit stunt and not relying so heavily on CGI to ruin the scene. The performance by Willis is great as McClane is battered, scratched, and bloodied within the first 20 minutes (of course), and the film has a nice addition of Justin Long as another hacker dragged along in the mess with McClane. Kevin Smith also has a pretty funny cameo as a hacker called "Warlock".
Live Free or Die Hard is a harmless use of your two hours and if you're a fan of 80's or 90's action films and all of the funny cliches that come with them, well then you won't be disappointed by the latest addition to this action franchise. The only real issue I take with the film is having it be PG-13. It's odd seeing McClane not being profane and pissed off. Sure he kills people (and please understand, blood does not make a movie good), but what I always remember about the Die Hard films was that they were like a live-action Road Runner/Coyote cartoon for adults. McClane as the Road Runner would get the crap kicked out of him (and always spit blood and have dried blood and grease on his white shirt) but keep coming back to get the coyote. Some of the smaller deception scenes (the ones where the villains crew always gets turned on by the guy and his sidekick running the crew...it happens in every action movie like this) seem too quick and made for this era of action film instead of the era they are drawing from for most of the movie. There is just that little bit of inconsistency that bothered me that probably could have been solved had they gone all the way and done a classic R-rated action film like the other Die Hard pictures.
But that is a small complaint for an otherwise surprising and fun action film. Which is something of a rarity these days.