SPOILER ALERT !!
Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here.
I haven’t seen this one yet. Almost went to a midnight show tonight, but it just didn’t time out right. But honestly, you guys don’t care what I have to say about this. You probably don’t care what Quint or Harry have to say, either. Or Capone. Or Massawyrm. Or anyone here at the site except for one man… the guy whose original rant about the PG-13 rating ended up summoning Bruce “Walter B” Willis out of the ether in one of the craziest talkback moments of all time.
Yes, that’s right. It’s time for Vern’s review of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. Which means it’s time for me to piss off and hand over the stage to him:
“No one has that power. There is a much more powerful guy in Hollywood, and his name is Rupert Murdoch. It’s his corporation. I only work there.” –Bruce Willis to Vanity Fair, on not being able to do an R-rated DIE HARD
“This city is like a big CHICKEN, waiting to get PLUCKED.” –SCARFACE, edited for TV version
DIE HARD, the motion picture, characters and their likenesses, are the copyrighted intellectual property of the Twentieth Century Fox Corporation. To them DIE HARD is a franchise, a license, a property, a brand, a tentpole, a consumer product, an opportunity for cross promotion with Arby’s and whichever candy bar it was. To them DIE HARD is a dollar amount for an opening weekend, a domestic gross balanced against a marketing budget. But to the rest of the world, to the people with beating hearts, DIE HARD is something more.
There’s alot of ways you can interpret those two words. I used to think it had something to do with the saying “old habits die hard.” But it sounds more like a command, like it’s telling you to DIE HARD. If you believe in something, die standing up, die with your boots on. Or in this case with your shoes off. Die hard.
I never really thought of it as a noun, like “John McClane is such a die hard,” but that might make the most sense. If you look up “die hard” on dictionary.com (this new one’s about computers so why not) it tells you it’s “a person who vigorously maintains or defends a seemingly hopeless position, outdated attitude, lost cause, or the like.” Obviously that describes McClane to a T. He’s a die hard who dies hard.
Whatever the title was originally supposed to mean, over the past almost two decades it has taken on a new meaning. Of course you’ve got the “DIE HARD on a blank” method of describing a movie where one man is forced to sneak around whatever the blank is to foil a terrorist attack. But to me anyway DIE HARD is more than just a premise or a formula. DIE HARD describes the attitude and tone of the movie. Like John McClane, DIE HARD has little patience for bullshit, a high tolerance for pain, and now it has a machine gun, ho ho ho. There is no such thing as DIE HARD lite, or DIE HARD medium, or a DIE HARD that pulls a few punches. There is only DIE HARD. You can’t put DIE HARD in a box or a cage, because we have known from the beginning that walls cannot contain DIE HARD. To my dying day, whether that day is hard or regular, I will remember the newspaper ad that promised “It will blow you through the back of the theater!” and included a diagram of how exactly this would work. You hear that? DIE HARD is not balls to the wall action – DIE HARD is action that actually knocks your balls THROUGH the wall. That’s just how it works. Be careful with the balls.
But now here we are in 2007 and even Walter B. Willis, John Ma(gunshot)Clane himself, cannot sneak around and pick off Fox executives one by one to foil their plan to build walls around DIE HARD, or to reinforce the back wall of the theater so nobody gets blown through it. As you can see in that quote above, Bruce felt an R-rating was a seemingly hopeless position, but he did not vigorously defend it like a die hard. In that article there’s a funny story about a Fox executive giving Bruce notes about the Kevin Smith scenes and Bruce listens and then says, “Let me ask you a question: Who’s your second choice to play John McClane?” Unfortunately it was a bad play, he should’ve saved that card for the rating.
