New York cop John McClane teams up with elite hacker Matt Farrell to save the United States from an all-out electronic attack masterminded by a crazed computer genius.
Like everybody else on the planet I’m a huge fan of this franchise, so I was naturally excited to hear that a new Die Hard film was coming out. I was looking forward to joining John McClane in another Christmas-themed adventure. I was looking forward to hearing his irreverent witticisms and watching him confound the plans of an evil enemy.
So I was disappointed when I realised that Die Hard 4.0 isn’t a Die Hard movie at all. I can find almost no commonalities between the two films beyond the name of the protagonist. The McClane of this film bears little resemblance to that of the original. There are no witty one-liners, and none of the John McClane attitude we have come to know. The only ‘attitude’ McClane exhibits in this film comes in the form of banal threats of the ‘I’m gonna come and beat the crap out of you’ sort. What’s more, Bruce Willis seems to be half asleep throughout, which does nothing to help the situation.
Furthermore, this film is not set at Christmas, does not start with McClane in his usual guise as civilian (he gets involved during the course of his police duties), and features none of his down-to-earth resourcefulness that has been a theme of earlier movies. On a few occasions the film touches on Die Hard-like moments, but then seems to recoil in horror as soon as it realises what it is doing. For example, at one point an unarmed McClane picks up a wrench to use as a weapon, but this never goes anywhere and seems to be promptly forgotten. Later, we see McClane talking to the bad guy over hand held radios – very Die Hard – but the banter between the two is so boring that the scene only serves to highlight the gulf between the two movies.
But never mind, maybe we should get past this film’s failed Die Hard pretensions and simply try to appreciate it as a generic action movie. Does it fare any better when considered on these terms?
Die Hard 4.0 is broadly a mix of two types of scenes. First there are the long, and frequent, travel sequences in which McClane and Farrell sit next to each other in vehicles (usually cars) in order to move from one location to the next. Apparently the purpose of these scenes was to slow the film right down, and bore everybody half to death. Second, there are the frankly ridiculous action sequences in which characters make unbelievably stupid decisions, and are then involved in some of the most absurd stunts I have ever seen. The worst of these is the scene in which McClane is under attack by an F-35. This scene contains so many absurdities that it would pain me to detail them all, but suffice it to say it was not an accurate portrayal of this type of engagement.
These days, though, even if an action film fails to tell an interesting story, or to create convincing characters, or even to show us some cool action sequences, you can usually still count on the technical production values to be quite high. But, incredibly, Die Hard 4.0 manages to fail on even this score. Some of the visual effects in this film are appalling, and the CG here is conspicuous on several occasions. At one point in particular – unsurprisingly a car scene – the green screen imagery is just unbelievably bad. Furthermore, there are a few action sequences where the inserts are so obvious that they really jar the audience out of the fluidity of the moment. Maybe you could get away with stuff like this 10 years ago, but not today.
There’s just so much that is absurd, nonsensical, or just plain bad in this film that it’s hard to find any positives, but if I looked hard enough I would probably come back with Justin Long’s refreshing performance as McClane’s hacker sidekick. But ultimately there’s nothing that can save the picture. This movie actually made me a little sad. It almost seems like John McClane has grown into an old, embittered, washed up, and boring shell of the wisecracking hero we remember. Funnily enough, that’s a pretty good metaphor for where the Die Hard franchise itself has ended up.