"Hot in here, or am I just scared to death?"
"Listen, we got a report of a guy coming through here with, uh, eight reindeer." [shoots terrorists] "Yeah, they said he was a jolly, old, fat guy with a snowy, white beard. Cute little red and white suit. I'm surprised you didn't see him."
The first Die Hard instalment hit cinemas back in summer 1988. Produced by Joel Silver (whose name is also attached to the Lethal Weapon series and The Last Boy Scout, just to name a few), Die Hard set a new paradigm for action films. Gone was the indestructible hero capable of shooting his enemies with infallible precision while bullets magically skirted around him. In its place was an ordinary bloke who gets involuntarily entangled in circumstances that necessitate his heroics. Die Hard was also set in a claustrophobic location. This formula proved popular as it was soon applied to incalculable other action films including Air Force One, Passenger 57, Under Siege, and so on. Fox enjoyed the critical and commercial success of Die Hard, and within two years a sequel found its way into worldwide cinemas. Die Hard 2: Die Harder was an abundantly entertaining action film undermined by its utter implausibility and the exasperating affinity to the original film.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance is the third entry in the Die Hard series. There was a gap of five years between this third film and the earlier second film. These five years facilitated numerous things. For starters, the clichéd formula was modified and given a substantial spruce-up. The creative team realised yet another Die Hard facsimile would produce a mediocre sequel. So they adapted, and the plot was expanded into a buddy cop movie similar to the Lethal Weapon series.
John McTiernan (the man responsible for directing the original Die Hard) was brought back onboard as well. Naturally, Bruce Willis also agreed to reprise the role that made him a star. This third film also opted to eliminate much of the nostalgia aspect. The film's plot may have relevance to the preceding films, but returning characters are kept to a minimum. Die Hard: With a Vengeance is consequently a radically different addition to the Die Hard canon - but it's a good different and a change for the better. The claustrophobic setting is replaced with the far more expansive location of the city of New York.
In the opening scenes of the movie, a bomb is detonated in downtown New York City on a seemingly regular day. The mastermind behind this bombing identifies himself only as Simon (Irons). He contacts the police and informs them of his intentions to set off another bomb. He explains that another big bang will occur unless Detective John McClane (Willis) completes a number of set tasks. This instalment finds McClane on the booze, on suspension from the police force, and with his marriage in tatters. But he still dons his trademark vest, he's still handy with a gun and he's still wholly vulnerable. Anyway, McClane's first task takes him to Harlem where he meets Negro electrician Zeus Carver (Jackson). After Zeus becomes involuntarily intertwined in the state of affairs, he's forced to partner with McClane as Simon appoints them a number of tasks that take them around the city. The remainder of the plot is a series of contrivances to propel the terrible twosome of McClane and Zeus from one end of New York to the other (stopping in Canada of all places for the climax).
Die Hard: With a Vengeance is more destructive, more exhilarating and far more intense than the previous instalments. Yet it's still grounded in more reality than the second Die Hard entry. With a wider space for plot gestation, there are a wider range of possibilities for stunts and action sequences. Generic action film elements are added such as car chases, interesting arenas for shootouts, and general vehicle mayhem. Entire streets are blown up in sequences that stretch credulity almost past the point of breaking.
It should probably be noted that this is the most graphic Die Hard film in terms of language (about 90-10 f-bombs are dropped), violence, gory deaths (one guy is even sliced in half!) and even a brief sex scene. John McTiernan is of course at ease with the screenplay. He formerly helmed Predator and The Last Action Hero, as well as the first Die Hard film. He knows his way around an action scene, and he knows how to orchestrate this kind of action. Cinematographer Peter Menzies captures the action with consummate skill, making the action thrilling in its own right. As a result it's imbued with great energy. The definitive layers were added in post-production: John Wright's competent editing, Michael Kamen's impeccable music and the booming sound mix. Explosions and gunshots will give a speaker system one heck of a workout! And, of course, special effects are absolutely top-notch. As the digital age was slowly developing, there are a few CGI instances but they're not too noticeable. For the most part the special effects are quite seamless.
The original screenplay written by Jonathan Hensleigh wasn't meant to be a Die Hard film from the outset. When it was discovered that it could easily be moulded into the third Die Hard movie, re-writes commenced. Thankfully, there are plenty of wisecracks and amusing witticisms courtesy of John McClane's badass attitude. Bruce Willis plays the role with such ease that he improvised one-liners while the cameras rolled. The laughs are reasonably frequent and moderately droll. The searing chemistry of Willis and Samuel L. Jackson is off the chart. Their volatile attitudes generate very interesting scenarios. The film moves at an invigorating pace. It encompasses sufficient character development mixed with satisfying amounts of pure adrenaline-charged action: bombings, subway crashes, car chases and helicopter pursuits altogether creating the ultimate roller-coaster ride. While this description would usually fit any generic Van Damme or Steven Seagal action vehicle, Die Hard: With a Vengeance is cut above the pack. The intelligence of the first movie has made a welcome return. There are great unpredictable plot twists and clever set-ups. For an action movie it's fairly subversive.
Bruce Willis gives further weight to the argument that no-one can portray an action hero better than he can. The reason why we love John McClane so much is due to his attitude towards the situations he finds himself entangled in. Here's an interesting fact: the part of John McClane was originally offered to all the conventional 80s action stars. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal - they all had a shot. The beauty of casting Bruce Willis is that it avoids the clichés. Had it been one of these abovementioned names, Die Hard would have been a clichéd action ride that fell dead in the water after the first instalment. But they stayed away from conventions, and Willis immersed himself into the role perfectly.
Samuel L. Jackson is the ideal companion for Willis' John McClane. Jackson is a scene stealer and he rises above the material. Bruce Willis was reportedly unhappy about sharing the spotlight with Jackson. It's also been reported that Willis disliked the focus shift from lone ranger to buddy flick. Only really die-hard Willis purists (pun truly and absolutely intended) side with the actor.
Jeremy Irons is evil and sadistic and above all memorable as the villain. When it comes to Die Hard, a memorable villain is essential. His crisp European accent and interesting screen persona elevates him above the one-dimensional villain present in Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Even so, Alan Rickman remains unthreatened.
This time the cast is accompanied by such names as Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Anthony Peck, Nick Wyman, Sam Phillips and Kevin Chamberlin. These precise performances keep us engaged from the remarkable first frame to the last.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance opened a short time following a bombing in Oklahoma City. Needless to say, both critics and audiences were still shaken up from the bombings, and the film (although scripted, filmed and edited before the bombings took place) was treading on sensitive territory. It would be justified to state that viewers were unfairly harsh while watching the film for two reasons. Firstly, the Oklahoma City bombings affected them greatly. Secondly, this was a radically different Die Hard movie, exercising a different formula and a new batch of characters. Personally, I think this third Die Hard film is damn close to equalling the original. It only falls short due to its mildly sluggish pace at times. From time to time, logic is also the film's enemy (falling about 20 feet onto metal without a broken bone? I don't think so). Nevertheless this is excellent entertainment and a worthy film to sit under the Die Hard banner. It provides the rush of adrenalin, the witty one-liners, the exhilarating action and the outlandish stunt-work. It's an endearing, thrilling ride guaranteed to keep an audience on the edge of their seat.
Followed in 2007 by Live Free or Die Hard