Twitter Plot Summary: John McClane is back for a fourth outing, this time being an analogue piece in a digital world.
Five Point Summary:
1. Older, more grizzled, more sanitised John McClane!
2. Taking out a helicopter with a car? Normal day at the office for McClane.
3. Is Tim Russ ever anybody else besides Tuvok?
4. CGI jet. So this is what has become of the Die Hard franchise.
5. No ‘F’ bomb. Actually, that is what’s become of it.
Late arrivals in previously complete franchises have recently become all the rage. Die Hard 4 (or Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free and Die Hard) arrived 12 years after the previous film in the series and it’s sadly clear from the start that the movie business has moved on quite substantially between 1995 and 2007. In context Die Hard 4 isn’t actually too bad an action film, arriving at a time where the third entries in the Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man and Shrek franchises tickled the top 10 and the likes of 300 and Transformers were redefining the action genre. The plot of Die Hard 4 is therefore almost completely appropriate when taking this into consideration.
John McClane (Willis) is now an older police detective, but you can tell he’s still hard as nails because he’s chosen to shave off all his hair. After a brief reintroduction to his daughter Lucy (Winstead), McClane is asked to pick up a computer hacker (Long), who it turns out is a small cog in a much bigger scheme. And thus they head out on the road in order to prevent the scheme from going through, accompanied by explosions and fights aplenty.
Die Hard 4 continues with the formula of buddying John McClane with somebody inappropriate, in this case Justin Long’s computer nerd/hacker. McClane has always been portrayed as a bit of an analogue creation, so pitting him against a technological threat is a good idea on paper, and mostly in practice also. The point is laboured a little too much, but then this is tempered by something else blowing up, which is a fair trade-off.
In many ways Die Hard 4 retreads previous territory. Lucy is a surrogate for ex-wife Holly (even going so far as to use Gennaro instead of McClane as her surname), and Justin Long’s hacker Matt is a poor stand-in for Samuel L Jackson. It also doesn’t help that the villain Thomas Gabriel, played like a modern version of Timothy Olyphant’s own sheriff Seth Bullock from Deadwood – minus the moustache – is inherently impotent in terms of pure villainy. The scheme itself is an entertaining notion, with Olyphant and his team of computer experts planning on stealing a lot of money and then crashing the system shortly afterwards. This works in the context of pitting McClane against a problem he doesn’t quite understand, but Gabriel is not the most entertaining of Die Hard villains and at this point in the franchise is definitely the least impressive of them all.
Disappointingly there is an excessive amount of CGI used to varying effect, and the initial theatrical release even went as far as sanitising McClane’s hard swearing. The DVD/Blu-Ray release manages to fix this to an extent, but it’s a poor state of affairs when the Die Hard franchise tries pandering to a general audience rather than sticking to its guns (no pun intended) and being violent and sweary. In its favour is that the explosions are the biggest the franchise has seen to date, and almost make up for the abomination that is the CGI fighter jet.
Still, it remains entertaining and the action on the whole is nicely choreographed. McClane has to deal with at least two enemies who are either well versed in the art of parkour, or are kung fu experts in the form of Maggie Q. Whilst Gabriel may not have the same level of physical impact as these two, he at least has the brains to steer clear from a physical confrontation. Bearing in mind this is the director that gave us the video game visuals of the first two Underworld films, we should perhaps be grateful that it didn’t end up being any worse.