January 19th, 2010
On name alone, ‘Live Free or Die Hard‘ had me excited for another Die Hard sequel, in fact I’d probably have bought into Die Hard 4.0 a little more if they’d stuck with the coolness of the original name. However, they did not (outside of America) and in turn I didn’t really enjoy Die Hard 4.0 either. I guess, I didn’t enjoy Die Hard 4.0 for the simple reason that it was only a “great” movie and not an astoundingly brilliant one. So colour the following criticism as rather harsh then.
Die Hard kinda switched off my radar after a friend explained that the, at time, new movie was a soft-cock iteration of the John McLane legacy. Looking at the American ratings system though, I’m a little confused by all the drama. According to my imported copy of The Ultimate Matrix Collection, all three movies were given an ‘R’ classification rating and yet the equally violent Die Hard 4.0 was given a PG-13 rating in the states. How this makes sense, I do not know.
The problem with John McLane’s resurrection has less to do with a lack of yippee ki-ays and soft-cock action and more to do with lame special effects and an under-realised narrative. The former we can get out the way fairly quickly: McLance, handling a semitrailer, takes on a jet firing missiles under a series of computer-generated concrete highways and manages to end up the victor. The entire scene is as ridiculous as it is fake and unengaging. This coming from a crew which is proud of the realism of their action sequences. Without exaggeration, the scene was disingenuousness and made me feel sleepy.
The majority of the action sequences are actually quite good, most notably when a car is launched into a helicopter (McLane “was out of bullets”). The premise to this sequence masterfully makes use of the technology-savvy villains who redirect traffic into both sides of a tunnel, wait for McLane to reverse (attempting to trap him with a luring chopper waiting for him on the other side) and then proceed to switch off the tunnel’s lights for ensuing mayhem. Such cleverness rekindles the shock of the “I hate niggers” sequence from Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
The narrative is ultimately what soured me over on what is an admittedly good Die Hard flick. The premise is that a group of youngish cyber hackers have taken over Washington, D.C. , starting a firesale: a three step process of disarming control of a country. The group first begin by closing down the transportation system, then they destroy communications and lastly they shut off utilities. This concept sets up two interesting dynamics for the narrative. Firstly it allows for some clever confrontations as McLane works on the ground and the cyber criminals attempt to stop him through indirect measures. Unfortunately, unlike Die Hard: With a Vengeance which mostly delivered on its core premise, Die Hard 4.0 concocts very few battles which utilise the villain’s unique form of control. As such, the primary action sequences wouldn’t be out of place in a lesser action movie, there’s no defining ingenuity to raise Die Hard 4.0 above convention.
Besides the car-chopper and semi-trailer-army-jet scenes, the other two action sequences which constitute Die Hard 4.0 feel very familiar. The first bit of action in the movie, an escape from I’m-like-a-son-to-you-Mc-Lane Matt Farrell’s apartment, is typically Seagal, particularly shooting a fire extinguisher. McLane later faces off against Mai, an archetypal ninja women—represented by the Asian-ness of Maggie Q as Mai, in an industrial setting. Mai’s unwillingness to die (Mai is roughed around, hit with a car and falls down an elevator shaft, yet continues to get back up) and the insane lengths that McLane goes to kill her is reminiscent of Terminator 3. One character plays the action movie trope, the other, a slender, unstoppable force. The blue hue of the set and overall industrial aesthetic further adds to the likeness to T3.
The second dynamic created by the firesale concept is the underlying theme of “an analog cop in a digital world”. McLane’s an old hat, a white cop who wears his battles on his bloodied body. He continues to embody the characteristics of his 1980s/1990s persona. In many ways, McLane’s lost in this world, an outdated stereotype in a more sophisticated kind of action movie. The narrative interesting explores this side of the legacy and it actually makes John McLane the most dislikable character in the entire film. McLane comes off as arrogant, narrow-minded and uncooperative. He’s also clueless when it comes to dealing with the smarmy cyber terrorists and takes a brute force approach to taking them down. In a sense, he’s the butt of a joke which only the viewers are in on. I wouldn’t consider McLane a detriment to the movie (after all, it is his movie), because I think that his juxtaposition with the other characters says a great deal about social and cinematic changes in the over the past 20 years. Here are a handful of possible interpretations:
- The cultural maturing which has occurred since the original Die Hard movie. What use to make McLane cool is now interpreted as socially unacceptable and/or juvenile
- A change in the genre, whereby unrealistic action thickheads from the 1980s are no longer the standout features of these movies
- McLane represents the values of the past clashing with the realities of the future
- A change in cultural and gender sensitivity where McLane’s comments regarding Mai are seen as racist and misogynist
- McLane is a metaphor for fathers/older males who are out of touch with technology and possibly their children too
- On the flipside, Die Hard 4.0 is obviously commenting on our reliance on digital technology
The villains, a bunch of computer-hacking university graduates, are lead by the nefarious Thomas Gabriel, who in his role struggles to show villainy. Gabriel was formerly a programmer for the government who was fired from his position after finding a large security hole in the networking system and, typically for computer types, being pedantic about the issue to the point that he was sacked for his annoyance. Gabriel is therefore taking revenge the only way he knows how, by exploiting the security hole, in turn further proving his profound ability to annoy people in power. Timothy Olyphant is a little too young for his role and frankly an unappealing antagonist who seems to get angry at McLance just for anger’s sake.
There’s a whole bunch of essential information which the movie tries to make a point of (McLane’s wizz kid, side kick) which I haven’t mentioned because it’s obvious and laboured. Otherwise, Die Hard 4.0 is a good installment of the Die Hard series which I can’t bear to like for its failure to pull original action sequences from a premise which could offer many, McLane’s role as an awkward fit and the generous use of computer graphics in that one particular scene.