John McClane is back: thicker around the waist and sporting that bullet-headed look Willis has had to accommodate for about a decade now, but still a welcome, sweaty presence. How strange, then, that his movie doesn’t rush up to greet him. You’d think on the occasion of this sequel (long delayed after real-life events intruded on the fun), a crack squad of Die Hardologists would assemble to offer guidance. Sadly they haven’t, and the rookie mistakes are legion. Where is the Eurotrash villain, chomping on a thick slice of ham once gnawed by the likes of Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons? Absent. In his place is a limply evil computer hacker (Olyphant, never vital) launching a wave of cyberterror that causes a lot of cool traffic damage. And that’s another thing: Why must McClane drive hundreds of miles around the besieged Eastern Seaboard, toting with him another whiny programmer (Long)? Some will remember the time when a single glass office building was enough.
The real sin here, though, may be a matter of attitude. We expect the big explosions, sure. But younger viewers are in danger of forgetting Willis’s influence on the action genre: foxy, smart-mouthed, much closer to Clooney than Clint. From its tub-thumping title on, Live Free or Die Hard presents McClane as national savior and solemn icon. (There’s no misinterpreting this film’s release date, so close to Independence Day.) The movie may work as a salve for bruised traditions of ass-kicking, but Willis is quiet for too much of it. That’s unfortunate, because it’s exactly his brand of wised-up brawn we could use most.