Live Free or Die Hard vs Transformers: The Mega Review
by Alex Billington
June 28, 2007
So after seeing Live Free or Die Hard (aka just Die Hard 4) on Tuesday night and Transformers a week back in LA, I was wondering how to write up my review, then a thought occurred to me. Why not combine reviews for two of the biggest, most anticipated action movies of the summer, and compare them up against each other. Most of you who are excited for one are also excited for the other, and what better way than to share my thoughts on both. So I present to you the Mega Review of Live Free or Die Hard vs Transformers!
I'll kick off into this by going over various aspects of each film: story, realism, actors, action, CGI / special effects, the hero, the protagonist, and overall entertainment. Just so there are no complaints, I loved both movies nearly equally, but there were some positives and negatives on both sides.
Live Free or Die Hard
In Live Free or Die Hard the entire country is being attacked by a systematic computer takedown called a fire sale, and one young hacker kid by the name of Matt Farrell (Justin Long) is being escorted down to Washington DC by John McClane (Bruce Willis), where as things get more and more ridiculous he becomes the most important piece. Really, the story in this is pretty bad. I can take over the top, but this over the top is just too ridiculous. The computer virus idea, although genuine considering how much of this country is run on computers, is all too easily manipulated. The rest of it with McClane is pretty fun, but in terms of progression, the story just lacks some of that quality that was found in the first Die Hard and especially in Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
In Transformers, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) becomes the target of alien robots because his great grandfather's glasses are engraved with a map. The Autobot Bumblebee, who's sworn to protect him, must take action after the Decepticons discover who he is and try and find their leader Megatron who crashed landed on earth. This story really allows for a lot more breathing room and a lot more build up, especially to please the Transformers fans. Yes, Michael Bay threw in a love story with Sam and Mikaela (Megan Fox) too, but by the end even you will be rooting for him. As for the build up into why the Autobots are there and how it involves Sam, it's a bit shaky, but much, much more solid and even more entertaining than Die Hard. And although there is more action than even Die Hard, there is also more story.
None of what happens in this would ever be possible, but Die Hard still shines in this category because the over-the-top surrealism is what makes it so damn good. However what pulls it down is how completely unrealistic everything involving the computer viruses and computers in the movie is. Back in the 90's they could get away with faking computer operations, but today, that just doesn't work. No you can't hack the entire country from your cell phone, and no you don't need 8 keyboards to re-route electricity, but yes, you can ride on the tail of a jet.
Of course giant robots aren't real, but who cares! in Transformers, the computer operations are pretty real, except when it gets down to some scenes involving Anthony Anderson and Rachael Taylor hacking up the audio (why can't Hollywood ever get computers right?). However, disregarding those computer flops again, the realism in Transformers is a bit more confident, and you really start to feel like you could walk outside and see Optimus playing baseball in the park, but you won't see John McClane riding the tail of a jet, even though that would be fun.
Bruce Willis, enough said. Does it get any better than Willis? I think not! But then you throw Justin Long into the mix, as well as Maggie Q and Timothy Olyphant. I liked Olyphant, who surprised me in this after a terrible performance in Catch and Release. However Long was pretty bad and Q was far underutilized. But the worst was the overly-buff, Hispanic guy who was the "uber hacker" for the bad guys. Long fits as a hacker kid, but that guy really didn't.
This is a definite win for Transformers. Shia LaBeouf really shines here, he is the perfect choice, and is going to really turn into something big with Indiana Jones IV. Megan Fox can't act, but who cares, she's way hot and that's what counts! Although I think John Turturro is never a great casting choice, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and Jon Voight were all perfect additions to an already solid cast of mixed dramatic actors and comedic actors.
You may think using a fire extinguisher to blow a guy out of a window, driving a car through an electrical plant, or riding on the tail of a fighter jet may be the best action you'll see all year, and you're close. It's truly some exciting stuff, but honestly it doesn't even beat out the first Die Hard, and that was 19 years ago! It's good, but not great. It needed a bit more, and it didn't have it. Who cares about realism here, they could've gone all out. He should've ridden that jet all the way to the bad guys and blew the shit out of them, but he didn't.