Because I believe they really did make a DIE HARD movie here. Obviously, it’s not as good as DIE HARD. Nothing is. But if you like the sequels, this is in the same tradition, and it earns the description DIE HARD. Almost. I think. In my PG-13 DIE HARD rant I asked Fox, and by extension all mankind, not to be Ellis, the smarmy yuppie sellout bastard who tries to betray McClane to Grueber to save his own ass. But clearly those mister falcons are Ellis. Every last one of them is Ellis, holding the can of Coke and giving the thumbs up and everything. But they don’t want to be Ellis, they want to be Grueber, so they are holding the real LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD hostage, saving the real movie that has blood and falcon-bombs for DVD so at that time you can be blown through the back of your apartment and lose your security deposit.
So, my friends, I dearly wish we were not in this ridiculous situation. I wish they had just done the right thing and released the movie as it was obviously meant to be, so I could recommend this movie without reservations or caveats or what have yous. I mean how ludicrous is it that we are actually put into the position of explaining how a flippin DIE HARD movie is “really violent… for PG-13!” and “pushes the limits… of PG-13!”
It’s preposterous and it’s sad and it’s a bad omen that we have found ourselves here, but it could’ve been worse. The movie could’ve sucked. But I am relieved to be able to tell you that, despite everything going against it, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is a pretty damn entertaining movie. It could and should be harder. But it’s fun, it has a good villainous plot, it has many intense and well constructed action sequences, and other than the rating and Kevin Smith it manages to overcome most of the worries I had about the movie.
Hey, you skipped over all that preamble stuff to find out if I liked it or not. That’s cheating. Show me some respect man I’m a god damn artist. I was trying to create suspense and what not.
Anyway I guess I might as well go through piece by piece.
I think they could’ve done more visually to show us this is our man John McClane. I understand the baldness, but he’s wearing sort of a hip leather jacket that does not remind me of that working joe we love. So he looks different, and we must assume that he has become a Jehovah’s Witness since there is no mention of his alcoholism, he never smokes and somebody cleaned his mouth out with soap. It’s sad, like how Prince stopped swearing so he doesn’t perform “Sexy MF” anymore. Good for you, John, getting off the booze, but we want to hear that song. Are you worried your grandma is watching this or something? You’re not as fun that way.
So that makes it hard to recognize McClane at first, but this is definitely McClane, with the same sense of humor, cynicism and with the WITH A VENGEANCE powers to manipulate vehicles and withstand vicious falls and hits. The super hero business comes in mostly at the end when they get to that jet fighter you probaly saw on the commercials – that was a pretty big leap into ridiculousness. The rest of the movie is a little more grounded, in my opinion. And I’m happy to report that unlike WITH A VENGEANCE there is not a moment when you think he should just go home and let the professionals take over. This time around the philosophy is that if somebody else could do it he would be happy to go home, but he knows nobody else can do it. The fact that he is the one chasing these “cyberterrorists” and doing a better job than all the other government agencies seems absurd, but they use the almost-convincing trick of mentioning Hurricane Katrina. When you think of it that way you realize hey, it’s true, maybe McClane really is the only one who’s gonna have his crud together.
I was as worried as anybody. I don’t think McClane needs a wacky sidekick. I like McClane isolated, using a radio to talk to his allies on the outside or to taunt his adversaries. The guy doesn’t need company. And if he must have a sidekick, how are you gonna top Samuel L. Jackson? You’re not. This comic relief sidekick crap is more like the UNDER SIEGE movies, where Casey Ryback has to protect Erika Eleniak and Morris Chestnutt and teach them how to shoot a gun. Luckily, Justin Long (who plays a hacker McClane is protecting from people trying to kill him) is much less annoying than either one of those characters. In fact, I thought he was pretty funny, and he was only saddled with a couple chunks of computery exposition crap.
This is another one straight out of UNDER SIEGE. PART 2: DARK TERRITORY, that is. In that one Katherine Heigl played Seagal’s estranged niece, who knows a few moves courtesy of her uncle, tells the bad guys they’ve messed with the wrong guy and mends her relationship with him as he saves her life. Lucy Gennerro/McClane does the same exact thing here, but I didn’t mind. It’s kind of cute to see her take after her old man, her not speaking to him in the beginning is the last remnant of McClane’s screwed up life, and if these bad guys didn’t kidnap somebody in McClane’s family they would be poor bad guys.
