Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer
You know you want to see it. Is it worth degrading your principles?
If you’re like me, your reaction a couple months ago when you heard they were doing yet another Die Hard was about five seconds of silence, followed by a groan that started in the back of your throat and ended in the roof of your mouth ten seconds later. Then you laughed and made a few jokes to your friends about Bruce Willis’s hairline, how utterly inessential another Die Hard is, and how there was no way in hell you’d end up paying your hard-earned money to see it in theaters.
Then, as the release date got closer and closer, doubts started to creep in. You remembered what a pleasant surprise Die Hard: With a Vengeance was (at least the first two acts, anyway). You remember how you’ve always enjoyed watching Die Hard movies—even the totally shitty second one, where the only thing you remember was the Eurotrash bad guy doing naked Yoga in a dark hotel room. You remember how much you loved watching that copy of the original Die Hard your friend had taped off of HBO at slumber parties growing up. Before you know it, you can’t come up with a single compelling reason why you shouldn’t go see the amusingly-titled Live Free or Die Hard…even though you still don’t really want to.
Before you know it, you’re standing in line at the multiplex fingering your ATM card, ready to buy a ticket. You and your friends are trying to convince yourselves this isn’t a horrible idea. It as at this point that you all realize that the previous Die Hard movie came out twelve years ago. Although the first two Die Hards are shrouded in the mists of my childhood memories, I feel like I was pretty much the same person when I watched Jeremy Irons force John McClane to walk around Harlem with the most offensive sandwich board imaginable. Jesus, am I getting old?
So how is it?
Okay, so let’s say you’re charged with making the next Die Hard (since apparently none of the original writers or directors wanted anything to do with it). Firstly, you need to make it “relevant” to the Cultural Now. Well, what’s changed about the world since 1995? What’s gotten really hot and trendy since then? I know! The Internet! And Terrorism! And Apple Computers!
Yes, Live Free or Die Hard features all three of these emerging trends. The first two courtesy of Deadwood’s Timothy Olyphant, who plays a hacker supreme who uses “the Internet” to enact a fiendish terrorist plot that, as is the Die Hard franchise’s wont, turns out to be just a really complicated robbery. The third comes courtesy of Apple pitchman Justin Long. Yes, the “Mac Guy,” from those commercials where a young, good-looking, Gen X-ish dude who represents a Mac gives all sorts of slacker ‘tude to a middle-aged square who represents a PC. Long is McClane’s sidekick in this, and plays pretty much exactly what you expect him to: a young, good-looking, Gen X-ish dude who makes jokes about what a dinosaur McClane is and “hacks” for him (this is a huge career break for Long, who should send a Thank You bouquet to Jared the Subway Guy’s agents for asking for too much money for the role). The movie lets you pretty much assume that John McClane doesn’t even have an email account, although (disappointingly) it never really exploits the humor that might be exploited when one of mainstream film’s most famous Luddite characters has to grapple with the Internet. The surprising thing is that Long isn’t bad, despite the fact that he’s forever tainted as breaking through as a corporate spokesman by judgmental Internet critics such as yours truly.
For the record, I would rate this movie “Not Bad…doesn’t totally suck…but not that great, either.” And there are two main reasons for this, and the first has do with all this Internet-ing I alluded to in the previous paragraph. Basically, Live Free or Die Hard treats “The Internet” with all of the sophistication you’ve come to expect from Hollywood movies. It basically assumes you know as much about “The Internet” as your grandmother. “Hackers” just magically “hack” their way into a highly secure “system” by typing really fast on a keyboard connected to an operating system that does not exist in the real world. How do we know that they have powerful computing equipment? Because they have lots of expensive flatscreen monitors around. Since none of us know anything about computers because they’re too complicated, none of us slack-jawed audience members realize that the monitor has nothing whatsoever to do with a computer’s power. And again, luckily, no one that might be in the demographic for a big summer action movie (let’s say ages 13-30) knows anything whatsoever about computers, so when we see the “hackers” typing so fast, we would never in a million years guess they’re coding, and would never catch that none of the screens show a display of the code they’re writing and would presumably need visual reference to. They mainly show video feeds of other characters.
Is it too much to ask that the writers reference an Internet world that actually exists? It might not have been this way in 1995, but in 2007, I think it’s safe to say that a majority of the audience for this film has at least a passing familiarity with computers and the Internet. Could they bother to update the “hacker” stereotype that’s existed since the 80s for something that’s a little more realistic and, I would hazard to guess, a little scarier? Is that too much to ask?
While I’m bitching about hoary old Hollywood clichés, here’s a note I’d like to give Hollywood:
Enough with the high tech op center cutaways!! The op center where a bunch of underlit CIA or FBI guys sit at terminals frantically searching for people via satellite on lots of expensive plasma screens has become the action movie cliché of the decade. It has to stop now.
Which doesn’t lead us to my next point, but I’m going to skip to it anyway: Where’s the Eurotrash bad guy?
The Eurotrash bad guy is easily the most enjoyable standby in the Die Hard movies. “McClane, quintessential working class hero, needs his nemesis needs to be the height of aristocratic decadence.” That’s what one of the most perceptive dissectors of the original Die Hard (myself) wrote on this very site. Most importantly, that’s a brilliant point by a brilliant writer. But almost as important is the point itself: the whole raison d’etre of the Die Hard formula is to give Bruce Willis—a genius at playing the Luddite, working class schlub—a foil for his working class schlub-ness. An effete piece of Eurotrash played by a slumming, brilliant Euro actor is the perfect counterpoint to Willis in his signature role. The first Die Hard had the incomparable Alan Rickman. The second had some guy playing a Russian that I’ve forgotten and refuse to look up—hey, that was a big reason why Die Hard 2 sucked. The third one had Jeremy fucking Irons playing Alan Rickman’s brother. Awesome.
Live Free or Die Hard has Timothy Olyphant, best known as the upright Sheriff Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood. It’s nice to see Olyphant getting work, but hard to imagine a worse casting call for a Die Hard villain. The entire philosophy behind casting Olyphant in anything is that he’s the most ramrod straight, white bread American guy around…the exact opposite of the prototype Die Hard villain. Now, maybe the filmmakers thought they needed to change things up and avoid Die Hard clichés. They would be wrong. I’ll never tire of Eurotrash villains, provided they’re played by “prestigious” actors who are slumming it. You no more want to change that formula then you want to make McClane have evolved between movies into a touchy-feely, New Age-y guy. Why did they go with Olyphant? Was Ralph Fiennes too busy slumming it in Harry Potter? Wasn’t there at least some leftover Laurence Olivier CGI from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow lying around?
So there you have it. See Live Free or Die Hard if you’re bored and want to get out of your non-air conditioned apartment for a few hours. But see Sicko, Rescue Dawn, or Transformers first.
P.S.- John McClane’s daughter shows up in this movie. She’s given nothing to do, and doesn’t warrant further mention.
P.P.S. – While writing this, I noticed the similarity between Die Hard and Die Hard: With a Vengeance director John McTiernan’s name with John McClane. Doesn’t that seem kind of a weird coincidence? Or do you think McTiernan had the name changed so he could feel like a badass?