Live Free or Die Hard marks the fourth installment in the Die Hard franchise. Each one has starred Bruce Willis as John McClane, and each previous film has had a central villain that John has to go after. This is no different, except this time the bad guy isn’t going after John directly. Instead, the target is Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a computer hacker.
At the beginning of the film, John is told to transport Matt to Washington, DC, and that’s it. At Matt’s house, they both get shot at, and a couple of people wind up dead. This is John McClane we’re talking about — a man who has no problem killing. They escape, go to DC, but are shot at again. And then the televisions start going haywire, traffic lights turn off, and all communications systems go down. Something is up, and Matt seems to be a key to solving it, or at least figuring out how to solve it. So we are lead to believe.
For reasons I’m not going to get into, America is about to be faced with a crisis, something that Matt dubs a “fire sale.” Essentially what could happen is that all of America could go back to the stone age in terms of its finances and communications, although the people behind it aren’t asking for demands. Their motivation isn’t made clear until quite late in the film, although if you’ve seen one or two Die Hard movies before, you’ll be unsurprised at their reasoning.
Oh, and there’s a scene really early on — actually, it’s the very first one in the film — where John is trying to get in touch with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She tells him that she’ll contact him one her terms. That’s the only time we’ll see her before things start going wrong, and it was clear at this point that she’s there just to get captured and give John even more reason to stop the antagonist from winning.
However, her inclusion makes little sense to me. Before she gets captured, John is already dead-set on stopping the man we later learn is named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). There’s even an entire speech that he gives to Matt about how nobody else will do his job, and he does it for this reason. But adding his daughter into the equation is redundant at this point. I’m not complaining about having Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a movie, but her character definitely needed more purpose.
I also don’t think we needed some computer hacker to tag along with John McClane. He does play an important role, but I wished that he’d just go away for most of the time he’s on-screen. There are some humorous moments that come out of John being technologically obsolete, (a trait he has exhibited before), but that’s about it. At one point, John tells Matt to stay away, because he’s going to complete this mission solo. I was cheering, hoping that Matt would run into the house and let John McClane do what he does best. But no, Matt had to tag along for this one too. How disappointing.
Honestly, at this point, this is a series about John going around, beating people up, and saving a select group of people from something unpleasant. We don’t need a tag-along partner, especially one that can’t do much in the way of helping. I liked Samuel L. Jackson as Willis’ partner in Die Hard With A Vengeance, but that was because he was a help, an equal, instead of an inconvenience.
After the third film, I guessed that in order to go bigger, they’d have to have it take place over the entire country. It turns out, I wasn’t far off. They go all over the East Coast — I’m guessing they’re saving the rest of America for a potential fifth film. The locations are all varied, and it was nice to see a bunch of different environments, even if too much of our time is spent looking at various computer screens.
The action scenes are still fun, and they go even bigger than the previous films. Most of them end up at a smaller level though, with our heroes taking most of the brunt, instead of, say, an entire subway system. But there are a couple of explosions that are big enough to take out a large area, as well as one that involves a car and a helicopter that, while improbable (impossible?), is the highlight of the film, just because of how amazing it looks. There’s also a couple of fist fights, one involving an enemy that is a parkour enthusiast, so you’ll get that fix too.
Unfortunately, Timothy Olyphant’s mild-mannered villain is probably the weakest in the entire series. Well, Die Hard 2‘s big bad was pretty pathetic too, but this one just doesn’t seem all that fierce. How he could cause fear in anyone is beyond me, likely because of how gentle and sweet Olyphant plays him. Right when we meet him, you don’t think that he’ll be able to take out Bruce Willis, because nice people can never take out Bruce Willis. Granted, you know he’ll put up a good fight, but can you really expect him to win? I couldn’t, and although I won’t give away how this film ends, (hey, they could be prepping John’s daughter to take over, couldn’t they?), I’ll say that he puts up a very good fight, and lives are most certainly put in peril.
Live Free or Die Hard is a solid action film, even if the villain seems like a big joke. The set-pieces are grand and fun, Bruce Willis still seems to love his role of John McClane, and you’re rarely bored while watching it. It has problems, but it’s still worth a watch for any fans of the series, especially if you want to see an older Bruce Willis have an even more physically demanding role than any of the previous films. (Or at least, it certainly looks that way.)