Remember the “Simpsons” episode where Bart watches ‘Die Hard’ jump out the window? Live Free or Die Hard–the title, incidentally, has nothing to do with the film’s content–is the first one where I expected McClane’s nickname to be ‘Die Hard.’ They come close in terms of self-reference….
Still, as a Die Hard movie, it’s about as good as a Die Hard movie featuring Bruce Willis versus a fighter jet is going to get. It’s really well cast, which carries a lot of the film. Much like the third one, it follows the short codas of the first two–which are fine for those (i.e. with Bonnie Bedelia–has everyone else forgotten the first two Die Hard movies are like a Thin Man on angel dust?)–but the movie doesn’t have a closed narrative. It has a fake ending, not going on long enough. The immediate action is resolved, then it just stops.
That good casting is necessary–and Len Wiseman’s enthusiastic direction is helpful–because the writing is terrible. Willis has some good lines and he and Justin Long have some good scenes, but it’s incredibly stupid. The Die Hard movies kept their predicaments small and manageable–even the third one kept it within reason–but Live Free is crazy big: it’s the end of the world as we know it (something left unresolved).
For half the movie, I felt like the script came from John Carpenter’s unmade Escape from Earth.
It isn’t just the dumb ideas, but a lot of the setups. McClane’s stalking his daughter in this one, which makes little sense (especially since the image of him alone, his heroism costing him everything–conjured by a discussion–is so much more striking). Luckily, there’s a lot of decently executed action. Die Hard movies always create an aura of reality, usually because of Willis’s performance and the production design–and he makes the unbelievable Live Free palatable.
As a director, Wiseman has no personality, but he incorporates CG well enough. As a Die Hard movie with CG, which means it’s fundamentally broken but it is what it is and it’s fine.
Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Timothy Olyphant are all fine. Curtis is sturdy, Winstead is fiesty and Olyphant is hissable (if a little foppish).
As for McClane versus the fighter jet… it’s the kind of ‘too much’ even Willis can’t ground. Combined with that flimsy ending… There’s also the issue of Wiseman’s blue filters, which I won’t expand on, since I want to end on a high note:
Live Free or Die Hard isn’t the best it could be, but it’s far from the worst. It’s fine.
Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback, based on a story by Bomback and David Marconi; director of photography, Simon Duggan; edited by Nicolas de Toth; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Michael Fottrell; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Cliff Curtis (Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane).