I have always liked Bruce Willis. He was great in the 80s in the big TV hit series Moonlighting with Cybil Shepherd. In fact, he began the 'Die Hard' series in the middle of the Moonlighting show because Cybil became pregnant and they had to take a little hiatus. It was fortunate for Bruce, because he was able to successfully make the transition to the big screen right off the bat as 'Die Hard' I was a big hit-- a lot of bang for the buck. Bruce branched out to various other roles, many of them military or militant, but he also did charming films like 'The Fifth Element' which reprised some of his wry wit seen on Moonlighting. 'Live Free or Die Hard' is not in that vein, but in my estimation it is the best of the Die Hard films-- by far. But now at 52, bald, but still buff, we are regaled with one more episode in the McClane saga.
The subject of this movie is cyber-terrorism-- a timely subject indeed. The bad guy is named Gabriel, only he is an avenging angel rather than a protecting one, who once worked for the Federal Government as a Geek supreme, but the government would not listen to him when he told them the whole computer network running the nation could be hacked into and messed with. Indeed, they fired him for a 'stunt' namely breaking into an Oval Office meeting and showing them how on his laptop he could personally shut down the whole Norad Defense system.
In other words, the movie is predicated on the revenge motive, but it is also about getting rich quick, and as it turns out Gabriel, unlike most hackers, is prepared to actually physically kill whoever tries to get in his way. Enter John McClane, and his rebellious daughter, and a computer hacker named Matthew Farrell, who has unwittingly been helping Gabriel prepare to do his dirty work. Farrell is played quite nicely by the Keanu Reeves look alike Justin Long-- the Apple guy. You know-- the one who does all those commercials with another guy who plays a PC. He's the cool one. Only Farrell is far more geek-like than Gabriel-- he wouldn't physically harm a fly, or so he thought before he ran into John McClane.
Several things you need to know about this movie-- its PG 13, but it has an awful lot of violence for a PG-13 film, so I don't advise taking the younger kids to this film during this holiday, not least because it continues the mythical premise that Americans have so long bought into-- we can solve all our problems by just blowing away the bad guys.
Unfortunately this attitude fails to deal with the fallen human nature that all of us struggle with, stigmatizing a particularly virulent and violent form of sinner as the root cause of all our troubles. This is what the psychologists call 'projection'-- the projecting of all the evils and problems onto a scapegoat, which then relieves us of having to be introspective and ask whether or not we might as well be the source of many of humankind's woes. Of course Gabriel in this movie certainly is wicked, and deserving of punishment not doubt. But what of the criminal ignorance and negligence of the government who ignored his warning about security breaches, having already had him build their NRA security system, and then never bothered to change it once he was fired? There is more than enough blame to go around when major crises hit, like the one depicted in this film. But I digress.
Another thing you need to know is that the second major premise of this movie is that McClane is indeed like the old Timex watch-- he takes many a licking but keeps on ticking. He should have been dead about twenty times in this movie, and it gets to the point of absurdity at several junctures. No mere mortal just gets up and walks away after falling several stories from a building, or being in multiple huge car crashes. Suspending your disbelief is a pre-requisite to watching this film.
And this brings up an important point. This movie feeds the Rambo spirit of many Americans, who would like nothing better than to be John McClane and personally eliminate those who bewitch, bother, and bewilder them. The cheers in the theater for McClane in this movie were understandable but chilling none the less. Apparently we would really like to be this guy-- mowing down the bad guys, and yet walking away with minor injuries and no repercussions. But there is another message in this movie.
The message is that we need the geeks of this world to help us save the world. Mere guts and determination are not enough. Even in this movie, John McClane is not enough to save the world-- Matthew Farrell in fact is crucial at various points to making it happen. So now we are led to believe that with enough guts and computer savvy and skills we can save ourselves from our enemies. The bad guys are smart, but with enough courage, macho, and geekiness we can out wit them. But is it so?
There are some spectacular stunts and special effects in this movie-- not the least of which is watching a car hurtling through the air taking down a chopper, because McClane ran out of bullets. There is also the pathos of McClane's daughter Lucy being caught in the web of the evil genius Gabriel. And there is the bonding between Farrell and McClane as the movie goes on. What I am telling you is that the movie is not just all non-stop action and special effects and stunts. There is a little bit of character development, and this actually helps draw the audience in and help them stay on the roller coaster ride of this film, which is intense and in spots suspensful, to say the least.
Movies of these kinds, disaster movies, serve as cinematic apocalyptic warnings-- shouting 'what if.....'. But the questions they raise, are how could we better prepare for wickedness let loose on humankind? If this movie has a subliminal message it would seem to be that we need to listen to one another, to not remain arrogant and ignorant, and to take good advice and wisdom where ever it can be found-- even on the lips of a scruffy computer geek called Warlock who lives with a doomsday mentality and believes in governmental conspiracy theories on a grand scale ('Big Brother is out to get you').
Perhaps in the end this movie should have been entitled 'Live Hard, and Die Free'. In other words, be prepared to fight and kill for what you really most value. That is the ethic McClane actually embodies. Nowhere does anyone in films like this ever ask the question-- if I use the same weapons, the same tactics, the same brutality, the same 'I am above the law' attitude, and the same violence to achieve my ends and aims (however noble in principle), haven't I just become just like what I despise??? What is the real difference between McClane and Gabriel-- who both get off on violence? While the movie clearly intimates there is a good guy and a bad guy in this film, their respective modus operandi are notably the same and so it becomes hard to tell the difference at least when it comes to means, if not ends.
It has been said in our utilitarian age that 'the ends justify the means'. I disagree. Some ends are not ever best served by killing. Indeed killing violates the ends of God-- including truth, right, love, compassion, self-sacrifice, peace and various other Gospel principles. But then our culture has long been built on venerating the warrior not the saint, King David, not King Jesus.
Is it an accident that in the trailers for this movie we have the slogan'' In McClane we Trust"? I think not. Because the truth is, we do trust the warrior more than we trust the saint, we do trust our own military might and intelligence far more than we trust God.
After all what do we celebrate on the 4th of July?-- the founding of a nation on the basis of revolutionary actions taken against the established legitimate authorities from Britain. And how in the world does that comport with what Rom. 13 or 1 Peter has to say about respecting and honoring the governing authorities, even when the references in those texts are to Emperors who did not run democracies? Well, it doesn't comport with it, and those are the cold hard Biblical facts.
Think on these things.