Once a hard-hitting blood-fuelled terrorist killing romp, in 2007 the Die Hard franchise went squeamish and aimed for a 12A rating (aka PG-13), a choice celebrated by prepubescent children across the world and few others. It was indeed strange for the ball-busting American action hero to be marketed to children, for he had only recently brutally blown up a plane of villains in Die Hard 2 and dropped Hans Gruber out of the top floor of a skyscraper in his original mission. Though often, by restricting the toys available to a film’s disposal, a greater, more compact film can be made, one focusing on story over spectacle, just like Die Hard 4.0.
Bruce Willis’ John McClaine had been New York’s sardonic, wisecracking special agent for almost twenty years upon the release of the Die Hard franchise’s fourth film in 2007, and his shtick was beginning to become tiresome. Taking on countless terrorists and rogue special agents, McClaine was challenged, though never truly out of his comfort zone, after all, he could seemingly solve any problem with a stiff punch, a few flying kicks and the double-tap of a 9mm. Though, taking place in a new post-9/11 technological world, Die Hard 4.0, otherwise known as Live Free or Die Hard, threw McClaine into the lion’s den where suddenly he could no longer rely on his fists of fury.
This cultural landscape was unusual and paranoid, oblivious to the true dangers of the fallible digital landscape they had created. The world now functioned on a new technological plain, one which handled the logistics of traffic coordination, electrical connectivity and communication amongst much more, though it was a plain that was yet impossible to comprehend for an ageing generation. In Len Wiseman’s Die Hard 4.0 this subtext acts as a wonderful foundation for the film to stand on, sure, it doesn’t penetrate its own concept any more than merely riding across its surface, though the new context of McClaine’s mission was enough to create a compelling narrative.
The antagonist is the smart, intimidating, though otherwise weedy stature of Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) a master cyber-terrorist set to hold Washington D.C. hostage, whilst being pursued by John McClane and a young hacker (Justin Long). Gabriel’s intentions are enigmatic and chaotic, and to the wider city of Washington, he is an invisible, unstoppable overlord, taking over control of their television screens at one point to broadcast an important message. Made up of a mosaic of several different presidential speeches, the broadcast states, “The great confident roar of American progress and growth has come to an end. All the vital technology that this nation holds dear, all communications, transportation, the internet, connectivity, electrical power, critical utilities, their fate now rests in our hands”.
Coming over all forms of communication as if the broadcast signal of an alien spacecraft, the scene carries a fearful significance, one of an omnipotent force watching over humanity, mocking its practices whilst turning their own precious ideals against them.
The early years of the 21st century would certainly be a turning point for humanity, with the technological dawn soon to change the way we act, behave and communicate, even John McClaine, one of cinema’s finest action stars, stares ignorant and intimidated into its void. The new millennium is no place for McClaine’s rudimentary approach, illustrated by 2013s lame A Good Day to Die Hard where he plays an old, slightly senile version of his classic character. As the world shifted in his absence at the turn of the noughties, Die Hard 4.0 showed the characters existential transition from action hero to regular ignorant bystander.
How good is Die Hard 4.0? Bruce Willis stated, “It’s better than the first one”.