Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 4 (2007)

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard. As such, the fourth film on the list is obviously Live Free or Die Hard. The film has a rocky history and a rocky reputation, but I agree with most of Brandon's points below (my original review from 2007).  About that jet scene?  Here's a tip: Just skip it.  Hit the DVD skip button once and the film still flows 100% and works a good 10% better overall.  I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Live Free Or Die Hard
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olymphant(astic), Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith, Cliff Curtis
Rated PG-13 (more appropriately R-13)

What, like you a big fan of the Fett?

No, I was always more a Star Wars guy.

                        ~WAR10CK to McClane

It took twelve years for John McClane to return to the theaters around the world.  The franchise seemed a tad like it was complete.  No, With A Vengeance didn't spell out an end, but it just felt satisfactory and I think everyone kind of assumed it was the last hurrah.  Now, that didn't stop murmurs of a Die Hard 4 from popping up every so often.  Following the opening of Armageddon in 1998 came the first wind.  Willis and Armageddon co-star Ben Affleck were going to team up for it.  Affleck would play McClane’s son Jack and the film would take a minimalist “no weapons” approach taking place in the jungle. This never panned out.  Throughout the years the rumors would be there and most of them somehow including a Lucy McClane rescue.  Maybe inspired by Stallone’s revisiting of Rocky Balboa, Fox and Willis were motivated to finally get this off the ground.

Director John McTiernan would have been ideal to take the helm, but he was caught up in some big time legal troubles.  Brought up to the plate was director Len Wiseman, who had only helmed two Underworld films prior.  How'd they do?  Live Free Or Die Hard turns out to be quite a fun film, while not living up to McTiernan’s standards, but seeming to make a picture matters more than Harlan’s.  The film takes a step forward in the “going bigger” territory from the last film by making this a national crisis and giving McClane a situation that takes longer (about a day and a half) and has a bigger playground (four cities). 

A lot of the action pieces in the film feel like a bunch of “Die Hard on a…” situations group together to get from place to place.  There’s some absolutely thrilling and fun pure Die Hard stuff going on at times in this film.  I absolutely love the battle in Matthew Farrell’s apartment.  It’s an exciting, intense escape with McClane having to be incredibly quick on his feet.  Another fun situation pits them in a darkened hellacious traffic tunnel with cars going full speed at each other.  While not perfect, this film is rather good at keeping you on your toes.

Bruce Willis seems to be having a lot of fun with this one.  McClane is backed, it appears he’s cleaned up since we’ve last spent a day with him.  However, he’s divorced and he’s struggling to connect and garner interest in a relationship from his children.  In a nice call back to the original, Lucy is going by her mother’s maiden name of Genarro (another call back I like is FBI agent Johnson).  John’s still a man refusing to adapt to modern technologies as we were told in the second film.  While that’s acknowledged if you’re paying attention, there’s still no real recognition of any sequels.  You could honestly watch this after the first Die Hard or go 1-2-4 or 1-3-4 so far with this series.  I don't think its that they don’t want to recognize the sequels, its just maybe that its inconsequential to the current episode. 

There is a great moment in this film where John discusses with Farrell what it means to be a “hero”.  It’s a great speech and a wonderful summation of McClane and of the 80’s-90’s action hero in general.  Its bits like this and the fun ride we’re taken on that makes me appreciate this film more than most internet trolls.  There’s complaints that John is too much of a Superman in this film and not the “common man”.  I argue he’s still got that average thing going for him.  And yes, he survives his biggest beatings of the series and is at a much older age.  However, I feel in this film, since its so far removed from the original three tells the story of John McClane as a legend.  Whereas the first three were being there and seeing the events unfold in the present time, Live Free’s John McClane is a product of a man growing through years of stories being told, exaggerated and building a mythology to a man.  In this regard, I fully accept what John McClane has become in this film. I don’t think its too hard to see or enjoy.  These films get bigger each time, and John suffers more and more.  We started with glass in the feet and have worked our way to getting knocked over by cars and falling off ledges.  That said, let me get to this jumping off a jet fighter, free way being destroyed mumbo jumbo.  It’s a bad moment.  The whole thing.  It’s a scene that isn't just a bad thing in a Die Hard movie, it would have been a bad scene in any action movie.  Luckily, its not the end of the film and there’s more to come.

The rest of the cast rounds out just fine.  Justin Long as Matthew Farrell provides yet another new angle for McClane to partner.  While his and Willis chemistry is a far cry from Samuel L. Jackson’s, its not trying to be and I thank them for it.  Long’s character brings about a few very funny moments (I love the OnStar scene).  Timothy Olyphant is merely serviceable/good as the villain.  As a big fan of Olyphant, I was definitely wanting more for him.  It feels as if he was keeping himself on a leash, fearing that he might sink to camp territory with a wrong move.  Instead trying to play everything to smart and too clean.  He does bring about some menace and threat, but always feels a little too far to be too dangerous (a script fault likely, not his).  Maggie Q is the real scene stealer here.  She may just be my favorite hench person in the series.  I really like the fight/elevator shaft sequence in the middle of the film.  She’s smart, competent and super kick ass.  And she’s given absolutely no special treatment because she’s a girl.  In a way, we feel she may just be just as equal to Olyphant’s Gabriel.  Rounding out, we get Lucy McClane and Winstead manages to to give us a convincing performance to believe she’s truly a Genarro-McClane.

Now, this Die Hard got a lot of crap for getting the moneygrabbing PG-13 rating, making people have their minds made up that they didn’t like it before they even purchased their tickets.  I think an appropriate rating for this would be R-13.  As it stands, the PG-13 rating is as gory/violent as any of the previous films in this series, if not moreso.  Its almost a joke that this cut is PG-13.  I think having to do quicker cuts away from some scenes make the violence/implied violence much worse than anything that could have been shown.  I also thought the “Yippie-Ki-Yay” moment in the film was actually cleverly done.  When getting released on DVD, the uncut version was dropped.  Did it “fix” what people wanted?  I dunno.  All that appears in the uncut version are bunch of “fucks”, a couple lingering shots and some extra CG blood at a couple spots.  Really, it doesn’t do a whole lot for it.  I could care less whether somebody is saying the word “fuck” or swearing more.  Doesn’t do much for me.  But if that’s your fancy, I guess its there for you.  I prefer the PG-13 cut.  Sue me.

I really think this is a fun film, while maybe stretching the series to some bigger heights than weave come to expect.  There’s one big moment that really doesn't work, but I can shrug it off.  I feel like everywhere I read, there’s an incessant hate for this film.  However, looking through the internet, I've seen quite the opposite in the general arena.  Metacritic gives it a 69, Rotten Tomatoes 81% (critic) and 86% (audience), and a 7.3 on IMDB (higher than 2 and just below 3).  So, it must be that those who hate this movie are just a bit more vocal about it.  I really like it.  Is it he best in the series? No.  Is it a fun time, that thrills me and keeps good with the character I've loved through 3 films now?  Hell yeah!  Its Die Hard.  Every film so far has taken the scale up a notch every step of the way.  This one is no different.  Sometimes as a franchise takes time off, and the originals are allowed to grow to a thing of legend, any new follow up is held up to this absurdly high standard that the series’ sequels were never held up at to begin with.  I applaud Len Wisemen for making a fun film, not succumbing to overly Greengrass Bourne action, and keeping things practical with as much physical effects and stunt work he could cram into it.

Next Up:  Ranking DIE HARD

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