Sunday, July 01, 2007

John McClane Is Back And Making The World Unsafe For Terrorists!

The Die Hard franchise isn’t a thinking man’s dream. It belongs to the wannabe action hero inside every red-blooded American male. And to the women who love them. Any misapprehension that these films are going to take themselves realistically or seriously should be checked at the door.

Live Free Or Die Hard opened Wednesday of this week just in time for the Fourth of July celebration, and to take advantage of the extra-long weekend at the box office. It’s the fourth film in the franchise about New York Police Department Detective John McClane, absolutely the toughest cop Hollywood has ever created. In my opinion. Nobody bleeds like McClane bleeds. Or limps. Or talks to himself, delivering a humorous, self-deprecating monologue on how he got into the whole mess he is in.

There was some hesitation about whether or not Bruce Willis could pull off the franchise character again. There was no hesitation about the fact that if Bruce Willis could not play McClane, no one else could. Willis the actor and McClane the character are too tightly-knit to allow to anyone else to intrude into the franchise. Maybe other actors can play James Bond and win over a whole new audience, but I can’t see that happening with this one. Not as long as Bruce Willis can still walk and talk.

After seeing the movie, there’s no doubt that Willis – and McClane –are back in a big way. For a while, Willis swore he’d never play the character again. He wanted more serious roles and a chance to stretch as an actor. He’s made some good films, and some not so good films, since Die Hard With A Vengeance with Samuel L. Jackson. And while the McClane role is somewhat limiting Willis pulls it off with zest. Maybe he was born to do other things as well, but he was definitely born to be John McClane.

Now all the fans are going to be waiting for the next Die Hard movie, although there hasn’t been any talk of such. We can only hope.

The movie starts out with a bang, the way these things always do. A group of cyber-criminals utilize code and algorithms written by blackboard computer hackers to get into key Federal government installations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They’re operating under a man named Thomas Gabriel, who has used enough players in his operation that none of the computer hackers know who they are working for or what they are truly doing.

As soon as Gabriel is certain that he’s into the computer networks he wants to be into, he gives orders to start the elimination process of all the computer hackers involved. The action turns violent and bloody. Matt Farrell (played brilliantly by Justin Long) is the only one who escapes his fate, and that’s only through the direct intervention of McClane.

It’s been twelve years since the last Die Hard movie. Those twelve years are reflected in the latest release. McClane has gotten older and his life has moved on. His wife finally left him for good and he’s estranged from his son and daughter. He’s introduced breaking up his daughter’s latest date in a fairly humorous scene.

One of the things that was awkwardly handled in the movie was Lucy’s – McClane’s daughter –sudden change in feelings about her father. Viewers knew it was coming, but it came without true motivation from within. That part felt particularly scripted.

When McClane gets the call to go pick up a known computer hacker, the tension immediately ratchets up. In a move that was also very scripted, McClane arrives at Matt’s house just in time to keep him from being blown to smithereens. (And you have to wonder why the bad guys simply didn’t walk into each of the hackers’ houses/apartments and simply shoot them when they were done with them. The explosions were just to give the special effects crew a warm-up for the action that was coming.)

The cat and mouse game begins, with McClane alternately fighting to stay alive and chasing the bad guys. The action sequences are pure dynamite, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone – on part of the characters and the audience. Viewers that are totally into the McClane experience are hard pressed not to hoot and holler in support of their hero’s actions and one-liners.

Those fans understand that there are glaring plot holes and things that make no sense and in the real world things wouldn’t function the way they do in the movie. For instance, the cell phone systems would go down almost immediately as emergency services took them over to use for their own operations. McClane uses a cell phone a lot in the beginning of the movie, as do the terrorists. Those would be the first things shut down. Security on major important network sites, like the eastern seaboard utility control area, would be immediately entrenched in military personnel if the United States government believed it was under attack.

But that’s beside the point. This film is about action, not about reality. Reality would be much slower paced.

As always, McClane ends up being the guy involved in the investigation who gets all the key pieces as to what’s really going on. It wouldn’t be a Die Hard movie if he didn’t.

The concept of the “fire sale” in the realms of cyber-terrorism is a real thing. There are a lot of checks and balances to keep it at bay, but it is one of the things the United States government constantly guards against. The movie sells the idea very well.

Also, though the franchise isn’t known for being cutting-edge or high-tech, there’s a lot of the emerging computer technology and integrated systems that are nationwide and international in the film. Justin Long’s character introduces all that technology and the concepts behind it in bite-sized chunks that the audience can keep track of in the midst of car chases, gunfights, and serious explosions.

I found myself as enthralled by the computer attacks as I was by McClane’s usual physical action and banter. There was something so inherently cool about watching the terror-geeks and Matt Ferrell at work on computer systems even though much of it was fake. The idea that it was all possible and would be done in such a way was amazing.

But the action – that’s the key to every Die Hard film. There’s plenty of it in this movie. Is it over the top? No doubt about it! No one – but no one – could walk away from all the damage that McClane takes while doggedly pursuing the bad guys. I lost count of the number of bodies left behind, the number of vehicles that were destroyed in wrecks and explosions, the number of buildings that were leveled, and would have to guess that the number of bullets fired must be in the millions.

The most over-the-top sequence in the film is the scene where McClane is driving an eighteen-wheeler through a system of elevated highways while being pursued and fired upon by a military attack jet with hover capability. There is simply no way this could ever happen, or that a truck could suffer that much damage and still keep going. Much less without the driver getting killed.

If they do a video game on this movie as they have some of the movies in the past, you can see this sequence being part of the game. It’s ludicrous. It’s impossible. And yet, it’s so McClane. And that’s what puts the butts in the seats, folks.

Maggie Q plays possibly the most lethal lady McClane has ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with. She absolutely tears him apart for a while. And that leads to possibly the second-most over-the-top sequence in the film when the action spreads the elevator shaft. Still, if anybody was gonna do it like this, it has to be rogue cop John McClane.

Make no mistake. This film isn’t for posterity. This film isn’t even close to Academy Award material - except maybe for special effects.

What this film is, and where it succeeds so admirably, is an action film starring one of the best action heroes ever invented or portrayed, and played once more by the only actor that could do that character justice. This is superhero action without the cape and the mutant abilities. And this is a hero who’s fallible yet impossible to beat.

Treat yourself to a summer delight over the holidays. Buy a ticket. Invest heavily in a willing suspension of disbelief at the door. Find a good seat. And prepare to cheer on John McClane one more time as he goes up against impossible – and, admittedly, wildly improbable – odds.

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