Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Die Hard With a Vengeance" (1995)

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons
Written by Jonathan Hensleigh
Directed by John McTiernan

This is more like it.  While "Die Hard 2" may seem like a big puff of 'whatever,' "Die Hard With a Vengeance" brings the fun back.  Bruce Willis returns as John McClane, once again a cop in New York City, split up from his wife Holly once more.  McClane is pretty much in the dumps when the next big adventure drops right in his lap, whether he wants it or not.

Someone going by the name Simon (Jeremy Irons) takes responsibility for the bombing of a downtown Manhattan department store.  He says that if John McClane doesn't do exactly what he says, when he says, more bombs will start going off around the city.  McClane, fighting a massive hangover, reluctantly agrees to play "Simon Says" for this whackjob.  His first task is to stand, half-naked, in the middle of Harlem with a sign bearing a racist slogan.  Before he's attacked and killed by a local street gang, McClane is rescued by Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson).  Simon decides that Zeus will be playing his game now, too, and sends them on a journey all over town to find and disable more bombs before they go off.  One massive explosion rocks Wall Street, but Simon keeps them hopping, even though McClane's instincts tell him something isn't right.

That's when Simon drops his biggest 'bomb' - he announces that he's planted a large explosive on a timer in a school somewhere in Manhattan, which will detonate at 3 p.m. unless McClane and Zeus continue to play his game.  McClane, of course, doesn't appreciate being dicked around, and takes every opportunity he can to stick it to Simon and ruin his fun.  But the question remains: Who is Simon?  Why is he targeting John McClane specifically for his twisted games?

"Die Hard With a Vengeance" is a definite step up from "Die Hard 2," but still can't quite reach the heights of the first film.  Director John McTiernan returns, bringing back a lot of the energy that kept the first film moving.  Giving McClane a partner to work with is a breath of fresh air, as well, and the hilarious back and forth between Willis and Jackson makes it a winning combination.  Opening up the playing field to the entirety of New York City also allows for a little more variety in the action, including racing a taxi cab through central park, a running gunfight on the highway and even trying to jump from a bridge to a crane on a boat below.

Despite all this, the film stumbles a bit.  The climax isn't quite as big or impressive as it should be.  In fact, it feels very much like the film blows its wad a little too early, and the films final moments feel like cleanup.  Also a lot of the action sequences are fairly short, though they're more numerous, spreading things out a bit more over the course of the film.  A lot of the supporting characters aren't all that memorable, but trying to give McClane a team of cops that are competent to work with is an admirable attempt.  These issues keep "Die Hard With a Vengeance" from approaching the highs of the first film, but it's still quite a fun ride from start to finish.  McTiernan has a better eye for pacing than Renny Harlin, which means this third "Die Hard" feature rarely lags.

There's no real explanation given for why McClane is a New York cop once again, where in the previous film he'd transferred to Los Angeles to be with his family.  It's almost as though this film pretends the second one never happened.  Now, that's fine by me, but it's a continuity issue that can't truly be ignored.  McClane's wife Holly doesn't appear at all in this film, though he attempts to call her on the phone at one point.  Their troubles are the cause of his current state (McClane spends the entire film complaining about his hangover) but we're never really told why this is, other than to guess that things still didn't work out between them... which only really makes sense if you ignore the second film, and how the first film seemed to imply that it would.  I guess the idea for this relationship is that even though these two characters love each other deeply, they're simply not compatible.  Why this is, who knows.  Holly barely figures into this third film, other than to give McClane a reason to be depressed and on the edge of full-blown alcoholism.

Still, it's nice to see the fun back in "Die Hard."  The third film easily bests the second, but doesn't match the first.

See Also
"Die Hard"
"Die Hard 2"
"Live Free or Die Hard"