Bruce Willis reloads the 'Die Hard' franchise as he squares off against a new-millennium baddie. Does this explosive sequel dial down the content enough to deserve its PG-13 rating?
It's been 12 years since Bruce Willis last stepped into the tattered and battered but iconic shoes of New York City cop and reluctant hero John McClane. When duty calls, McClane may complain, but he's always up to the job of dealing with the baddies no one else seems capable of stopping.
This time around, he's minding his own business (isn't he always?) when he gets a call to escort a young computer hacker named Matthew Farrell to Washington, D.C., following an apparent attack on the FBI's computer system. Simple, right? But the pair doesn't even make it out of Farrell's apartment building before they're assailed by automatic gunfire. Clearly, somebody wants the hacker dude dead.
That somebody is Thomas Gabriel, a brilliant-but-disgruntled former government security expert bent on pulling off what the hacker community calls a "fire sale": simultaneously shutting down all transit, financial and utility functions across the country. In effect, pulling the plug ... on everything. Oh, and while he's at it, he may as well steal the collective wealth of the entire nation.
A preliminary step requires killing off the freelance hackers who've helped him cobble together the code to launch this audacious act of terrorism. Farrell is one of them. Knowing that time is running out to rescue America from a dark future, the old school McClane is forced not only to protect Farrell, but rely on his computer expertise as they race to track down Gabriel and Co.
He's cynical and hard-bitten, but John McClane still represents the everyman hero who does the right thing because he's the only one who can do it. As the stakes escalate, McClane, his daughter (Lucy) and Farrell all risk their lives for one another. After Gabriel captures Lucy and hands her a phone to talk to her dad, for example, the quick-thinking coed tells her dad how many people are in the room. Farrell's hacker friend Warlock also lends his expertise to help take down Gabriel.
Of course Lucy has a rocky relationship with her father, going so far as to claim her mother's surname (the McClanes have gotten a divorce) instead of her dad's. But his exploits earn her approval and admiration, and in the end she's happy to take his last name again.
Farrell describes a time when he thought it would be cool to see America's "system" crash, and McClane counters, "It's not a system, it's a country, a country full of people who are home, scared."
Gabriel briefly refers to Islamic extremists when he talks about his motives, saying it's better for America to suffer at the hands of a home-grown terrorist like him than be attacked by religious fundamentalists from the Middle East. Warlock, who is presented as a reclusive Star Wars fanboy, operates a radio on the frequency 66.6.
Lucy makes out with a guy in his car. While kissing her, he gropes her clothed chest before she tells him to stop and pulls his hand off. McClane shows up at nearly the same time and tells him, "No means no." She tells them both, "I'm going to bed ... alone."
Confirming the delivery of hacker code to his female handler over the phone, Farrell comments on her sexy voice and alludes to a sexual interest in her because of it. Later, he downloads a virus onto Gabriel's computer that begins rapidly opening pop-up windows advertising Viagra, penis size and sex chat.
Gabriel's right-hand woman, the ruthless Mai Lihn, wears a cleavage-revealing outfit through the entire movie. She and Gabriel, who are romantically connected, kiss. In an (effective) effort to rile Gabriel, McClane describes her as an "Asian hooker b--ch" and a "ninja chick" who's "smokin' hot."
Violence is synonymous with the Die Hard franchise. And the PG-13 rating assigned to this fourth franchise film (the first three were all rated R) doesn't in any way indicate that it's significantly tamer:
Shootouts. The opening scene finds Gabriel's goons trying to kill Farrell. McClane intervenes, and a high-caliber shootout ensues, with McClane's bullets claiming three victims. As the story progresses, the good and bad guys tangle regularly with guns, with multiple scenes that include unnamed lackeys and unfortunate policemen getting shot here and there. In addition, two characters are shot in the foot. McClane himself is twice on the receiving end of a bullet. Once he intentionally shoots himself to nail another bad guy behind him.
Explosions. Pyrotechnics frequently impact good guys and bad alike—occasionally claiming the lives of those who don't quite get out of the way fast enough. Irony is the name of the game when two hackers are blown up in their home as one of them plays a violent first-person shooter video game.
Fistfights. When combatants run out of bullets or drop their guns, hand-to-hand fisticuffs result. Suffice it to say virtually every main character gets punishingly pummeled with fists and feet—including both main female characters. Mai is a marital arts expert, and she unleashes ferociously on McClane before he brutally returns the favor, beating her until she appears to be unconscious. A captive Lucy gets slapped by Gabriel.
