Bruce Willis as John McClane
Timothy Olyphant as Thomas Gabriel
Justin Long as Matt Farrell
Maggie Q as Mai Lihn
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane
Cliff Curtis as Bowman
Jonathan Sadowski as Trey
Andrew Friedman as Casper
Kevin Smith as Warlock
Yorgo Constantine as Russo
Cyril Raffaelli as Rand
Chris Palermo as Del
Sung Kang as Raj
Zeljko Ivanek as Molina
Christina Chang as Taylor
Directed by Len Wiseman
A solid summer popcorn flick that doesn't require a lot of brains, but doesn't expect you to leave them at the door either, as it successfully captures the feel of the "Die Hard" movies with a few cool modern-day twists.
Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is called into service to bring in computer hacker Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) who may have played a part in a cyber-terrorist attack, but then, they're both attacked by the henchmen of the man responsible, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a computer mastermind and disgruntled government worker who wants to use the flaws in the country's computer security system to take the whole country down.
It's been 12 years since "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one would have thought that they'd seen the last of Bruce Willis as Detective John McClane. After all, who wants to see a movie about terrorists when we're plagued by them every day in the real world? Surprisingly, "Live Free or Die Hard" actually uses that fact to its advantage, playing on the paranoia of the country and the world to explore what could be a very real threat of cyber-terrorism, which is something that's far scarier now than it might have been six years ago.
As much as technology has changed since 1995, John McClane hasn't, although he's now the father of an estranged teen daughter (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose dating habits might be giving him grey hairs if he doesn't have a shaved pate. Before he can reconnect with her, he's called in on an easy enough favor by a government agent, to bring in a computer hacker who might have been responsible for an attack on Homeland Security's computer system. As these things tend to go, McClane and the kid (Justin Long) soon find themselves being attacked by assassins, leading them on a chase through the streets of Washington D.C. as a plot unfolds that's far more terrifying than McClane's previous encounters, this one involving a rogue government security expert who is using his knowledge to prove a point by taking down the entire country, one computer system at a time.
Because "Live Free or Die Hard" follows long-awaited sequels like "Mission: Impossible III" and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," there's a certain amount of skepticism involved with the motivations behind it, but Bruce Willis proves that he can easily slip back into the McClane character as director Len Wiseman ("Underworld") shows that he has enough knowledge of the franchise to pull off a convincing updated way of putting McClane through his paces.
Back in '95, cell phones and computers weren't as prevalent as they are now, and both things play a huge part in the movie's high concept terrorist plot, which doesn't ignore the attacks of 9/11 as much as using it as a catalyst to play off the country's paranoia that it's not as safe as we might like or think. The script may seem laughable at times, but it's nowhere near as bad as the numerous rip-offs that have cropped up in the last decade, and at least the villains are slightly more developed than the normal action movie baddie. Timothy Olyphant's Thomas Gabriel is a metrosexual computer nerd who doesn't believe in mincing words, and he uses the flaws in the system not only to systematically take down the stock exchange and the power grid on the entire Eastern seaboard--anyone who suffered the East Coast blackout of '03 knows what kind of mayhem this might cause--but also uses his control over computers to try to stop McClane. His secret weapon is his girlfriend Mai, played by Maggie Q. Potentially the sexiest computer hacker in existence, she's also quite deadly in hand-to-hand combat as McClane finds out in one of the best scenes where they fight tooth and nail. You might wonder if you can actually root for him as he starts beating her senseless, but when he adds insult to injury with a few of his well-placed one-liners, you know that this is the John McClane we love and that he hasn't changed one iota since the first movie. (Anyone concerned that the action might be toned down to appease a lesser PG-13 rating shouldn't worry, since the movie is also the most violent and brutal "Die Hard" movie since the first.)
Willis doesn't try to hog the spotlight, instead sharing it with Justin Long, who's able to hold his own as well as Samuel L. Jackson did in "With a Vengeance," trading quips with Willis and getting some of the best laughs by playing up his nerdy cool demeanor to the fullest. Olyphant's delivery is a bit dry and serious, which does get tiring at times, especially when the movie hits a lull from the action to move the story forward after the first thirty to forty minutes. Thankfully, things pick up with a jawdropping sequence in which McClane drives a semi with a fully-armed military jet in hot pursuit, causing wanton destruction that has to be seen to be believed. It makes up for a few of the earlier, more derivative stunts, because it's something we've never seen on this scale, and though it leads to some silliness with Bruce literally riding the jet, the excitement is enough to impress and appease any pure-blood action junkie and get them excited about seeing the sequence again.
The Bottom Line:
As much as one might want to knock the movie for its retro plot and storytelling approach, there's something nice about returning movies to the simpler times of "Die Hard," just having fun without worrying about being clever or politically correct. And yet, there is something inherently smart with the way that John McClane has been brought into modern times by mixing two very different worlds. If you're a fan of the series, you'll be glad to have Willis back in the saddle, but I'm sure that this is just as thrilling if you've never seen a "Die Hard" movie in your life.