What I love about Transformers' action is that you haven't even seen half of it from the trailers. It builds, and builds, and keeps building, and then you get to the final fight, and you think you're done, then something else happens. The fights between the robots are incredible, the car chases are incredible, and everything action-wise in it is jaw-dropping incredible. Michael Bay really kicks Len Wiseman's ass this time. The best action scenes involve Starscream taking on other fighter jets, Megatron vs Optimus through the building, and the car chase between Bumblebee and Barricade.
CGI / SPECIAL EFFECTS
Throughout most of this the special effects are great. It looks almost entirely practical and there isn't a moment of doubt. Then it hits this big action scene at the end that involves a semi-truck (no, not Optimus) and a fighter jet (no, not Starscream), and it starts to fall apart. I'm not sure if they just ran out of money or time, but the effects crumble as much as the highway he's driving on. Nice try, but in this day and age those kind of cheap effects don't cut it.
Flawless perfection! As I said before, Optimus is almost as real as even Shia in this, and you forget he's even CGI. These are the best special effects and especially the best CGI (thanks ILM) you'll see all year, or of the next few years. Two years of CGI work has really paid off. It's truly flawless CGI that can't be matched by anything else currently out there. Even the toughest part, the small Decepticon Frenzy, like Gollum, is near perfection.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) -vs- Optimus Prime
This is really a tough one, because John McClane has built up such a badass hero repertoire that it's almost hard to say he's not at the top of his game this time. However he really only saves one person, the hacker kid, not the entire country or the entire world this time. He's your local hero, not your world hero. He's one hell of a badass hero and yet again shows it in this fourth Die Hard, but just isn't the best hero you'll see all summer.
I'm going to get a lot of flack for saying this, that Optimus beats McClane, but he truly does! When you hear what Optimus Prime has to say and what Optimus Prime (and Bumblebee) do to save the world and save Sam Witwicky, you'll agree. Optimus has been the most badass hero since 1986 (or earlier), John McClane has been the most badass hero since 1988, and when it comes down to it, Optimus takes the pie yet again in 2007.
Winner: Optimus Prime
Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) -vs- Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf)
The character of Matthew Farrell was really a weak protagonist. He wasn't very smart, wasn't very heroic, he just hacked the systems and was protected by John McClane. It took him a while to figure out that it would be his abilities that would save the country, but even then it was still a weak realization. Yes, they're relying a lot on McClane, but that doesn't mean you still can't have a strong protagonist, too.
Even though Sam Witwicky is the main character, he's still the protagonist not the hero. He's charming, he's funny, he's inexperienced and young, but he's good and he makes that character arch that is key in a good movie. His progression is about discovery and making a choice, and it's such a good one that you'll be smiling and cheering for both him and the hero, Optimus Prime, at the end.
Winner: Sam Witwicky
I really did have a good time in Live Free or Die Hard. Disregarding the realism issues with the computers, it's a good movie to kick back with and watch John McClane kick some serious ass. It's a different movie than Transformers in that it's just non-stop intense action, like Terminator 3, where Transformers is much more story. The entertainment value here is very high, if not equal to Transformers.
Boy oh boy did I have one hell of an experience watching this. It's the funniest movie of the year combined with the most intense action movie of the year (even over 300) and still pure enjoyment from the very start to finish. You don't want it to end, and when it does, you want to watch it again, immediately. Yes, Transformers is one of those films that will not let you down.
THE FINAL SHOWDOWN!
Transformers really is the movie of the summer, or even of the entire year. It's a fully loaded, action-packed exciting adventure that doesn't let down and fully delivers. Michael Bay has finally done it and made a perfect movie, at least in my books, that I think all the fans will love, too. And in this review, it certainly beats Live Free or Die Hard. So next week, on the 4th of July, when you've got to make a choice, make it Transformers, you won't regret it.
Overall Winner: Transformers!!