Take a sip every time Bruce Willis calls Justin Long “kid,” take 2 sips every time Bruce Willis is befuddled by technology or computer babble, take a shot every time an unprecedented hacker has an intuitive, professionally designed interface, as if penetrating government networks had the user experience of Microsoft Office. Play along and you probably won’t remember the only real vestige of the PG-13 rating, the cut-off “yippie-ki-yay motherf***er” in the last 3 minutes!
More seriously, Die Hard 1 is one of the most perfect and creative action movies ever made. Die Hard 4 does basically none of the things that made the original so amazing, and in fact is so different from the original, there’s no reason it even had to be in the franchise. (Rename Willis’s character, drop the familiar catchphrases and I’m not sure a single person would mistake it as a Die Hard.)
That’s not to say this is a bad movie, though. Not at all, in fact: it is a delightful action romp with inventive and escalating set pieces. Sure, John McClane is a Superman. But Willis has amazing chemistry with Justin Long, who remarkably holds his own in screen presence. And the script is not quite as stupid or inane as you might fear. It has some thoughts about our over-reliance on technology, even if it’s too preoccupied with motorcycles crashing into helicopters to dig into them too much.
The plot continues the series’ escalating stakes: from a single skyscraper, to an airport, to a city, to now a whole nation. Some evil hackers led by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) are trying to take down the entire country’s infrastructure. Not if John McClane has anything to say about it; the only problem is that McClane needs the help of the only computer nerd who can save the day: Matt Farrell (Justin Long).
Also in the mix is McClane’s daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Winstead holds her own in terms of screen presence and physicality, and every time I watch this, I wonder if she should be the heir to Willis in the Die Hard universe. I certainly would watch, and not just because she’s eye-poppingly beautiful and was one of my celebrity crushes in college. (Not just because.)
The movie’s structure and pace is slick clockwork, building tension and energy at all the right moments. The third act is white-knuckle adrenaline but never sacrifices the human core of John McClane as Dad that is so rich and well-executed that it legitimately raises the tension.
It’s not high art, not the kind of film that reshapes a genre like Part 1, but no part of me feels that Die Hard 4 is a disappointment. It’s just a blast of a blockbuster.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100