Action Heroes – Willis: Die Hard 4.0

From the outset I need to make it clear to you, dear reader, that if you have come here looking for an unbiased and balanced review, you should stop reading right now.  It’s completely impossible for me to talk about any of the films in this series without gushing like an over-excited tween at a Justin Bieber concert.  I love them all (well, ok the second one is only alright) and if I’m ever asked to say what my favourite film is and I’m not trying to appear more high brow than I actually am, I’ll always say Die Hard.  I know that it’s not Citizen Kane but if you want a hugely entertaining action movie, with great set pieces, a brilliant villain and a protagonist who became the mould for all modern day action heroes, then it’s as perfect as it gets. But I’m not here to review Die Hard, I’m here to review the fourth movie in the hugely successful series spanning nearly twenty years, Die Hard 4.0.

In Die Harder, our reluctant hero John McClane (Willis) asked himself “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” In the 17 years between McClane asking that question, and his realisation in Die Hard 4.0 that it’s all happening again, we could be forgiven for wondering that ourselves.  I mean really, how believable is it that the same shit could happen to the same guy four times?  In truth of course it doesn’t matter one bit.  It doesn’t matter how many times McClane is the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time; he’s always so hugely entertaining that we can forgive the convenience of it all.

Our first introduction to John McClane comes outside his daughters’ apartment.  Little Lucy is all grown up (into the luscious Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Daddy doesn’t appreciate it when boys get fresh with her.  Willis is older than you remember, now completely bald; if it’s possible he looks more tired, more grizzled.  Not that it matters because the point about McClane is that he’s always been a bit past it, a bit weary.  He may be old but he’s still the kind of man you would want next to you if there was any kind of trouble, in the same way that if you were stuck in the rain forest, the person you would want next to you is Ray Mears.

Anyway, this being a Die Hard movie, poor old John McClane doesn’t get to spend much quality time harassing his daughter, he’s pulled away by his captain to bring in some pain-in-the-ass kid the FBI suspect may be behind a recent computer hack.  Little do John and the FBI know that a series of computer hackers have recently been employed by a shadowy and mysteriously sexily voiced woman (Maggie Q) to create complex algorithms.  After completing their task they are unceremoniously blown up, fortunately for the last hacker, John McClane is heading his way….

The hacker he is sent to collect, save and later buddy with is the very antithesis of everything McClane is about.  Justin Long’s Matt is a smart mouthed, scrawny, techno-geek.  He doesn’t respect authority or the law; in fact it feels a bit like McClane is being forced to haul his annoying kid brother around with him.  The whole point of the character is to further highlight that McClane is old and out-of-touch.  He doesn’t understand computers; he doesn’t understand modern technology, he’s a stone-age guy in a digital world.

Matt is being targeted by Maggie Q’s assassins following the failure of the expected explosion. While Matt may know about code, he knows shit about how to behave in a gun battle and basically sits in the corner and weeps while McClane takes total charge of the situation.  He may not interface well with new technology, but when it comes to old fashioned, red-blooded, American male ingenuity McClane is the king.  He once again demonstrates his Macgyver-like ability to improvise weapons when he uses a fire extinguisher as a bomb to take out one of Matt’s would-be assassins. Brilliant.

McClane and Matt escape and make their way to FBI HQ, only to get further embroiled in Maggie Q’s evil plans for a “fire sale”, which involves using the complex algorithms Matt and the other hackers created to hack into and bring down all of the infrastructure of the US on 4th July weekend.  They claim it’s politically motivated, but obviously, this being Die Hard, the ideology is cover for a heist as Maggie’s team led by the incredibly handsome Timothy Olyphant plan on using the fire sale as a backdoor to gain access to all of the US financial information.

Naturally, this kind of thing doesn’t sit to well with McClane and although he’s pretty badly beaten up by this point following a gun battle, a fist fight and a car crash, he’s doggedly determined to see this thing through to the end “there’s no one else to do it right now, so we’re doing it.” As Matt and McClane flee their would-be assassins and try to stop the fire sale we’re treated to a series of frankly stunning set pieces.  There is the brilliant car chase culminating in a crash inside a tunnel after which Willis uses his car to take out a helicopter “I was out of bullets”. There’s a massive fight scene between McClane and Maggie Q, where he basically get’s the shit kicked out of him by a tiny little woman.  Then they fight on a car suspended in an elevator shaft.  High octane enough for you? Of course McClane gets the upper hand in the end and Maggie meets a squishy end, much to the chagrin on Timothy Olyphant who, in keeping with these things kidnaps McClane’s daughter Lucy.

I’m willing to accept that this is all a bit silly and far fetched.  I’m also willing to accept that in the real world there is no way a 50+ year old man (or anyone really) could take as much punishment as McClane does and not die.  But, like I said at the beginning, this is not a balanced review.  I’m willing to completely suspend my disbelief when it comes to this movie.  Bruce Willis is an action God, and I just can’t bring myself to criticise him.

Once McClane realises that his daughter is in danger, he springs into action.  It’s here that we get a really odd cameo from Kevin Smith.  He’s playing the most clichéd version of a hacker geek you could imagine; living in his Mum’s basement, middle-aged, overweight, surrounded by Star Wars memorabilia and computer monitors and answers only to the name of “Warlock”.  It’s just odd.  What is Kevin Smith doing in this film? Perhaps he just wanted to work with Bruce?  Who would blame him? Anyway, McClane and Matt use Warlock’s computer nous to work out a) what the baddies are planning b) how to stop them and c) where they are holding Lucy. 

The thing about Lucy is that she’s got a bit of her Dad’s gumption.  She’s not the type to idly sit by and not cause problems for her captors. She’s proving to be a bit of a handful for Timothy Olyphant and his team, which I quite enjoyed.  My favourite bit is where after finding out that McClane has been picking off his men one by one, Olyphant smacks Lucy around and puts her on the CV radio to tell her Dad how scared she is.  Her reaction? “<sobs> Daddy….<voice changes to self-assured> now there are only four of them”  Like father like daughter eh?

Anyway, as you would expect McClane saves the day after some more punishing fist-fights and a great scene where he destroys a piece of elevated motorway and then takes a wing walk on a harrier jump jet. In the final show-down between McClane and Olyphant, when things are at their absolute grimmest for our hero, he demonstrates once again why he is the ultimate action star.  As Olyphant twirls his imaginary moustache and explains how he’s going to kill Lucy while our hero watches, McClane makes a grab for his gun and in one final desperate move shoots through his own wound to kill Olyphant behind him.  And what’s his kiss-off?  “Yippee-ki-yay Mother Fucker.”

Suzanne King

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