In Live Free or Die Hard, Bruce Willis sports a grizzled phallic chrome dome as mean and hard and stripped-down for action as he is. The first Die Hard was a B-movie masterpiece of spatial containment, but a great many fireballs have passed under the bridge since then, and the series has sprawled, usually too much for its own good. Live Free or Die Hard gets a bit of the old mojo back by tapping into fears that are, by nature, too virtual to see. The terrorist, played by Timothy Olyphant (is it intentional that he’s been styled to look like an android?), is a former government cyber-spook who attempted to demonstrate U.S. vulnerability after 9/11 and was pilloried for his efforts. Now he’s going to prove it all over again, this time for maximum chaos and profit.
He whips up a Y2K-style national meltdown, hacking into the country’s security systems, traffic grids, and God knows what else. As McClane dives down elevator shafts, leaps out of the way of falling cars, and generally behaves like the scarred and wisecracking human bullet he is, the whole drive of the audience is to see him burst through the fourth wall of computer technology so he can confront the bad guys on his own bare-knuckle terms. I wish Willis had been given a few funnier lines, but his Bogart-with-a-smirk charisma has aged gracefully. At its best, Live Free or Die Hard is an enjoyable pop projection of post-9/11 anxiety. That said, it also makes you nostalgic for the days when irresponsible action movies didn’t have to deal with it.