THE VILLAINOUS PLOT.
“Cyberterrorism” sounds really stupid on paper and on web, but in the movie I like the idea. Remember, Hans Grueber also had a corny movie-fied computer hacker on his team. These guys have a similar scheme but on a much larger scale. Instead of DIE HARD in a building it’s DIE HARD in a country. Early on they manipulate the traffic lights to cause massive pileups all around Washington DC. McClane gets out, stands on top of his car and looks at the chaos as far as he can see in every direction, and it is a genuine “oh shit” moment. Later these jerkwads use the magic of the digital age to trap our guy in a tunnel between four lanes of traffic going both ways. The cybervillainy even creates some atmosphere in the scenes where they drive or fly through cities with all the lights turned off. Kind of eerie, kind of pretty.
And by the way, these aren’t just computer guys, they also have a team of badass mercenaries. Which brings me to…
I read Quint’s review and I totally disagree with the guy, and especially on this front. I think the henchmen in this movie are topnotch. Maggie Q plays a sexy cold-blooded badass like she did in M:I:3 and DRAGON SQUAD (executive producer: Steven Seagal), and she has a great fight with McClane that is sort of a symbolic fight between modern action movies and the old style. (Don’t worry, no wires as far as I noticed.) But my favorite henchman and one of the big surprises of the movie was the one apparently called Rand.
When the mayhem first starts, the movie is DIE HARD-in-a-dude’s-apartment, but when it moves outside is when you notice Rand. There is a really gimmicky but excellent shot of this guy jumping around, swinging across fire escapes and what not, and the camera follows his every move. It’s very modern in that it’s such a precise camera move that was either done digitally or with a very fancy computerized camera rig. But it’s old school in the sense that you can tell exactly what’s going on, it’s not disorienting. Then you get a clear look at Rand’s face and I realized holy bananas, that’s that dude from DISTRICT B13! Cyril Raffaeilli is his name. He’s the guy that played the cop, not the founder of free running guy, but he does those kind of moves, and he is the stunt co-ordinator for many Luc Besson movies. When I realized it was him I had to think wait a minute, did he do that fire escape stunt FOR REAL? Because I bet he could.
Rand has a couple close calls with McClane but he keeps surviving. One of my buddies said he was “lucky,” and Quint said he was “ridiculous.” Both wrong. What he is is a die hard. A guy who vigorously maintains such hopeless positions as “if I get thrown from a car I think I can roll with the punches” and “if my helicopter blows up it would be a good idea to jump out.” But he says those things in French because he is from France, where people run up walls and jump off buildings and know how to fall safely.
With these two characters you get a little martial arts, a little parkour, but neither enough to seem like they’re showing off or trying to make it too modern. And McClane’s tackle em, choke em, toss em down stairs, hit em with cars style of fighting wins every time.
Okay, I can’t deny it, he is not an iconic villain like Hans Grueber, or even a fun over-the-top one like Eric Bogosian’s Travis Dane in UNDER SIEGE 2. He has some good moments, especially when he gets the upper hand enough to dare McClane to “go ahead, say something funny.” He’s pretty good with the “I’m smarter than you” vibe, but it’s hard to compete without a British accent. People are saying he is underwhelming, that’s fair enough. I don’t agree that he’s bad, though.
