By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Kevin Chamberlin and Sam Phillips
Die Hard With A Vengeance reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Why? Because not only are they the third film of a more than successful series, they were immediate sequels to films that were more or less received with less than open arms. I have made it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed Die Hard 2. And within seconds after the 20th Century Fox logo disappears from the screen, we realize that Die Hard With A Vengeance, is going to be a different film than what we have seen before. Instead of snowfall, we see sunshine. Instead of one encompassed area, we are in the entire city of New York. And instead of John McClane (Willis) the husband fighting for the safety of his wife, we have McClane the down on his luck cop fighting a hangover. A different feeling to be sure. But, truth be told, Die Hard With A Vengeance literally opens with a bang and doesn’t let up until its final frame. As great of a time that I had with Die Hard 2, I understand that it has faults. And most of these faults could be traced to a plot that was more unbelievable than a science fiction film. Here, we are in much better hands. Die Hard With A Vengeance’s script (by Jonathan Hensleigh) is very sharp, and it contains some of the series’ best dialogue. It also marked the return of series veteran John McTiernan, whose once again economical use of steadicam shots and lense flares are brilliant. But most importantly, his tightness of scenes and establishment of story, which was sorely missing from Die Hard 2, is also here. The consistently fresh action scenes combined with its aforementioned script, makes Die Hard With A Vengeance rank up there with the series’ first entry as being its most enjoyable.
What helps give Die Hard With A Vengeance a different feel from the first two films of the series is that this time, McClane has a helper. Before, what little help John had was from a distance by walkie-talkie or phone. Instead of a distant Reginald VelJohnson as Al Powell, we get a present Samuel L Jackson as Zeus ‘the samiritan.’ And it was a joy seeing him and Willis together. Of course, just the year before they were both in Pulp Fiction. But they were never onscreen together in that film. And this pairing up could have gone either way (see the next film in this series as a perfect example of what can go wrong.) But their delightful from the get-go introduction leads us into a greatly realized partnership that is entertaining all the way to the end. Jackson and Willis make it work to the point that it helps flavor and enhance the already established Die Hard formula. The other thing Willis has here is a consistently entertaining supporting cast. Sure, Paul Gleeson was sternly funny in the first and Dennis Franz had entertaining profanity laced tirades in the second. But here, everyone has a job to do and does it well. Greene (Dances With Wolves) has some funny dialogue (his assessment of how much damage a train crash causes is priceless) and is enjoyable in a very productive role. Chamberlin is another one who has a funny introduction but ends up being a surprisingly more vital part of the story than it would seem. It is roles like this that made the first film so special, and McTiernan spared no expenses giving them each their own heroic moments. However, in order to have satisfying heroics, a film must have effective villainy.
I am the first to say that Irons is a great actor whom I’d assume would want an entire resume devoid of any action film. It also has to be said that he, unlike William Sadler before him, has a more than comparable to Alan Rickman presence. His character of Simon (who was playing games long before Jigsaw) makes a great villain, and made even better given that we don’t even see him until about forty-five minutes into the film. His character’s true motives come off as more than believable, and the occasional wearing of glasses that Gary Oldman wore in Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a nice touch. McTiernan also keeps the same formula of having the great actor be the brains and an imposing actor be the brawn. It makes for some great fights and situations. The scene involving McClane and a series of thugs in an elevator comes off as especially brutal. But unlike the film before it, laughs were coming from all directions and the darkness is kept to a minimum. That isn’t to say that there is a lack of tremendous action. McTiernan stages a couple of insanely fun car chases and a water escape through a tube (a scene that reminded me more than a little bit of a similar situation that takes place in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) with a sense of flare that was almost completely absent in his last film, the (in some ways underrated) box office bomb known as Last Action Hero.
Sure, Zeus’ reverse racism tirades get more than a little tiresome after a while. But the dynamic between Jackson and Willis is more than capable of jumping over that hurdle to make it enjoyable. Seeing McClane chase bad guys in the summer months (and the occasional rain) made for a different feeling Die Hard film. But one that was in the more than capable hands of McTiernan. Yes, the fall Zeus and McClane take from a truck cable to the boat 100 ft below them is more than a little far-fetched. And the subplot involving a possible bomb at Zeus’ kids’ school can rank up there as being even more so. As is the film’s obviously tacked on ending, But, as I have said many times before, if I am having a good time, small details such as those can roll off my back as opposed to lingering in my brain. And this is the type of film Die Hard With A Vengeance is. Full of explosive action, witty dialogue and a tremendous villain, this film helped cap off a more than enjoyable trilogy. Until they decided to make it a quadrilogy.
4.5 out of 5