Falls. McClane and Farrell (along with several of Gabriel's goons) suffer big falls. Both plunge several stories, getting knocked around by pipes on the way down. A henchman falls out of a helicopter but is saved by landing upon (and crushing) a car top. Likewise, a lot of people find themselves being propelled (by explosions or other people) through walls, shelves, glass windows, etc.
Vehicular mayhem. McClane bounces two thugs clinging to his car off dumpsters in an alley. He launches his car into a helicopter with predictable results; later he does battle with a fighter jet that shoots up his semi and does its best to destroy the freeway around him. Several people get hit by cars, yet they usually manage to end up on top of them instead of getting run over. McClane rams Mai with an SUV, for example, and as she clings to the hood, he drives through at least four or five walls inside a building. A flying, flipping car passes over McClane and Farrell in a tunnel.
While it's intense and practically nonstop, the violence here is mostly bloodless. Lots of people get shot and killed—or blown up—but the camera rarely lingers. It's no surprise, however, that McClane gradually becomes caked with blood and grime, some of it oozing from nasty gouges on his bare noggin.
Crude or Profane Language
As it goes with violence, so too it goes with language. Die Hard warriors swear a lot for a PG-13 movie, with the total number of profanities clocking in around 100. The tally includes more than 25 s-words, about 15 abuses of Jesus' name and close to 20 more of God's (including 10 pairings with "d--n"). There are also crude anatomical references ("d--k") and milder vulgarities ("h---," "a--," etc.). And McClane refuses to let a softer rating force him to "disappoint" his diehard fans, spitting out his trademark tagline before dispatching Gabriel: "yippee-ki-yay m-----f---er." (The word trails off slightly as he says it.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
After being shot, Farrell jokes about how good the morphine makes him feel.
Other Negative Elements
McClane grudgingly plays the role of hero, but he doesn't think much of that particular calling. He tells Farrell, "You know what you get for being a hero? Nothing. You get shot at." For his part, Farrell harbors antiestablishment beliefs, including the conspiratorial conviction that everything in the mainstream news is manufactured by corporations to incite consumers to buy stuff.
Gabriel uses news footage of presidential speeches from FDR on (including Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, JFK and Nixon) to create a bizarre, creepy montage that tells America, "It is time to strike fear into the heart of the citizenry. ... American progress is at an end."
With Die Hard, what you see is what you get. There's no subtlety here. It's mostly explosions, gun fights and John McClane's one-liners. When Farrell whines, "I honestly don't think I can handle more people trying to kill me," for example, McClane quips, "You get used to it." Laugh-out-loud moments like that are easily the best part of this movie, and they're what have made McClane's character so popular since his debut back in 1988. (Entertainment Weekly recently named the first Die Hard movie the "Greatest Action Movie Ever Made.") Since then, the villains have gotten more sophisticated, but McClane is still a modern-day cowboy taking care of business the old-fashioned way: by shooting bad guys ... or blowing them up.
So if the basic plot and approach of Live Free or Die Hard hasn't strayed far from its predecessors, what has changed? Only the rating. For the first time, a Die Hard film has crept into the MPAA's PG-13 zone.
And I do mean crept.
Twenty-first century Hollywood can't afford to scare off any potential customers—read: younger teen guys—with an unnecessarily restrictive rating, so Twentieth Century Fox angled its way toward a non-R rating here. But don't be fooled. The violence hasn't suddenly turned tame. Worse, we're encouraged to laugh at it. After McClane dispatches Mai (no spoiler warning necessary here: all the bad guys die in Die Hard movies), he cavalierly tells Gabriel that his girlfriend "is at the bottom of an elevator shaft with an SUV crammed up her a--."
And violence isn't the only content concern. I've officially concluded it's impossible to get an R rating for quantity of harsh words alone. There may only be one f-word in this film, but 100 or so other profanities mean we never go more than a minute, tops, without hearing some pretty salty language.
John McClane arguably paved the way for popular action characters today, such as Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer on Fox's 24. All have their problems. But most display admirable tenacity and inventiveness, not to mention willingness to risk life and limb to protect and save family, friends, neighbors and the world. By spending more time concentrating on those qualities, Live Free or Die Hard's writers could have said yippee-ki-yay (without the expression's obscene tag) to the harsh language, the indulgent violence and the sexual interjections as they introduced John McClane to a wider—and younger—audience.