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In keeping with the series' erratic yet somewhat logical progression, Live Free or Die Hard
(2007) would be barely recognizable as a follow-up to the original Die Hard
, but does feel like a follow-up to the third movie: like that one, it pairs Willis with a reluctant buddy (Justin Long instead of Sam Jackson) and takes the franchise even further out on the road (up and down I-95, rather than in and around NYC). Willis returned to McClane after a 12-year gap, the series' longest-ever (and perhaps not coincidentally, covering both a period of many Willis hits like The Fifth Element
, The Sixth Sense
, The Whole Nine Yards
, and Unbreakable
and then a fallow cop-and-war-movie section of his career featuring the unremarkable likes of Hart's War
, Tears of the Sun
, and 16 Blocks
), and while it's fun to see him riff on an even-older version of his character, pitted directly against the tech that mystified him in previous films, there are touches of laziness and hostility. Per the former, McClane's signature thinning hair gets shaved off, making the character resemble, well, every other Bruce Willis mediocre thriller character of the mid-aughts (perhaps a Latter-Day Bruce Willis Hair Theory is in the offing: his default chrome-dome signals his going through the motions, while his best recent performances, in Moonrise Kingdom
, called upon him to sport at least some kind of hair). As for the hostility: McClane has always traded in a working-class prickliness, but when he dispatches a kung-fu superhenchwoman (Maggie Q) and then taunts her boyfriend/boss (Timothy Olyphant, disappointingly low key) about it, well, I get that McClane is just trying to mess with the bad guy in a customarily coarse manner, but it's still pretty ugly stuff. Ironically, the actual violence of the movie is muted (or at least rendered less bloody) by its franchise-first PG-13 rating. A Die Hard
movie doesn't necessarily need a lot of gore (though the earlier movies are all more violent than I remembered), but I was surprised by how much I missed the swearing, the absence of which may explain the nastiness of McClane's taunts.
Still, Live Free or Die Hard is better than its middling geek-rep suggests. Len Wiseman gets knocked around for his Underworld roots, but he's not a bad action director—call him our new Renny Harlin, perhaps?—and the large-scale set pieces in the fourth movie work more often than not. It's a bit sleeker than Die Hard 2, and even a half-energy Olyphant has more personality than the faceless bad guys of the second movie. If it feels less like a Die Hard movie, it also feels less like a ripoff of a Die Hard movie.