KEVIN SMITH as “Warlock”
on the other hand, this mickey fickey is freakin terrible. I said before that I didn’t blame him for taking the job, because who could turn down a chance to be in a DIE HARD movie? But now that I’ve actually seen it I feel like he had a moral obligation, as a fan of DIE HARD, to tell them they were flippin nuts to want to put him in the movie. This is the one out and out embarrassing scene in the movie. Partly because the “nerd who collects star wars dolls in his mom’s basement” joke is so melon farming obvious and lame, but mainly because the guy does not know how to act in a serious movie. He delivers a “just how badass is this guy?” speech about the villain in the same “funny” tone that he does the “funny” speeches in his movies. It’s completely out of place and momentarily derails the movie. They might as well have had Carrot Top, or Eddie Murphy in a fat suit, or Robin Williams on one of his spaz out trips. Or even a puppet. I know the original had Argyle for some wacky comic relief, but at least he fit into the world of the movie and was introduced at the beginning instead of at a crucial dramatic point in the story. To put it in terms “Warlock” could understand, he is the Jar Jar of this movie. The only genuine laugh in his scenes is when McClane threatens to beat him to death but (SPOILER) sadly he does not beat him to death, at least not in the PG-13 version. A HUGE missed opportunity there. He doesn’t even get killed by the bad guys. Total bummer.
Director LEN WISEMAN.
I gotta give credit where credit is due. Wiseman gets the award for performing beyond expectations. I am not a fan of the UNDERWORLD movies and could not figure out why they would hire some dungeons and dragons nerd to do a DIE HARD. And I’m not saying the guy is John McTiernan quality, and I’m sure I’m gonna get plenty of guff for saying this, but I honestly think he did a good job. Walter B told us that Wiseman brought John McClane into the 21st century, and thankfully that didn’t mean any of the following things it could’ve meant: shaky cameras, quick cuts, Avid farts, whooshy camera sounds, wire-fu, matrixy outfits, electronical music, rockin guitar soundtrack, bullet time, gratuitous CGI. Yeah, there’s a “modern” feel to some of the color tinting and there are some fancy camera moves here and there, but – praise be Jesus – the Lord heard my call and made an action movie where for once I CAN TELL WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON! You guys can have your Michael Bay. Please, for God’s sake, take him. I don’t want him near my movies. Wiseman, at least in this movie, is Vern-approved. He designs his sequences in such a way that you can follow the geography of where the people are, where the vehicles are, what is headed in what direction, etc. These are images that involve you in the action instead of make you dizzy or explode in your face. And Wiseman uses these images to create tension and excitement in the audience. You know, like they used to do in action movies.
And that brings us to the main reason why this movie is worth watching: there really are some kickass action sequences. I am not saying this in a “there is a big explosion and it is AWESOME!” kind of way, I am saying that I love this character of John McClane and when he headbutts a guy or skids across pavement or falls down an elevator shaft it makes me grit my teeth. I usually hate it when people compare a movie to a “ride” or a “rollercoaster,” but that’s really how I felt watching this, there are many thrilling action sequences that if they don’t send your balls through the back wall at least bounce them off the wall a couple times. It kind of feels like when you’re on a rollercoaster hanging over a ledge staring straight down, and your heart beats fast and you can’t help but smile. This movie gave me that feeling many times and, despite all my misgivings, I gotta be thankful for that. CASINO ROYALE is probaly a better movie overall, but to me this was more thrilling. Not that there’s alot to compare it to, but it’s the best action movie of this type in quite a while. Watching this movie you almost forget that they don’t make movies like this anymore.
* The bad guys don’t seem to bleed. There is one guy that gets shredded almost FARGO style, he bleeds a little, but you’d think there’d be a geyser. I almost wish they would’ve done green blood, that would’ve been funny. For the most part I was not bothered by the lack of blood though, because the number one rule is MCCLANE GOTTA BLEED, and he does indeed do all the bleeding in this one. There is one climactic moment though, and you will know it when you see it, where something pretty damn badass occurs, but the biologically impossible lack of blood actually made me think wait a minute, did a misinterpret that, is that not really what happened? So that wasn’t good.
- Also I coulda done without the helicopter scene. McClane flies a helicopter which they use for quick transportation and to set up a joke that he took lessons to overcome his fear of flying. But there’s no urgency to it, he doesn’t really need to fly it, and it doesn’t even lead to an action scene. So that was kind of dumb.
