Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Rating: B

Dir: Len Wiseman
Star: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q

Despite Vengeance becoming the biggest financial draw of the series to this point, it took a dozen years before Willis was ready to strap on the vest again. He made a number of comments at the time of release playing down #2 and #3, and saying this was the “true” successor to the original. I’m not quite sure why he took that approach: while offering solid entertainment, there’s nothing particularly special about this to substantiate his claim. Instead, it’s very much business as usual with McClane (Willis) taking on a bunch of terrorists – in this case, techno-criminals led by Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant), a former consultant turned black-hat hacker. Not exactly being John’s field of expertise, it’s fortunate he has the help of another hacker, Matt Farrell (Long). He’s a kid, unwittingly part of the plan, whom McClane rescues from Gabriel’s efforts to tie up with extreme prejudice, the loose end Matt represents.

His skills allow McClane to keep up with Gabriel, who aims to hack and take over the infrastructure of the entire US, in order to loot the financial system of countless billions. Films with a tech-based high concept like this are always risky, because it’s easy for them to date quickly and badly. That isn’t the case here: precious little has changed in a decade about the basic idea, with concerns still valid about the vulnerability of crucial systems to outside attackers. Earlier this year, Ukraine was hit by something not totally dissimilar to the movie’s “firesale”, with the national bank, main power company and largest airport among the simultaneous victims. It could certainly happen here.

Bonus points for Maggie Q, as about the only significant woman character in the series since Mrs. McClane, as Gabriel’s lover and main sidekick. Though McClane is unimpressed, as only he can be. After disposing of her, he taunts the villain by suggesting Gabriel call “1-800-HENCHMEN” and ask, “Can I get another dead Asian hooker bitch over here right away?” Ouch. If Olyphant is a bit bland – he’s no Irons or Rickman – the solid plot and generally decent supporting cast help: Long (weird sidenote: he looks a bit like the guy who sits next to me at work!)┬áisn’t as irritating as movie hackers can be, and grew on me over the course of proceedings.

The film certainly benefits from Wiseman’s fondness for practical effects, even if the merging of them with the characters is occasionally a little wobbly. At the time, the director had only helmed the first two films in the Underworld series, though fortunately we were spared the sight of Willis in a PVC catsuit. Still, can’t complain about either the scene where McClane fires a car into a helicopter (top), or faces off against an F-35B attack fighter in a 16-wheeler. Both offer the kind of certifiable insanity which large-budget action films are all about, and barely appear at all constrained by the film’s PG-13 rating. About the only loss there is McLane’s trademark line, which is now apparently addressed just to his Mom, if you know what I mean. I can live (free) with that.