Looking back at Die Hard 4.0

Our Die Hard retrospective draws to a close with the last film to day - Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free Or Die Hard)...

Bruce Willis. Motherfu...

As far as everybody knew, the Die Hard series was finished. Neatly boxed up as a trilogy, we had one of the finest action trilogies ever made. Arguments might have rolled on about which was better – 2 or 3 – but no one was in any doubt about the brilliance of the original and few thought the series warranted another chapter. There were no loose ends to tie up and Bruce Willis was no spring chicken. A fourth McClane movie simply wasn’t on anybody’s agenda.

Hard to believe then that some twelve years after the release of the third in the series, Die Hard 4.0 (or its dreadful US title, Live Free Or Die Hard, if you prefer) was showing in cinema screens around the globe. The project had actually been postponed due to the 9/11 attacks and cameras only starting rolling in 2006. Then, a year later, it had arrived.

The plot of Die Hard 4.0 takes in an appreciation of the technological world in which we live. This time round, McClane is up against Timothy Olyphant’s Thomas Gabriel, a computer hacker in charge of a team intent on screwing up Washington DC’s entire infrastructure. Naturally, they also want to steal some cash as all Die Hard villains do. Gabriel’s team of hackers includes the glamorous Mai Linh, played very well by Maggie Q in what is a rather scant role, while McClane is teamed up, against his better judgement as with Die Hard 3, with Matt Farrell (Justin Long), also a hacker but in this case nominally a ‘good guy’.

As an added incentive to take on the bad men, Bruce’s daughter Lucy gets mixed up in events, getting herself kidnapped, rather unhelpfully. At which point, McClane declares that he’ll kill all of them to bring her home. Classic stuff.

Ad – content continues below

Die Hard 4.0 reads more like a Bond film than a Die Hard one but in many ways it harks back to everything I loved about the original. McClane has to rely on his muscles, wits and a massive slice of luck to get by. He is also frequently up against it in this outing, the audience wondering just how he’s going to get himself out of the next scrape.

This ethos is set up from his very first encounter with the hackers, in Farrell’s apartment. They want Farrell dead and McClane is on patrol helping to hunt down any hackers in the Washington area. When all hell breaks loose, you can tell that McClane is wondering once more how on earth he has been dragged into this mess. Their both trapped in the apartment until he notices a fire extinguisher and then BOOM. Bye, bye bad guy. The ensuing car chase sequence is well executed too, action meeting the now traditional McClane quips and within minutes you are right back in the world you know and love so much. It really doesn’t feel like 12 years has passed at all.

The fast-paced plot works a treat for the first hour, with other notable set pieces including the quite brilliant car-meets-helicopter stunt in which McClane really does blow up a helicopter with a car. It’s one of the series’ finest moments and undoubtedly a high point of the film. Closely following it is the Mai Linh-McClane face-off where sexual equality shows it face as he bets seven bells out of her. It’s surprisingly brutal for a 15-certificate although, naturally, it’s a fair match-up as martial arts-trained Maggie Q gives it her all too. Maggie Q also looks damn fine throughout – I just had to make that point here.

The real shame with Die Hard 4.0 is that after that first pulsating hour, there is a rather drastic dip – as with the third movie – as the plot doesn’t seem to know where to go next. Throwing in Lucy’s kidnapping is a misstep for me, as is her involvement at all. Sure it gives us an opportunity to flesh out McClane’s relationship with his family but I’m not sure anyone really cares. There is too much action and a far more interesting plot to focus on which means there is also no emotional investment in her kidnapping either. It does, however, give dad an opportunity to get really, truly pissed off – no bad thing.

The second half tries its best by throwing in what it clearly believes to be the film’s finest, biggest set piece. McClane, driving a truck, is pitted against a military fighter jet who is tricked by Gabriel into thinking the truck is being driven by a terrorist. Then the jet rounds on the truck. On the Washington highways. And it’s just as silly as it sounds. Did no-one in the scripting process mention the fact that this was a completely unnecessary, stupid plot point? Did no-one laugh out loud at the thought of Bruce Willis surfing a digital fighter plane? Because I did, as I do every time I watch that scene. It is so utterly preposterous that any rating of the film loses a star right there. John McClane is not Captain America and this sequence is so divorced from the Die Hard philosophy it hurts deep inside.

The film also suffers from having the worst villain of the series. I like Timothy Olyphant but he’s given a thankless role as the pitiful, whiny Gabriel here. He’s no match for McClane. Heck, he’s not even a match for Al.

Ad – content continues below

Yet for all its negatives, Die Hard 4.0 remains my third favourite of the series behind the original and its immediate sequel. Bruce Willis is a large reason behind that. He has developed into a fine actor over the years and is in many ways something of a screen idol of mine. He understands the character so well, which shows throughout the film and his interplay with Justin Long (who also impresses) works very well. He is also the closest to the more believable, vulnerable McClane of the original. 

Another reason is that for all the film’s faults in the second half, its first hour is a fantastic piece of work by all concerned. The pacing is well executed, the universe re-established and the set pieces some of the most memorable of any in the series.

Will there be another Die Hard? Probably, although Willis has stated in interviews that if there is going to be then it had better come round quick as he’s not getting any younger. Personally, I hope they leave it there although the commercial success of the fourth outing, plus a decent critical response, suggests that there is life in the franchise yet.