With a yippee-ki-yay motherfudger — 19 years after beating Professor Snape and his bad guys at Nakatomi Plaza, and 12 years since his last outing — super-grumpy supercop John McClane is back on our screens ... looking older, balder and so much worse for wear. Oh, and with a cleaner mouth this time. Yes, thanks to those greedy executives at Fox — who believe, in their heart of black hearts, that filmmaking is all about the bucks, not the art — we have a much kinder, gentler and almost expletive free Die Hard. In fact, the infamous f-word only crops up once in the entire film, although big John is allowed to let loose with the occasional asshole and dickhead. All in the name of a more family-friendly rating from the Motion Picture Associaton of America. But does the lack of foul language detract from the experience? For me (and countless others who have been debating this topic online for months) — yes, it does; it takes away that grittiness, that edge, the earlier films had, especially the first one. But there’s enough action to almost, but not quite, make up for it. And thanks to Willis, who is on top of his game in the role that established him as a big-screen star, it’s one of the more enjoyable summer movies so far.
This time the villain is that nice Seth Bullock from Deadwood, better known as actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Thomas Gabriel, who was once a top systems designer for the US government. Now he's a disgruntled ex employee, pissed off that his former bosses ignored his warnings about the post 9/11 dangers. So instead he decides to teach them a lesson, and make a bit — well, quite a lot, actually — of money at the same time. He wants to show the US how easy it is for terrorists to hack into the computer systems that run the country by, er, becoming a terrorist and hacking into the computer systems that run the country. He's put together a team of computer whizkids — who, as in all Hollywood films about hackers, are lightning fast on a keyboard, never use a mouse and can easily make sense of incoherent lines of code scrolling rapidly up a screen. Right. Long story short: New York City detective McClane (just how many times can this guy be in the wrong place at the wrong time?) gets involved when he has to escort uber-hacker Matt Farrell (Long) to the FBI in Washington. Of course, Gabriel wants Farrell dead. Cue lots of extreme stunts involving cars, trucks, helicopters, lift shafts and, eventually, an F-16 fighter plane, which Brucie rides a la Arnie in True Lies. And the stunts are big, loud and impressive — and real, which is a nice change from this CGI-overdosed world we now live in. The humour is there, too. In one scene, after McClane has sent a police car hurling up a ramp and into a chopper, Farrell says: "You just killed a helicopter with a car." He replies: “I was out of bullets.” The world weariness is there too, perhaps more so than in the earlier films. “Know what you get for being a hero? You get shot at.” Lines like that go some way to grounding a film that verges on going a little too far into silly, overblown Schwarzenegger territory.
After an appalling amount of destruction and a pretty big (but fairly bloodless) body count, the good guys win, the bad guys get their comeuppance (in a scene that will have the hardcore Die Hard fans whooping for joy) and we just KNOW there will be a Die Hard 5 (not least for the fact that Gabriel has cleaned out McClane’s pension fund, so he’s now got a long way to go before retirement). Which means he's sure to have plenty of chances to piss off a few more terrorists. Director Wiseman, who until now has only made the two Underworld films, understands the action genre and keeps things moving at a fair pace. Olyphant is suitably smooth and evil as the villain — an American this time, which makes a nice change from all the Germans, South Africans and Brits we normally see. There are a few annoying lapses in logic (the New York Stock Exchange being open on July 4, the biggest holiday on the US calendar?) and stereotypes (the afore-mentioned computer whizkids, Gabriel’s Asian sidekick being a martial arts expert, and his machine-gun-armed minions being unable to hit the side of a barn). But all that’s forgivable in the world that John McClane inhabits. What really made the film for me, though, was indie director Kevin Smith playing the king of the hackers, Warlock. Who lives in his mother’s basement. And has a life-size cardboard cutout of Boba Fett. Perfect!