Beating Indiana Jones to the punch for the winner of the Most Unnecessary Return From Retirement award, Officer McClane steps backs in the field some 12 years after he last saw action. For a movie that was largely expected to curl off a big pixellated PG-13 turd on one of the best action franchises ever, Die Hard 4.0 is surprisingly enjoyable. It's not a patch on the original (of course, no movie is) but whether it's due to the sequels bar being lowered or the stakes being so high, it feels like a blast.
How can the same shit happen to the same guy four times? John McClane (Willis) is now a senior officer and while working the streets, he's called in for a routine pick-up; a hacker named Matt (Long) who's been up to no good. When a horde of henchman show up intending to knock off Matt, breaking their faces on John's fists in the process, he rightly figures something is up and soon learns that his nerdy new buddy is part of a larger plan to cripple the USA's online infrastructure, bringing the country to a standstill. Getting back into the groove, McClane ferries his hacker bounty through points A-Z, en route to a showdown with angry head nerd Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant), who eventually resorts to Cliche #1 in the Dummies Guide To Super-Villainy, namely kidnapping McClane's daughter, Lucy (Mary-Elizabeth Winstead).
As you may have noticed, the world is now a far different place than it was in 1995; computers control everything (even the movies) and one errant mouse click or firewall gap can see nations crumble in terror. This is the angle the writers have gone with - hence the 4.0 - wisely updating the Die Hard formula to have the hero facing off against enemies that choose to use technology as their weapons, rather than bombs and Eastern European accents. It's a wise move, because it purposely singles out John McClane as a past force, or a "Timex watch in a digital age" as our baddy puts it. A die hard, if you will.
Right from the off, it's a relief to see Bruce settle back into the role that made him famous. In a matter of minutes, McClane is picking off foolish henchmen and quipping like it's going out of style; those sardonic one-liners and that sarcastic laugh given plenty of air to breathe. Importantly, it feels like the character has been written properly by the people that know him best, or if not, then Bruce himself has had a proper hand in fleshing him out once more; the put-downs aren't quite as witty as they were before (at one point he worryingly refers to Maggie Q's femme fatale as an "Asian hooker bitch") but the McClane charm is still evident. Bizarrely, there's no real concession to the character's age, aside from a shiny bald head and a mildly embarrassing leather jacket (not pictured: studded earring and Strokes t-shirt). McClane still takes countless shots to the body, leaps across buildings in a single bound and generally runs around like an invulnerable terminator; odd, considering the writers have gone to such great lengths to point out that he's out of his depth.
When the action scenes are kept under control, then they work an absolute treat. One early scene sees Bruce's car enter a tunnel, only for Gabriel's all-seeing eye to switch off the lights and divert traffic in from both ends - a simple but hugely effective set-piece, marred only by the ridiculous 'catapult car into helicopter stunt' at its conclusion. It seems to be a theme running throughout Die Hard 4.0; the fight scenes and small-scale sequences are excellent but always seem to be trumped by OTT stunts that defy belief. Take the scene you've no doubt already seen, when Bruce takes on a fighter jet. Not only is it a sequence that's completely surplus to requirements, it's unbelievably crass and sticks out like a sore thumb, like someone spliced in a scene from True Lies by mistake. John McClane is not a superhero: he cannot take down Harriers with his bare hands. However, if you can forgive the occasional moment of lunacy, then Die Hard 4.0 is a fairly tight ride, sticking relatively close to the character's ethos.
It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into the character of Gabriel, Olyphant's megahacker lumped with a tacked-on ex-government back story and not much else to do other than stare into his computer screen, cursing the name McClane. Similarly, John's fellow good guys are a rather lacklustre bunch this time around; his only man on the inside is Cliff Curtis' Detective Bowman, who spends the whole movie two steps behind McClane, achieving somewhere around the grand total of fuck all. At least Justin Long isn't the annoying dweeb sidekick we'd all feared he would be - spending two hours with the hipster doofus from the Mac adverts might be too much for even the mightiest heroes.
So, we've established it's a good-to-great action movie in its own right... but is it a Die Hard movie? At times it feels like it's headed in the right direction, Underworld director Wiseman wisely letting Bruce run the show, stamping his own authority on proceedings and evoking manly feelings we've not had for over a decade. Other times, it feels like it's betraying its Die Hard origins, particularly its lack of any real violence or swearing - even John's trademark catchphrase is lamely cut short (given the average age of your Die Hard fans, it's a bit of a punch in the cock). However, it's clear that the bare bones of a real Die Hard movie are somewhere in the edit, meaning a few months down the line we can expect a rather fantastic Die Hard 4.1 unrated DVD, with more blood, fighting and one glorious motherfucker.
Die Hard has evolved: the ultimate high concept movie has been Xeroxed so many times it's a shadow of its former self, but 12 years down the line, perhaps you can give the team a free pass: change is inevitable. Ultimately, a passable new Die Hard movie is more than anyone of us ever really expected, and that in itself is worth a jolly old Yippee-Ki-Ay. Your move, Indiana.