Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith
Plot: When the FBI are hacked by a cyber attack, it turns out that a elite team of computer terrorists are destroying America’s infrastructure. But they didn’t count on John McClane (Willis) joining the party.
Right from the off, Die Hard 4.0 looks like a really bad idea. For a start, we usually get nervous when classics from the past are reintroduced to the public, and when an ageing Willis, who hasn’t been on as fine a form as he had been back when McClane first stepped up to the plate, is the poster boy, it doesn’t strike you with confidence. A quick scanning of the summary doesn’t help matters to. The bad guys are computer hackers, McClane’s sidekick is a pasty-faced Justin Long and Timothy Olyphant, back then, was hardly an Alan Rickman level bad guy.
And that’s what makes it so enjoyable when Die Hard 4.0 proceeds to prove us wrong step by step. The fourth Die Hard isn’t just one of the best entries in the Die Hard series, but one of the best blockbuster actions in quite some time. Few films that don’t feature a costume clad superhero have this much carnage at such a wide scale. As a group of typically Die Hard mysterious and merciless bad guys proceed to turn Washington’s infrastructure on its head, the action moves away from a single Nakatomi Plaza and tears up the entire state. While Die Hard is usually better in a claustrophobic setting, the bad guys here are so powerful, they make the whole of America seem like a tiny place, controlling every corner and trapping the good guys in such a way that, even with all the open space available, McClane is just as trapped as he ever was. Len Wiseman masterfully directs action sequence after action sequence, enjoying the fact he slowly introduces us to just how many tricks he has up his sleeve. First, we start small, a pulse-pounding shoot-out in Justin Long’s flat. Small doesn’t quite cover it, because even that opening taster of a fight sequence features a free-running French sniper, an inventive kill with a fire extinguisher and an explosion that most movies would save for its money shot in the entire film. Here, it doesn’t even conclude that one fight. It only gets better from there on out, the terrorists using their control over traffic lights and freeway notices to create a chaotic pile-up in a tunnel, without the lights. As cars shatter and get thrown through the air as freely as bullets, Wiseman gives us the Die Hard of the 21st century. Now there are no limits. Not that it is all fancy set-pieces: there is some glorious punch-ups too, brought to us by Maggie Q’s athletic henchwoman. For those still uncomfortable about women getting punched in the face by male characters, even when they are actively trying to destroy America, look away. As for Maggie Q, herself, she is loving getting a role that asks her to play with the big boys, without the sexualisation that usually comes with the part. Hell, she puts most of the Die Hard rogue gallery to shame in one fight scene. Len Wiseman’s biggest triumph is getting the pacing right. Action is harder than it looks to get right, because it isn’t just about having cool sequence after cool sequence. The truth is we need a strong story to give the fights stakes and tension. No one wants to watch Bruce Willis beat up terrorists if we know that the life of America, Holly Gennero or maybe even his daughter is on the line. On the other hand, too much story and the whole affair becomes over-crowded and too complicated for a Friday night’s entertainment. Die Hard 4.0 balances the quiet moments with the loud moments perfectly, giving the movie a natural rise and fall to the explosions. If only more movies, including Die Hard 5, paid more attention to how this movie tells its story. Cinema would be better off as a whole.
But it is Bruce Willis who really shines. While everyone performs admirably (Long is better than you’d expect, Olyphant brings true menace to proceedings and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is superb as the younger, female version of McClane), this is Willis’s movie, through and through. Truth be told, as long as the actor is on his usual wise-cracking McClane form, we aren’t too fussed. Die Hard 2 and 3 didn’t really bring anything else to the table in terms of character. He was still that angry but brilliant New York cop, in the wrong place at the wrong time. As long as he gets a chance to kill some bad guys and tell a few jokes (Willis is excellent at the rambling under his breath moments), then we can all go home with an entertaining experience. This is why Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, while average as far as action films go, are still seen as good movies. They entertain. But Die Hard 4.0 decides to stop for just long enough to see what has happened to McClane since we last saw him and Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance. There is nothing ground-breaking or OSCAR-worthy on show here; again Wiseman knows just how long to slow down the film to carry these beats. In fact, the sad truth is that McClane hasn’t developed too much at all. But the film references that. Willis gets a chance to show us the beating heart of the character, the frustrated man who isn’t the kind of guy who seeks out these hero moments, but has them forced upon him and time and time again. What Len Wiseman gives us is an ending, a conclusion to the character. If there was never another Die Hard movie, we would be happy to bow out on this note. Sadly, this was not to be.
Final Verdict: Action at its very best. Willis gets a chance to take his character a step further and the director never forgets to have Willis beat up a fighter jet. This is the Die Hard sequel we always wanted.