In 1988 a little movie came out which would change the course of how movies were made. Actually, it wasn't any kind of movie, but action movies to be exact. It also introduced a new character to the movie landscape. The character was NYPD detective John McClane and the movie he was part of was Die Hard. This movie redefined the action movie and the action movie hero for a whole generation of film fans with it's tense and nonstop action in conjunction with an everyman hero-type who wasn't indestructible and who showed every cut, gash, bruise and damage he went through to try and save the day. The movie became a sensation and launched the career of one Mr. Bruce Willis. It was followed up by two more sequels (one great and the other one not-so great) over the years with the last one coming out in 1995. It is now 2007 and a dozen years has passed. 20th Century Fox has gone back to the well and came out with a third sequel titled Live Free or Die Hard (to be called Die Hard 4.0 overseas). This third sequel has a new director in Len Wiseman (of Underworld and Underworld: Evolution fame) with Bruce Willis reprising his role as the wisecracking NYPD detective John McClane. This third sequel has turned out better than I expected and I can honestly say it's way better than Die Hard with a Vengeance and on equal footing with the first two in the series.
The movie begins with the premise of cyber-terrorists with the help of a group of unsuspecting hackers beginning the early stages of an attack on the U.S. National infrastructure. Using a script based on the Wired magazine article, A Farewell to Arms, Len Wiseman and crew do a great job of quickly establishing the main danger that's to face John McClane and the young hacker Matthew Farrell (played by Justin Long in the comedic sidekick role) throughout the length of the movie. The bad guys this time around revolve around one Thomas Gabriel (played by Deadwood's Timothy Olyphant) and his gang of hired mercenaries and cyber-terrorists. He plans to shutdown the entire United States through its infracstructure, financial centers, utilities and pretty much everything that's tied into the millions upon millions of computer systems which now run the entirety of the nation. Gabriel's motives looks to be one born out of revenge and the need to show that he was right, but this being a Die Hard movie there's always a hidden agenda that would be brought to light to signal the final reel of the film. Accompanying Gabriel is one Mai Lihn (played by the very sexy Maggie Q) who ends up giving John McClane more than he can handle in one of the many action sequences throughout the movie.
The way Gabriel and his men attacks the national computer systems running everything in the United States looked very convincing. Whether it was gaining access and disrupting the traffic controls for both roads and airspace to systematically amping up the level of attacks both real and fake was enough to convince this viewer that this so-called virtual "firesale" on a nation's computer infrastructure is definitely plausible. And throughout all the many catastrophes caused by Gabriel and his men John McClane with hacker Farrell in tow must navigate through not just the hired mercenaries hired to be the muscle of the operation, but through the chaos created by Gabriel's cyber-attacks.
John McClane has aged quite a bit since we last saw him trying to stop another group of "terrorists" from blowing up half of New York a little over a dozen years past. He has more than a little bit less hair and looks quite worn out and old. But for some reason he's once again in the wrong place at the wrong time and with no one else there to help him stop what's going on other than a geeky and unathletic hacker at his side, McClane really had to raise the heroism to levels not really seen in the previous three installments in the franchise. He gets more than his fair share of being shot at, blown up and beat to an inch of his life by acrobatic French assassins and martial-arts expert femme fatales. McClane gets bounced around and it shows, but he's like the Energizer Bunny who keeps on ticking no matter whats thrown at him. This time around what he's lost through the march of time and the creeping of old age he has gained through hard-fought knowledge. He's been around this block more than a few times and he seems to have learned enough to keep him and his charge alive.
The work by Len Wiseman really shows that he knows how to shoot action scenes. He's no John McTiernan, but Wiseman seem to have seen enough of the movies in the franchise to know that Michael Bay-style direction is not what needed, but a throwback to how action movies were made using real stuntmen and vehicles was what would make this movie fun and exciting. For successfully pulling this project off I will admit that Wiseman may have been the best choice to make this movie. There wasn't much complexity in the script for Wiseman to work with but he got enough out of it to fill up two full hours of movie running time without boring the audience. That's quite an accomplishment compared to some of the more bloated films this summer, though quite enjoyable and fun on their own right, were still quite too long.
In the end, Live Free or Die Hard is a step back in time to the golden age of action movies where what we saw on the screen was nonstop action done in pre-CGI ways with real non-CGI people. Bruce Willis brings back his John McClane and he comes back with a vengeance to wreak havoc once more on the bad guys attempts to get rich. For a summer blockbuster season of 2007 which has seen one blockbuster fail audience expectations in one way or another, Live Free or Die Hard lives up to all its expectations and actually turned out to be one of the movies of this summer. All it took was for an old action hero to make a comeback.