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Review: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

Directed by: John McTiernan

Premise: The third film in the Die Hard series. Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) and a Harlem shopkeeper (Samuel L. Jackson) must crisscross New York City defusing bombs set by a mysterious terrorist.

What Works: Director John McTiernan returned to the series for Die Hard With a Vengeance and the film does what a sequel should: deliver an experience that is consistent with the original film while also taking the series to new places. The combination works and Die Hard With a Vengeance is recognizable as a sequel to the original while also featuring enough fresh material to make it a standalone movie. The third picture repairs some of the missteps of its predecessor; where Die Hard 2 had the style of a comic book, the filmmakers of Die Hard With a Vengeance take a more natural looking approach. This is most visible in the design of the picture. The movie lacks conspicuous lighting and camera techniques, even less so than the first Die Hard. Even big effects sequences like the subway bombing are tempered by realism. The moviemakers also film the city of New York with a sense of local flavor and this is the only Die Hard film that has a concrete sense of place. New York City is the setting for (too) many movies and television shows but Die Hard With a Vengeance uses recognizable landmarks like Central Park and Wall Street while also grasping the character of the city with its sets and supporting cast. The film is also distinguished by the treatment of John McClane. McClane is most interesting when he is marginalized and this film does that the best of the series. The John McClane of Die Hard With a Vengeance is more world weary than we’ve seen him before; he’s lost his family, his professional relationships are frayed, and he suffers from alcohol abuse. At this low point he is confronted by Simon (Jeremy Irons), a mysterious terrorist who torments McClane by sending him on deadly adventures throughout the city. Simon is among the best adversaries of the series; like Hans Gruber of the original Die Hard, Simon is smart but he is also fun to watch and he makes for an equal match with McClane, which makes their conflict very satisfying. Assisting McClane in his adventure is a shopkeeper named Zeus, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The filmmakers’ handling of Zeus is impressive; the script introduces some racial animus that is unusual for a Hollywood film and even though the racial element is handled perfunctorily it does give their relationship some punch and Willis and Jackson are a fun on-screen pair. Die Hard With a Vengeance is most impressive in how consistently engaging it is. Despite its action, the original Die Hard is really a suspense movie. The third Die Hard picture gets its action going immediately and rarely lets up. When the film gets to the climax on the cargo ship the movie is as exciting as the original picture.

What Doesn’t: Although Die Hard With a Vengeance capitalizes on the strengths of its predecessors, it also magnifies their weaknesses. The story requires John McClane and Zeus to crisscross New York City, much in the same way that the heroes of Die Hard 2 ran from one end of an airport to another, and the characters traverse large distances in minutes, sometimes straining the credibility of the movie. The broad setting also invites gaps in the storytelling and the plotting frequently relies on coincidence. The filmmakers generally get away with this because the movie is so fast and so entertaining but the tenuous logic becomes a serious problem in the ending. Die Hard With a Vengeance climaxes during the showdown on the cargo ship but that climax does not resolve anything and so the screenwriters are obligated to continue the movie for twenty additional minutes. This is an instance of filmmakers trapping themselves in a narrative corner from which there is no satisfactory way out. The resolution they opt for does not follow organically from the story; it is an awkward and forced secondary climax that does not make much sense and maligns what is otherwise an excellent picture.

DVD extras: The blu-ray edition includes a commentary track, featurettes, trailers, and deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: Die Hard With a Vengeance is about three-quarters of a great film, and in total it remains a good picture. Despite the shortcomings of the ending, this is the best of the Die Hard sequels and an enjoyable action film in its own right.

Episode: #428 (February 24, 2013)