Die Hardest takes a look at the first four films in the Die Hard franchise, leading up to the release of A Good Day To Die Hard. Today, we’ll look at the fourth (and arguably, ‘worst’) film in the franchise, 2007’s Live Free Or Die Hard.
Die Hard With A Vengeance didn’t make a whole lot of noise in the summer of 1995, and as such the franchise sat on the shelf for quite some time, twelve years to be exact. The third film in the franchise was released at a time when society was starting growing tired of the old action heroes of yesterday, and years later these titans of action would be replaced by the wave of superhero movies that have been dominating cinemas since the early 2000’s.
While Sylvester Stallone would fade into obscurity until Rocky Balboa rejuvenated him, Arnold Schwarzenegger would go become governor of this fine state of California (and many other action heroes fell by the wayside,) Bruce Willis had been able to maintain a solid career. Branching out and showing range in fare like 12 Monkeys and Unbreakable, Willis’ star power had yet to fade.
And at a time when the general public liked their heroes to be loveable nerds, someone at Fox decided it was time to remind the public about John McClane. Why not? As both Schwarzenegger and Stallone had success with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Rocky Balboa, respectively.
Enter 2007’s Live Free Or Die Hard, which wants to play on the themes of ‘old hero, new world.’ In the hands of a better director, it might have been better at bringing those themes to the surface. Instead, Len Wiseman is content having John McClane be Superman, using very unconventional methods to take down bad guys and take ungodly amounts of punishment.
And that’s fine, as Live Free Or Die Hard is a fun romp of practical stunts and ridiculous set pieces. Yes, McClane’s superhuman status that he started to receive in Die Hard 2 is in full force here, but how can one not love McClane destroying a helicopter with a police car. Wiseman does love getting bombastic with his set pieces here, and films them coherently. The film makes no bones about being fun, and we’re along for the ride, with Wiseman going overly gratuitous with his chaos.
That doesn’t mean Live Free can hold a candle to the first or even the third movies though. Thomas Gabriel just isn’t a strong enough villain, which wastes the talents of Timothy Olyphant. While Die Hard 2‘s Sadler didn’t fare much better, he at least at the excuse of trying to follow Hans Gruber. Gabriel isn’t afforded that luxury, and he’s neither threatening nor menacing. In fact, his supporting cast of Mai (Maggie Q) and and Rand (Cyril Raffaelli) are much better foils for McClane. Of the films in this franchise, Gabriel is easily the worst villain.
The plot is also something of a jumbled mess. Modern action films have the problem of tossing in overly-complicated dialogue to mask various plot holes in the plot, and Live Free does that to explain how Gabriel could hack so many computer systems. While his idea is certainly plausible, the execution is incoherent and convoluted.
Delivering a lot of that technical mumbo jumbo is Justin Long as Matt Farrell, and he rises above being a plot device. His banter with McClane is entertaining, as he and Willis have some good chemistry. True, Farrell’s primary function is to deliver expository dialogue, but Long’s able to inject enough personality into Farrell to make him likeable.
Something of a surprise, Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a fine job as Lucy McClane. She handles the tough aspects of her character that make her feel like she is cut from the McClane cloth. Not typically a damsel in distress, Winstead does get some good lines in her short screen time, and does evoke a presence.
Live Free Or Die Hard (or Die Hard 4.0) isn’t the strongest Die Hard picture, in fact it’s probably the worst. Would the film be better if it was just a standard Bruce Willis actioner? Much, because it wouldn’t be tied to the best action franchise Hollywood has produced. This might imply that Live Free is a bad film, and it’s not at all. It’s far and away Len Wiseman’s best work, and there are many fun sequences that keep the film exciting. It even keeps some characteristics of McClane that have defined him, even if it opts to make him more of a superhero than it should have.
But you know, watching John McClane be Superman and perform incredibly unbelievable feats is just fine.