Thursday, 12 July 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard)

“Yippee Kai Hey Mother F(Gunshot)ker!”

I read somewhere that whereas Die Hard 2 felt very much like a direct sequel to the original Die Hard, Die Hard 4.0 feels like a direct sequel to With A Vengeance. I couldn't agree more, even if there is a 12 year gap in between them, it still feels like a Die Hard film.

The character of John McClane has naturally progressed from WAV into 4.0. Maybe it was on purpose by the writers or the fact that the lower rating required it, but to me it just feels like the character has aged realistically (I know it's an action film, and character development might not be at the forefront, but the John McClane character is core to the success of this movie). In WAV McClane was verging on being an alcoholic, smoking 50 a day, hung over and pissed off, etc. It makes perfect sense that in the last twelve year, he's sobered up, he's stopped smoking, he's cleaned up his act, and yeah he doesn't swear as much, but he's now 52, he's no longer the cocky 30-something year old from the first 2 films or the grumpy alcoholic from the third. I think this is one of the things the film gets most right (and of course Mr. Willis), this is still John McClane, the same guy you remember, but he's matured and at different stage in his life. In the first film it was all new to McClane, so he was genuinely shocked and surprised and more expressive at the crazy shit unfolding around him. But after 20 years and 3 sets of adventures, he's a little more sub-dued to the fact people are trying to kill him "Wrong place, wrong time (again)". Again whether this was intentional on the part of writer or director is questionable, but it worked for me. I don't need him smoking and f-ing to enjoy the film as long as the film itself is good.

And it is! I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to end. No, it's no where near as good as the first, but it was never going to be. It is just about on par with the two sequels (but we’ll see how well it stands after multiple viewings), and definitely one of the best films to come out of this current crop of summer blockbusters (yeah I know that's not hard).

Now on to the specifics – what did I like?

The action sequences! Absolutely loved all of them, all of them are very well executed and edited. Each time director Len Wiseman ups the anti and tries to outdo the previous one, which I love, as then the climatic action sequence is actually the biggest. I don’t know why but a lot of recent blockbusters seem to put the most expensive sequences in the middle of the film, leaving the ending somewhat of let down.

Not so here.

The opening shoot-out in “The Kids” apartment, is complete with crawling on the floor whilst debris and gunfire erupts around them, blindly shooting around walls, never-ending amounts of clips to reload, it felt like a good old action shoot-out (akin to Lethal Weapon and guess what… Die Hard!) the sort of thing you and your mates use to re-enact around the house whilst your parents were out.

Then you can almost hear Wiseman shout “Okay, now I’m going to add a helicopter, speeding cars, blacked out tunnels and a pissed John McClane.”
This formula keeps building until by the end of the film, you’ve got 16 wheeler trucks facing off against Fighter jets with chunks of bypass exploding and smashing to the ground. Even though this was the most outlandish and cartoony of the action sequences, I still dug it. (Gravity can take a back-seat for 5 minutes).

The fight sequence between McClane and the sexy kung-fu chick Mai (Maggie Q) is pretty brutal. I mean they seriously kick the shit out of each other, no holds barred to the point where I was thinking, “Am I really cheering for a guy to beat the crap out of a girl?” Again, it is more comic-book violence than gritty realism and makes it easier to digest.

Considering the fuss the lower rating got, I think it mostly affects the language compared to the violence. Yeah, so you don’t always get huge splats of blood everywhere when people get shot, but a fair share of henchmen still get taken down (some very creatively), probably twice as many as in any of the other films. “Hey kids you’re not allowed to hear the word fuck, but you can watch as a man gets shot and falls through a fan grinding him into pieces.”

The thing that I was most worried about going into the film was the inclusion of giving McClane a wisecracking cyber geek sidekick. Yeah, it sort of worked in the third film, but that was Samuel Jackson! That man could hold is own against Willis and the partnership was very much equal.

Here we have Matt Farrell (Justin Long), and to be honest he fits into the movie fine. I didn’t mind his inclusion, and I was surprised at how many of his lines made me smile. He plays an integral part of story and without him, I don’t see how the story could have worked.

Then we have Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who isn’t necessarily needed, but it allows the stakes to become that little more personal to McClane. She does a decent job, and I fully believed she could be McClane’s daughter.

So what didn’t I like –

Well the thing that annoyed me the most, (but to be honest I can live with) is probably the audio dubbing of the film. Some times, it’s a little off, you can tell some of the dialogue has been changed in the editing department. Again I presume this was done for the child friendly rating, it’s just a little off putting when it’s blatantly obvious what you’re hearing isn’t what the actor on screen is saying.

That considered though, I thought the catch line “Yippe Kai Yay Mother Fucker!” was used fairly imaginatively and I didn’t mind that it was censored by the gun shot. It works in the context of the film.

The main baddie? Played by Timothy Olyphant, yeah I got to say I’m a little disappointed. He’s a fairly two-dimensional villain and for the majority of film just tries to stare scarily into the camera. He’s got a few lines that are kinda witty, but apart from that he doesn’t stand up to the Grueber brother’s from one and three.

The whole John McClane can fly a helicopter thing? That was a little crap and I wasn’t feeling it, but hey, it moved the plot forward.

Despite a few flaws, I still thoroughly enjoyed this film and there is loads of other little bits I wish I had time to write about. In a summer where every big movie sequel has been just "ok" this is the first to actually be "very good."