"Die Hard: With A Vengeance" was the third in the "Die Hard" series, and was not particularly well-received when it hit theatres in 1995. It appeared to be the conclusion of the series, as it was 10 years until rumors started surfacing that Willis would be coming back to once again step into the role that made him famous. Yet, there were moments that upset fans: many questioned whether Len Wiseman (the "Underworld" films) was a wise choice to lead the return of the franchise, and many were outraged when it was said the film would be a PG-13.
The film opens with McClane dragging daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) out of a car with her boyfriend when he gets too handsy. After that's taken care of, he's called by his captain to head to Camden to pick up hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) and bring him to D.C. for questioning. However, as McClaine finds out once he gets there, someone wants Farrell deleted permanently.
It turns out Farrell was tricked into helping Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a cyberterrorist who's working with a small group of elite hackers in order to bring down the entire country - first transit systems, then financial and telecom and then utilities. Matt begins to realize that Gabriel is trying to fry the entire system in order to create a "fire sale" - everything must go. Only later in the movie do Gabriel's reasons become entirely clear.
The film has McClane and Farrell traveling around the East coast (they were rumored to originally have to fly to New Orleans in an early draft) in order to try and stop Gabriel and his cohorts from shutting down the country. McClaine, an "analog cop in a digital world" (a phrase used about fifty times on the DVD supplemental features) is assisted along the way by Farrell. The one moment I didn't buy is when Farrell tells McClaine not to hotwire a car, because it has OnStar. Farrell then comes up with a bogus tale to get the OnStar operator to unlock and start the car. Maybe I'm crazy, but couldn't McClaine give the Onstar operator his badge number?
As for the sidekick situation, the filmmakers smartly realize that a little bit of the chatty Long goes a long way, and have him largely in the background, aside from some bits here-and-there and a few "trailer" ("You just killed a helicopter with a car!") lines. Long is an annoying actor (and I find that Shia LeBouf guy similarly irritating), but the filmmakers have figured out how to put him to use well here. An even bigger surprise is that he and Willis have good chemistry, and make an enjoyable team.
The film's action sequences, while ridiculously implausible in most cases, are superbly entertaining and choreographed quite well. Whether it's a chase through the streets of D.C. that has McClaine's character making creative (in the commentary, Willis takes credit for the idea) use of a fire hydrant (and really, despite McClaine admitting in the film that he's not the smartest guy, he really always has been quite clever in getting out of a jam) or the tunnel sequence, which is capped off by McClaine literally launching a car in the direction of a helicopter.
As for performances, Willis gives a terrific effort, as he still is capable of the physicality required for the action sequences, and while McClaine does offer his usual wisecracks, the majority of the movie has him more brutal and steely - when his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is kidnapped, it's a declaration of one-man war on those who took her - than ever. Winstead is the other surprise, as rather than the usual damsel-in-distress, the character is much like her father, and the actress pulls off the role superbly. I also liked supporting performances from Maggie Q and Olyphant.
The commentary on the DVD illustrates how ridiculous the MPAA's ratings "rules" are, and the film itself illustrates how silly the MPAA is: yeah, it's PG-13, but it's still violent. The same things happen (so, at the core, it's not as if it's less violent) in PG-13 version as they do in the unrated version (as far as I could tell), it's just not quite as visually graphic (the biggest difference being that some action scenes are bloody in the unrated, while there's not the visible bloodshed in the PG-13) in the PG-13. There's also more language.
Maybe I'm crazy, but in an age where you go to the theatre and something like "Live Free or Die Hard" is on four screens, why don't studios allow audiences to choose? I'm not saying that I think there should have been a PG-13 version of this film in the first place, but if there had to be, why not show the R-rated version (which I'm guessing what the unrated version would be if it was rated) that is offered on this DVD on some screens and give people a choice?
All that said, I liked "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard". It's tense, exciting and pulls off the concept well. While it doesn't match the first film, it's on par with the second and certainly an improvement over the third.
The unrated and rated versions are included here on the first disc of the two disc set.
VIDEO: "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered very good image quality, with fine sharpness/detail and only a little bit of artifacting. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy may offer differing image quality.
SOUND: "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound design is as Earth shaking as one might expect, with plenty of deep, powerful bass and aggressive use of the surrounds for gunfire and other sound effects. Audio quality was terrific, with crystal clear dialogue, punchy effects and a rich, full-sounding score. The sequence where a fighter plane chases McClaine through a multi-level highway is certainly one of several highlights.
EXTRAS: Director Len Wiseman, actor Bruce Willis and editor Nicholas De Toth offer up a commentary for the movie on both the theatrical and unrated versions. The commentary is an enjoyable one, although there are a somewhat surprising amount of gaps of silence scattered throughout the track. When the bunch does talk, they provide a lot of information about what inspired some sequences, the PG-13 rating (the commentary notes that the film was shot as an R-rated film, but after being informed that the film would be PG-13, scenes were toned down in certain ways to make the PG-13), effects, stunt sequences, casting and other tidbits. This isn't one of the best commentaries I've listed to recently, but it's worth a listen.
There should have been a commentary between director Wiseman and co-star Kevin Smith (director of "Clerks", who stars in the film as a hacker.) Whatever your thoughts on Smith's films, he does act as an excellent (and entertaining) interviewer, as can be seen on his track with Richard Kelly on the "Donnie Darko: Special Edition" and his track with director Susannah Grant on "Catch and Release".
The main feature on the second disc is "Analog Cop in a Digital World", a 95-minute "making of" documentary that provides a lengthy and detailed overview of the production, from talking about the initial development of the project and story, to casting, visual style, stunts, effects, editing, sound design and score. The documentary is a little praise-heavy at times and it tends to make everything look like it went perfectly smoothly, when one has to imagine there were a few major obstacles on a movie like this. So, while this is an informative and enjoyable documentary, it can feel a little dry and not quite as in-depth as one would hope from a documentary like this.
I mentioned wishing that Kevin Smith would interview director Ken Wiseman on a commentary, but while we don't get that, we do get Willis being interviewed by Smith in a featurette, "Yippie Ki-Yay, Mother******", where the star offers an informal, down-to-Earth discussion of working in the series and his thoughts about returning to the series.
Also included is the awful music video for "Die Hard" (it's a song about the "Die Hard" films) and a featurette on the goofy band. It's all supposed to be parody, but it's not that funny. There's also the trailer for "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard" and other Fox titles, as well as a very short featurette on the "Die Hard" franchise, hosted by studio head Tom Rothman.
Final Thoughts: All that said, I liked "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard". It's tense, exciting and pulls off the concept well. While it doesn't match the first film, it's on par with the second and certainly an improvement over the third. It's also, in my opinion, the best blockbuster and action film so far this year. Recommended (note: there is a 1-DVD unrated edition and a 2-DVD Unrated Special Edition, with the main bonus of the second disc of the Special Edition being the 95-minute documentary.)