(Normally I'm not very profane - at least, not in my written work - but this review does include a little bit of harsh language. Just a heads up.)
"Yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker." Outside the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino, is there an any more iconic use of profanity than this? It is sardonic, flippant and oh, so entertaining. It is what Die Hard is all about. Die Hard (1988) was a gritty, violent, profane affair and it introduced us to John McClane (Bruce Willis), a lone cop stuck in a skyscraper filled with dozens of eastern European-type terrorists all bent on wreaking havoc and making off with a few bucks. McClane was the ultimate male dream - tough, brutal, sardonic and sexy, capable of heartlessly dispatching criminals and wisecracking while he did it. He was pure machismo. Yet, inside all these unbridled caveman antics was an emotional story that made sense: McClane was more than an blank page onto which male fantasies could be projected, he was a cop and a husband trying to do the right thing.
Now, almost twenty years later, we get a new version of John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard, and let me tell you new does not in any way imply improved. In Live Free or Die Hard, Bruce Willis returns to once again fight terrorists, this time of the domestic variety who are out to both make a point and to... well, you know, grab some cash. In today's post-9/11 culture, terrorism can be a tricky subject to explore; to do so intelligently requires a degree or subtlety, sensitivity and honesty that, quite frank, does not exist in this movie whatsoever. In fact, this movie, which even references 9/11 several times, seems unable to actually look us in the eyes when it comes to terrorism; every time it comes close it flinches and tries to cover up its embarrassment with more gunfire. Instead of saying anything substantial about terrorism, the movie mindlessly plows forward, absorbing sticky implications or controversies in a mind-numbing display of visual prowess. This solution to terrorism? Battle it with a soothing display of overblown firepower which, more often than not, levels entire sections of the city. Ironically, Live Free or Die Hard seems to be living in a world where 9/11 never happened and in which it is free to use terrorism as a plot convention, never once recognizing for what it is, perhaps the world's most serious problem. Die Hard, existing much before 9/11, could do this without any worry and without the onus of being intellectually sincere about terrorism; now in this hour, though, to ignore the implications of terrorism while making a movie about terrorists is intellectual suicide - it's ridiculously ignorant.
But the most discouraging part of this movie is it's language. I mean, come on... this is Die Hard and "fuck" is not said even once. It's ridiculous. John McClane, that lone rogue figure that once won our hearts, has had his mouth washed with soup; all the machismo has been drained away, leaving us with eunuch of an action movie. Even when it comes to the franchise's trademark line, "yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker," the line that's teasingly featured in all the promotional material, the obscenity is covered up and muted by a gunshot. It's disheartening to say the least. Not even because I think profanity improves a movie, but because it is microcosmically indicative of all the movie's problems. This is Die Hard for kids; this is a Die Hard cartoon. This is Die Hard without heart, without intelligence, without self-awareness. This is a studio-friendly Die Hard.
Even if the movie had been about a lone American standing up for the American way, than I might have been able to respect it as a piece of wartime propaganda. However, Live Free or Die Hard does not have the self-awareness to accomplish even this. It ignorantly treats the problem of terrorism like any other type of crime and it flippantly pretends to solve the problem with an aggressive display of apocalyptic firepower. It simply does not know what it is doing. This film's misguided attempt to be PC and palatable to mothers is a direct insult to the spirit of John McClane and an insult to intelligent film-goers everywhere.