I have not seen the first Die Hard in years, but I remember it being one of the best -- maybe the best -- action movie ever. I seem to have blocked out Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance, but I vaguely remember there was something about an airport, and Samuel L Jackson, and the brother of the guy from the first film. I went to see Live Free or Die Hard because it looked like an old fashioned action flick, I love Bruce Willis, and the complaints of the reviews centered on zeitgeist (McClane is like Rocky, and Rambo; Willis and Ford are still in stuff like this in their 50s), and on theme (a movie about tech being bad uses CGI) -- things I do not care about for a film like this.
Also NYC buses featured one of the best ad campaigns I have ever seen -- the side of the bus has a long black rectangle and in over-large block letters that threaten not to fit it says "YIPPIE-KAI-YAY MO" and then it cuts off, as if the curse word simply will not fit. At the bottom, in small letters it says "John 6:27" a parody of a biblical citation that replaces chapter and verse with month and day. Half a quote, and a very common first name that is the name of the main character is all they need to remind me about Die Hard. That kind of stuff gets into your lizard brain. They programed me for this back in 1988. I am only human, for Christ's sake.
The dialogue in Live Free or Die hard is not great, especially at the beginning; many of the "quips" would best be deleted. There is nothing approaching the iconic "Yippie-kai-yay Motherfucker" (Slate had a whole bad article on the phrase, by the way). Also it seems to get a PG-13 rating no one can even say "fuck" which seems absurd, especially as the film wants to allude to this famous line. And the plot and the main bad guy -- whatever, lame Bond stuff. There is a lot of "implement phase 1" stuff and "Do you want to break into the Pentagon? Double click yes" that Eddie Izzard makes fun of. And the cameo (is it a spoiler to say who?) felt unnecessary. Also the film has the black vulcan from Star Trek Voyager in a minor role, which was distracting.
But the film basically does a great job delivering bang-em-up action sets often enough to be satisfying, and fun enough to inspire round after round of applause. The film also smartly ratchets up the audacity (man vs man, car vs helicopter, man and car vs kung-fu chick, Semi Rig vs fighter jet) and the stakes (save a stranger, save a friend, save a daughter). Bruce Willis is such a bull, and the action is all old-school. This film will not, and should not, take on Kill Bill and the Matrix. It smartly stays on its own turf. There is a great line where Willis fights a girl who knows Kung-fu and says "Enough of this Kung-fu shit" and then runs her over with an SUV. That's exactly it. That's what Die Hard is supposed to be about.
One of the complains in the reviews was that McClane was such a relatively regular guy in the first film -- he feared flying, and had a real vulnerability in the famous broken glass scene -- but here he is an indestructible superhero. But to me, this makes sense. The first film, almost 20 years ago, is legendary. McClane can only be a superhuman legend now. The second complaint I heard coming out of the theater follows the same logic -- that Semi-Rig vs Jet fighter was just too much. But it should be too much -- the stakes have to be raised, and the audacity has to go though the roof: you are going to have to do something genuinely ridiculous toward the end of your forth installment. Yeah, its a little dumb, but it is Bruce Willis and I am watching Die Hard, so knock it off.
Also Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- the cheerleader from Death Proof, and the villain in Sky High -- is lovely, and spunky and fun.