It has been a summer of disappointing sequels. Spider-Man 3 was not up to par with the first two. Shrek the Third also did not measure up in quality to the previous two movies in that franchise. It seems that the rule of diminishing returns that holds true with sequels had finally been enforced when it came to those two otherwise stellar series. Despite the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Ocean's Thirteen delivered the goods, and that its trailers looked very good, I must admit I went in to see Live Free or Die Hard with some concern for its quality.
I need not have been worried, as it turns out that Live Free or Die Hard is easily the best movie since the original Die Hard (which was released all the way back in 1988--where does the time go?!). The plot of this movie takes the original's premise (which, for those who have never seen it or forgotten it somehow, involved the seizure of a skyscraper by terrorists) and places it on a national scale. To give you an idea, the movie is based on the article "Farewell to Arms" by John Carlin, which appeared in the May 1997 issue of Wired. In the article Carlin posits an attack on the United States through its information technology (which runs nearly everything today). On the surface this might not sound like it would make for a particularly exciting action movie, but it actually does. Live Free or Die Hard contains some truly spectacular action scenes, including one in which John McClane (played by Bruce Willis, who else?) faces down a fighter jet while driving a semi truck. There are also some great fight scenes, particularly between McClaine and the deadly Mai Lihn (played by Maggie Q, whom folks might remember from Mission: Impossible III). As might be expected of a Die Hard movie, John McClane takes an outright beating well before the movie is halfway over, but goes right on ticking like a Timex watch.
One doesn't often think of performances when it comes to action movies, but Live Free or Die Hard actually has some fairly good acting. Often after playing a part so many times actors tend to sleepwalk through performances, but Bruce Willis still breathes life into McClane, delivering his exchanges with the villain with the same conviction as he did in the first movie. Timothy Olyphant (whom some of you may remember as Seth Bullock in Deadwood) makes an excellent villain as Thomas Gabriel, the man who essentially holds the whole country hostage. Two welcome additions are Justin Long and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Long plays hacker Matt Farrell, who has the misfortune to find himself McClane's sidekick throughout the movie. Long convincingly plays a relatively ordinary person who is sometimes dumbfoudned by not only the sort of mayhem that McClane attracts, but the actions of McClane himself. Winstead plays McClane's daughter Lucy, who is every bit her father's daughter. No mere damsel in distress, she actually gets some blows in on the villains herself. Director Kevin Smith (who, when it comes to acting, is probably best known as Silent Bob in many of his own movies) does a humourous turn as Warlock, a hacker who seemingly never leaves his basement.
Live Free or Die Hard is essentially a thrill ride, where the thrills come almost nonstop. In some respects it is also a throwback to the action movies of the late Eighties and early Nineties, movies in which the heroes as often engaged the villains in a battle of words as they did battles involving bullets. As such Live Free or Die Hard is a fun movie, the kind that I feared they might have stopped making long ago.