Directed by Len Wiseman
A group of terrorists, naturally, have begun to wreak havoc with the nations infrastructure by hacking into the computer systems that control everything from traffic signals to power lines. The only thing they can’t seem to control is New York detective John McClane (Bruce Willis), who is supposed to be escorting a suspect (Justin Long) to the FBI for interrogation, but quickly finds himself in the middle of a cybernetic armageddon.
The premise is absolutely preposterous, but that’s never really been a problem for “Die Hard” before and might even honestly be considered one of the series’ hallmarks. That being said, it’s still the least plausible of any of the “Die Hard” stories so far, and that includes terrorists taking over an airport. It hovers right on the cusp of being a deal-breaker how much so, I imagine, will depend largely on how much you do or don’t know about computers.
That’s never really mattered before, as the setup is largely just an excuse for Willis to engage in well-designed set pieces and trade witty banter with his co-stars. In that regard, “Live Free or Die Hard” half works. Director Len Weisman (“Underworld”) has a very good eye for stunts and set pieces and “Live Free” offers him his biggest canvas yet for indulging it. That turns out to be both a plus and a minus as he occasionally lets his spectacle run away with him, particularly towards the end, in an effort to continually top himself. The final big action segment involving an F-35 dodging pieces of falling freeway while trying to blow up a speeding semi simply defy belief. It’s too big, too insane to work, and that’s saying something about a series largely built out of an every man dealing with impossible situations.
And if the spectacle doesn’t work, then Weisman’s got a real problem on his hands, because spectacle’s about all he’s got. The plot is borrowed pretty thoroughly from the first “Die Hard” just on a larger scale, and with less panache. In theory that’s all his audience may want, but in practice it means a movie that is largely heartless, as opposed to being merely mindless. “Live Free or Die Hard” doesn’t really offer anything resembling characterization or a compelling plot. Willis slips back into McClane’s shoes with effortless ease (although part of that may be merely because he’s been doing variations on the part for 20 years) but there’s no real emotional connection with him, and what little there is concerning his now adult daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is forced.
Which pretty much sums up all the characters. The incredibly vapid villains, led by the excessively whiney Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) don’t seem particularly invested in what they’re doing or each other. Forget not seeming like real people, it is an action movie after all, they don’t even seem like real characters. They’re plot devices created to give McClane something to shoot at, and it shows. Poor Justin Long exists largely to spout exposition and wise cracks. The “Die Hard” franchie tried its hand at a buddy cop story previously with marginal results, and it had Samuel L. Jackson to play off of. “Live Free or Die Hard” doesn’t fare anywhere near as well.
But none of that is “Live Free or Die Hard’s” real flaw. It may sound illogical, but for “Live Free or Die Hard” to work it doesn’t really need an ironclad plot. Which is good, because Weisman doesn’t seem at all interested in his plot except as a setup for scenes, many of which (such as Long arguing with an OnStar operator, despite it being clearly and repeatedly stated that all communications nationwide have been disabled) absolutely do not work in view of what has come before them. It doesn’t really need interesting characters or connections between them. Which is good, because it doesn’t have them either. Most of the characters are flat and exist only to service the plot, which is strange considering how under-thought the plot actually is.
What it needs is a sense of joy, a sense that despite the harrowing nature of the situation, there is something entertaining even to the participants, and through them, the audience about the absurdity of the situation. It’s that joy that makes the fun moments and the dark moments, when the joy is taken away, feel dark. And “Live Free or Die Hard” doesn’t have that. Willis tries here and there, but he’s struggling in vain. It’s technically proficient, and never really bad, but it’s also quite dull.