Die Hard 4.0 film review: Bruce Willis’s noggin – the golden egg of contemporary action cinema
Yippee Ki Yay! Bruce Willis is back in his career defining role as Detective John McClane. Grizzled, grumpy, borderline masochistic and now moving through the meaty phase of middle age, McClane is a hard-edged, hard-love, hard-nosed, hard-boiled screen hero whose one superpower is his unrelenting obstinacy – he dies the hardest. Too bald? Too old? Too frazzled? Bruce Willis’s face reads: no way, punk. Once McClane is back up there on the big screen, staring down the wimps in the audience, sceptics will be converted, naysayers muzzled. The passing of time may have weathered his brow and crinkled a few ligaments, but that simply means there is more for McClane to get cross about.
This is very good news for the dot.com generation, because nowadays veteran action heroes are incredibly rare – like four leaf clovers in a nuclear fallout. Schwarzenegger is in office, Van Damme is punching out direct-to-DVD flapdoodle, Chuck Norris is an amalgamation of punch lines, Seagall is praying in a forest somewhere and Stallone took a beating in Rocky Balboa. All that’s left is Bruce Willis and his bald, bleeding, bludgeoned scalp – the golden egg of contemporary action cinema. Die Hard 4.0 (known in the U.S. as Live Free or Die Hard) takes full advantage of the Willis factor as it gloriously espouses the principals of action movie excess. Director Len Wiseman mingles an edgy, gritty, metallic texture not unlike the look of his Underworld movies. That comparison triggers an intriguing hypothetical: who would win in a fight-to-the-death between Kate Beckinsale (as Seline, vampire warrior extraordinaire) and Bruce Willis (as John McClane)? After watching Willis use absolutely everything at his disposal in Die Hard 4 – including an awesome assortment of high-powered vehicles – it seems likely the face-off would culminate with him reversing a semi-trailer stuffed full of kegs of UV light onto Beckinsale’s head while grumbling about the clutch and how heroism isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
A spate of assassinations are ridding America of its best computer hackers – the delete button takes on new resonance as their lives plummet into the recycle bin. Meanwhile, online infiltrators are jeapardising U.S. national security. McClane goes to the apartment of young smartass hacker (is there another kind?) Matt (Justin Long) to bring him in for questioning, but they get hit with a torrent of gun-fire and chased by darkly clad baddies with big guns and foreign accents. They’re henchmen of nefarious tech-head Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) who is unleashing what seems to be a plague of grandiose pranks (toying with traffic lights, inciting stock market hysteria etc.) but is in fact part of an evil genius plan to siphon billions from the economy and ascend himself to super-villain status. Matt believes he’s performing a “fire sell,” which according to cyber camp fire legend is the worst kind of electronic terrorism. It’s called a fire sell because everything must go: national security, the economy, the White House. Thus in the tradition of buddy cop movie odd couples a computer nerd teams with an atavistic action cop (who probably hasn’t figured out where the @ button is) to create the ultimate wham-bam anti-virus package.
The first two Die Hard movies were mostly confined to a single setting (a skyscraper and an airport) but the third and fourth instalments explore an endlessly spatial America and restlessly move their characters from location to location, set piece to set piece, vehicle to vehicle, explosion to explosion. Wiseman cranks the dial to eleven but avoids the self-conscious pratfalls of a kitsch action flick like XXX. His gritty and bleached aesthetics nicely offset the absurdity of his action sequences and create a visceral energy that feels like cartoon but looks like real life. The pace is unrelenting and the choreography suitably insane: in one small moment of ingenuity McClane swerves into a fire hydrant, unleashing a vertical stream of water that shoots into the air and with scalpel precision knocks a thug out of his helicopter. When McClane later takes that same helicopter down using only a fast moving car he remarks simply that he “ran out of bullets,” a line that paves the way to a ludicrous appreciation of vehicles as weapons themselves. If the Transformers found their way into Die Hard 4.0, McClane would use them up like ammo clips; forget all that crap about Autobots protecting defenseless little humans.
Bruce Willis is a fine ambassador for the portfolio of True Grit. Twenty years (Die Hard was released in 1988) hasn’t at all cooled his sizzle, and wisely the Die Hard 4 script doesn’t use the aging of his character as a defining story concept (like Rocky Balboa). Justin Long is appealing as his co-star, and while their opposites-jar chemistry is familiar it helps to create neat contrasts: youth vs. age, retro vs. modern, extraverted vs. introverted, gut versus gadgets. Through Long’s character John McClane is exemplified as a hero from a different era, a refugee of the Rambo ilk. His battle arena is a topsy-turvy modern culture – the youth of today link “Trojan Horse” not to Greek history but to a computer virus. In a world where a few clicks on a computer can do more damage than a thousand blood-thirsty soldiers, McClane is that ancient warrior ready to die by his sword – or to push one into his stomach and out the other side simply to maim the bad guy standing behind him. Wiseman’s pace is suitably high-octane – there isn’t a dead minute it – but carefully measured. A significant surprise is writer Mark Brambrock’s underlining socio-political relevance, in the form of a compelling commentary on post 9/11 angst. Die Hard 4.0 is a pulse-pounding sequel that leaves most action movies for dead and gives thrill-seekers plenty to whoop about. It also works as an allegory; not that a guy like John McClane is likely to wax philosophical. He’s more likely to wax his scalp. That bald, bleeding, bludgeoned, wonderful scalp.
Die Hard 4.0′s Australian theatrical release date: August 9, 2007
Transformers film review: MICHAEL BAY and the Transformers are Less Than Meets the Eye – loud, bombastic and all shades of “wow mumma!”