It has been 12 years since Bruce Willis last appeared as John McClane in Die Hard: With a Vengeance, and the action genre has evolved and advanced during that time, with The Matrix, The Bourne series, and a spate of superhero films raising the bar to new heights.
This could of spelt trouble for Bruce Willis and co., yet the long awaited return of John McClane has gone off without a hitch, thanks to director Len Wiseman's successfully update of the franchise with Die Hard 4.0.
The plot is as follows: New York Police Detective John McClane is ordered to transport computer hacker Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) to FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. as apart of a nationwide sweep after the FBI was breached by a hacker. Unknown to McClane, Farrell has been targeted for termination by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olymphant), a former Department of Defence employee out for revenge against the U.S. Government.
As Gabriel systematically shuts down the nation's infrastructure during the 4th of July Weekend - causing chaos at every turn - the computer illiterate McClane enlists Farrell's expertise to help him stop Gabriel and bring order to the nation.
Continuing with the recent trend of older action stars reprising token franchises (eg. Rocky Balboa), Willis defies the odds and shines in the trademark role which made him a star.
In the context of this film, John McClane faces opposition at almost every level since he is a man lost in a cyber age, or what the Gabriel character describes as "a Timex watch in a digital age".
Finally divorced from his wife (played in the first two instalments by Bonnie Bedelia) and struggling to maintain a relationship with his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he has become much more bitter with age yet still contains the brutish charm that makes him such an impressionable and popular character, Willis playing the part with comfortable ease, yet never coasting.
Timothy Olymphant is all wild eyes, trying his best as the sinister baddie, but just not inhabiting the x-factor to make him an interesting villain. Perhaps this is because computer hackers just don't have that foreboding effect needed in a bay guy. Justin Long provides good comic relief, and Kevin Smith gives a memorable performance as a "Cyber Jedi".
The action sequences are great - especially the scenes where Willis propels a car into a helicopter and faces off against a fighter jet - and more than matches up against the current cop of action flicks. Of course they are completely improbable, yet thanks to current technologies (CGI being the main) they come off very well on screen.
The violence is also much more choreographed and abrupt in its execution, with a great fight scene between Willis and Maggie Q perhaps the best in the franchise.
Having McClane face off against cyber terrorists in a world run by computers is a good set up and helps modernize the franchise.
Yet one can't help but notice the glaring similarities between two main plot points in this film and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, mainly the role and motives of the bad guys (which is almost spot on), and the idea of saddling McClane with a partner who after a rocky start eventually become his best buddy. The only difference this time around is besides race being the main issue putting the two in conflict, a generational angle is taken.
The problem? Die Hard: With a Vengeance handles the material much better, and the lack of a unique plot to go with its unique setting can make for sub-standard suspense.
This coupled with a way to long running time (action films should stay under 2 hrs) can spell trouble, but thanks to Len Wiseman's inspired direction, the heart pounding action sequences, and Willis' spirited performance, Die Hard 4.0 makes for entertaining, if flawed, viewing.