- The jet sequence has some phony looking digital effects, but most of the movie feels pretty organic. If you think this one is too digital you are pickier than I am. (And they don’t look any more phony than Bruce propelling away from the explosion in part 2).
- I love the title LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD but it doesn’t have much to do with the movie. It does take place on Independence Day, though. But it’s not at all like the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY.
Before seeing the movie I figured this had to be the last DIE HARD. I’m not sure how many people are still interested in DIE HARD, and of those that are I know alot of them that lost interest once they heard it was PG-13. And then next week you got that exploding robot movie coming out, it’s the same rating so that’s gonna suck away alot of the audience. (and I do mean suck.)
But now that I’ve seen it I don’t know. My experience was the opposite of Quint’s – the audience was clearly into it, with lots of clapping and laughing and cheering. And maybe normal people don’t care or notice about the PG-13 like we do. Maybe the world needs a shot of McClane in whatever strength they can get it. I’m sure some of my talkback pals will be disappointed in me for writing a mostly positive review and think I sold out or that I’m trying to be nice to Walter B so he’ll send me the uncut version and autograph my cassette tape of The Return of Bruno. But I’m just being honest. I hate what they did with this movie. But I liked this movie.
Okay, Bruce said this is maybe better than the first one, that’s not even close to true. But it’s an enjoyable action movie in the midst of a long enjoyable action movie drought. It could catch on. So I ask you, Walter B, if you’re out there, and if you ever choose to DIE HARD again. Think of us die hards. I won’t even say you owe us one – you owe YOU one, because I know you want it too. You can do it. We believe in you. If you can jump off the side of a building tied to a firehose I think you can get those Dwayne T. Robinsons over there to understand that DIE HARD must go out with a children under 17 not admitted without a parent or guardian style bang. The backs of the theaters won’t know what hit em. You’ll make a movie like this times ten, and across the planet we’ll all be yellin MOTHERFUCKER so loud it’ll drown out all the gun shots in the world.
Originally published at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/33162
August 5th, 2009 at 11:43 am
Just watched this again for the fourth or fifth time. I truly do love this movie. It’s the weakest of the series, but that’s like saying Lucy Lui is the ugliest Charlie’s Angel. You know she’s still hotter than you deserve.
Vern, I know you hate Kevin Smith, and that’s fair, but I don’t think he detracted from the movie at all. In fact, I think his presence added to one of the movie’s main themes: nerd self-hatred. No celebrity better exemplifies the foibles of the modern man-boy better than Kevin Smith. Throughout the movie, there are examples of the geek generation proving itself ineffectual and emasculated. They play with dolls, they never leave the house, they hate getting their hands dirty, they have no tolerance for pain or discomfort, and all they care about is meaningless bullshit. The whole movie is Smith’s generation (mine too) beating itself up for not being as manly as older guys like McClane. From the villains to the sidekicks to the FBI, there isn’t a character in the movie who lives in the real world and has any code of honor. Life is all virtual to them, an abstract fantasy. My favorite little moment is when McClane asks the FBI leader to give him his word that he’ll save his daughter. The guy looks taken aback. My word? What does that mean? He’s used to dealing with computers and bureaucrats, not a sincere, earnest individual talking to him man-to-man about life-or-death shit. You can see the shame on his face as he realizes that while he’s been dicking around with his computers, this guy has been out there putting his actual ass on the line. Suddenly, the world isn’t just a flow of data on a computer screen. It’s a place where real people are in real danger. Same thing with Smith, who has all these delusions about what an outlaw he is and how he shouldn’t help “the Man” (whoever the fuck that is), but McClane yanks him back to reality. His daughter is REALLY at risk. This is all REALLY happening. Life isn’t a fucking video game, and it’s McClane’s job to teach all these nerds that.