Now that we’ve discussed the first two films, let’s take a look at Die Hard with a Vengeance. I’ve always felt this film was underrated and, in fact, it’s probably one of the last “analog” action films. It’s also a lot of fun.
In New York City, a terrorist bomber known as Simon (Jeremy Irons) demands that John McClane (Bruce Willis) stand on a Harlem street corner wearing an offensive sandwich board or he’ll blow up another building. Shopkeeper Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to get him off the street before he’s killed. After being ordered to play along, McClane – with Zeus in tow – is put through a series of games before it’s revealed that Simon is actually Simon Peter Gruber, brother of Hans Gruber whom McClane killed in the first film. Like his brother, Simon is after money, this time the gold in the Federal Reserve. Simon and his men are using dump trucks to transport the gold and McClane and Zeus are caught after tracking them down to a tanker. They escape before the tanker explodes but McClane theorizes that Simon must’ve absconded with the gold to Canada, per the address label on the aspirin bottle Simon gave to him earlier. They raid Simon’s hideout and McClane shoots a power line, which causes Simon’s helicopter to explode.
This is a buddy cop movie, with Willis paired with Samuel L. Jackson. Willis is in fine form here. McClane is a borderline alcoholic and he and Holly haven’t spoken in months. I understand why the filmmakers made this choice but I can't help but feel that their marriage troubles almost negate everything that was accomplished in the first two films, where the relationship was what kept everything grounded (more or less). His humor is a little darker and a little more sly, with less one-liners this time around. Jackson is excellent as Zeus, who becomes a reluctant participant in the proceedings.
John McTiernan returns to the director’s chair and while this film isn’t as stylish as the first one, there is an authentic look to this film. It’s New York as New Yorkers see it. In the opening montage, you see city streets, pedestrians, food carts, etc. You don’t see the typical New York movie landmarks: there’s no beauty shot of the Empire State Building or Grand Central Terminal. There’s a real gritty feel to this film. One thing I appreciate is the extras. Look at the people in the background – they all look the part, complete with trademark NYC indifference. Another quick gag I appreciate is the harried 911 call center supervisor whose shirt is three sizes too small. McTiernan applies many of the same tricks to this film as he did to the first one including full use of the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio (these films look awful in pan and scan) and establishing characters through camera movement as opposed to cutting.
Jeremy Irons is clearly having a blast (pun intended) as Simon. We only hear his voice for the first act but his physical introduction is quite memorable. From an extremely high angle, we see the various police and government officials spread out to find the latest bomb. The camera pulls up and turns around to find Simon on a rooftop. He has only one line: “They bought it.” He's all business but he manages to do it with a smile. Admittedly, most of his henchmen don’t make much of an impression, save for Nick Wyman as Targo, a giant of a man, and the lovely Katya, played by rock singer Sam Phillips. Ironically, she’s mute in the film but she is an imposing presence, slitting throats like nobody’s business in one wonderfully-choreographed shot. Just imagine a fascist Mirror Universe version of Rosie the Riveter.
Man, even the character names are spot-on: Cobb, Lambert, Kowalski, Walsh. I know it’s trivial but I’m a stickler when it comes to this stuff and some names sound more authentic than others. I also appreciate the teamwork aspect of this film. While McClane and Zeus are hunting down Simon, the other cops are searching schools for a bomb. At the time, Willis felt he should’ve been the one on the scene defusing the bomb but the story simply didn’t lend itself to that. Like the second film, the canvas has expanded once again: from one building to one airport to one city. If you compare it to the first film, then you might be disappointed in that regard but I believe it stands on its own. In this case, McClane and Zeus are given a specific set of tasks – they might be in NYC but they can't exactly go anywhere they please.
Again, this film is seriously underrated. It made a ton of money but as we look back through time, it’s been lost in the shuffle somewhere, having come out a year after Speed and True Lies and a year before Mission: Impossible and The Rock – all entertaining action films from the 90s that are still talked about. It was also the third film in a series, though the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply since many people prefer it to the second one. I like them both just fine!
“As I was going to St. Ives / I met a man with seven wives / Every wife had seven sacks / Every sack had seven cats / Every cat had seven kittens / Kittens, cats, sacks, wives / How many were going to St. Ives?”
P.S. To hear more about John McTiernan’s filmmaking philosophy straight from the horse’s mouth, click here.