Saturday, June 30, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard Review

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.


Madd_Hadder said...

I agree pretty much whole heartedly with you here, except I actually enjoyed the quips along the way. However, that may be due to my really liking Justin Long.

Also, I think we do see a vulnerable hero in the scene where they are driving and Willis is going on about what actually happens to a "hero." I am not sure if you have ever seen an episode of "24" but that scene reminded me a lot of Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer and made me wish for a McClane/Bauer buddy film.

Geoff Klock said...

MH, yeah but he is an unkillable machine for the rest of the film. You are right that they go for emotional vulnerability, but he has no physical vulnerability. But again, that was their point. I think it makes sense he should have no vulnerability.

A McClane/Bauer team up should be written and drawn by Frank Miller, and they should fight the newly combined forces of Robocop and Terminator. Then for the sequel, McClane and Bauer and Robocop and all the Terminators can fight ninjas, pirates, aliens (including Transformers), and zombies. Superhero Zombies. The videogame alone would be worth trillions of dollars.

Jumaan said...

As far as "old guy returning to/reinventing a blockbuster" type movies go, it wasn't as poignant as Rocky Balboa or as plain good as Casino Royale. Hell, it wasn't even as good as Die Hard With A Vengeance. But it was better than the last 5 action movies I've seen since Casino Royale. Here's to hoping the splatterhouse John Rambo movie turns out to be good.

Marc Caputo said...

Over at my blog more than a month ago, I blogged about the bus ad for "Die Hard 4" FIVE MINUTES after I saw it - it was an awesome thrill to communicate my ideas on something so instantaneously. Anyway, I got some fellow blogger (who I'd never heard of before) posting an opposing opinion. Pretty interesting stuff, to say the least. Check it out (

Dying to see the film ASAP myself. And if the cameo was who I think it was - not a spoiler - he was in the trailers)

Geoff Klock said...

Marc: that guy is lame.

this is what he said

"Frankly I think the ad campaign is annoying as fuck. This only encourages kids and pre-teens to use the word "mother-fucker" more often, no doubt giggling about it in class, and otherwise contributing to our harsher, crasser, more violent, gun-crazed, ever more dumbed-down society. Hee-hee, mother-fucker! Mother-fucker! It's on buses everywhere! Mother-fucker! It's so cooool! Blow everything up! Awesome! I love death!"

"I happen to think curse words, when used repetitively, are an indication of a poor vocabulary and a general lack of education."

To be fair to him he does note the hypocracy of using curse words himself to make his points. But the argument that curse words destroy society is just silly, and I have Emerson on my side for the second point -- Emerson said he would like to be able to talk like a sailor in public and use ALL of the words to express himself, not just some of them; he also said his essay "Consistancy" should have been called "Damn consistancy."

Ted said...

The second Die Hard is pretty nice, despite being completely ridiculous and stealing shamelessly from Woo's THE KILLER. It's got a great bit with a pre-TERMINATOR 2 Robert Patrick, making him (I'm pretty sure) the only actor to be killed by all of the founders of Planet Hollywood.

They also filmed some of the early bits of DHW/AV in my neighborhood, so Jeremy Irons dynamiting my subway was a very real concern in third grade.

Jason Powell said...

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is mother****ing beautiful. I loved her since I saw her on an episode of "Tru Calling"!

Dante Kleinberg said...

Meant to see this on Saturday. A multi-car pile-up on the 101 blocked traffic and caused me to be too late make the time. So I got a car wash instead.

Oh well, maybe this week. Though I'm already sick of the whole yippe-ki-yay thing, and I've never seen any previous Die Hard's.