The original Die Hard set the template for nearly every action movie that followed, but it also presented some problems, especially for the three sequels: Filmmakers trying to make something bigger and more exciting immediately had to abandon the compactness and efficiency that made the first film so special. In the process, Bruce Willis' earthy blue-collar cop has evolved from a resourceful little "fly in the ointment" into a steely, indestructible superhero with about as much in common with mere mortals as Angelina Jolie. The fourth entry in the Die Hard series, Live Free Or Die Hard, pushes Willis' die-hardiness to ever more ludicrous extremes, pitting him against helicopters, flying cars, an F-35, and even a sexy computer geek/ninja. His body withstands far more abuse than it did in Die Hard, yet none of the scrapes and bruises he sustains are as wince-inducing as the image of his younger self in the first film, padding across broken glass with bare feet. He was human back in 1988; now he's the Terminator.
Still, Willis' tough-guy attitude and Andy Rooney-esque perspective on the new remains intact, and Live Free milks it for all it's worth. An analog man in a digital world, Willis would probably have trouble checking his e-mail, yet he's forced to square off against a team of cyber-terrorists intent on bringing the country to its knees. Assigned to bring computer hacker Justin Long in for questioning, Willis comes under fire from a group of thugs who want to sever Long's link to their master plan. Led by sniveling bad guy Timothy Olyphant, these cyber-terrorists use sophisticated viruses to cripple the nation's financial markets and infrastructure. For his part, Willis prods Long to do whatever hacking is necessary for him to reach Olyphant and give him the old-fashioned ass-whomping he deserves.
With the reins handed over to director Len Wiseman, the perpetrator of the Underworld movies, Live Free forfeits two-fisted machismo for wild special effects, which is exactly the sort of technology-first attitude that Willis' character would abhor. Nothing remotely plausible happens, but that isn't an issue—really, plausibility was left behind at least two movies ago—and the film is a swifter thrill machine than most, with each setpiece working strenuously to top the one before. Willis does everything short of donning a cape and reversing time by orbiting the Earth at light speed, and the air of cheerful ridiculousness recalls Luc Besson-produced action films like Transporter 2 or District B13. One thing's for certain: The everyman from Die Hard isn't "one of us" anymore.