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Should I Watch..? Die Hard With A Vengeance
What's the big deal?
Die Hard With A Vengeance is an action thriller film released in 1995 and is the third film in the Die Hard series. Reuniting Bruce Willis with the director of the first movie John McTiernan, the film sees Willis reprise once again as New York cop John McClane who this time is sent on a deadly chase around the city at the request of someone calling themselves 'Simon'. The script was originally scheduled to be used as a Lethal Weapon (1) sequel so producers inserted the character of Zeus Carver, played by Samuel L Jackson, to substitute for Danny Glover's role in that franchise. Despite mixed reviews upon release, it became the most successful film in the series thus far after international takings over $366 million. However, there would be a twelve year hiatus between it and the next film in the series, Live Free Or Die Hard (2).
What's it about?
John McClane has hit rough times. Newly estranged once again from his wife Holly and the kids, his ill discipline forces his superior officer at the NYPD - Inspector Walter Cobb - to suspend McClane from active duty. But it doesn't last - a bomb goes off during the morning rush hour and Cobb receives a call from the man claiming responsibility, Simon. Simon orders Cobb to take McClane to Harlem and drop him off wearing a somewhat provocative sandwich board otherwise more bombs will be detonated across the city. Cobb complies and McClane is rescued from the locals by store owner Zeus Carver who takes McClane back to his precinct.
Simon calls back, leaving several riddles for McClane and Carver to solve whilst the police try to deal with the hidden bombs. But all of this is merely a ruse - Simon is really interested in committing the robbery of the century by emptying the Federal Reserve Bank of its gold deposits. As McClane and Carver get increasingly tested by Simon, it emerges that Simon's interest in McClane is deeply personal...
Samuel L. Jackson
Inspector Walter Cobb
Jonathon Hensleigh *
Release date (UK)
18th August, 1995
What's to like?
It can't be easy trying to follow one of the greatest action movies ever made in Die Hard (3) - just ask Renny Harlin after the disappointing Die Hard 2 (4) but at least this has some of the old magic back. The ludicrous action scenes, the overly complicated and intricately planned heist and McClane's world-weary humour are all back for another outing and it's much closer to the original. It's also brighter, meaning that we can see every ricochet and explosion in full Technicolor glory as terrified civilians run for their lives. The film has no messing about at all, throwing us straight in at the deep end with the initial bombing and it never lets up for a second until the credits start to roll.
With McClane now having a partner of sorts in Zeus, the movie takes on a different dynamic but thankfully, it still works. Willis and Jackson are excellent performers in their own right and they generate enough chemistry between them to engage an audience. Conversely, Irons hams it up deliciously as Simon with the sort of German accent I normally associate with the TV sitcom Dad's Army but despite the pantomime villainy, he's actually good value for money. Like Rickman, he's calm and professional at all times and like Rickman, he's a good foe for Willis to clash with.
- Hensleigh was detained by the FBI because his script contained too much factual information about the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan. Hensleigh claimed he got his information from an article in the New York Times.
- The sex scene between Irons and Phillips was a last minute inclusion at McTiernan's request. He knew the film was getting an R rating so he figured that he might as well include one.
- Sam Phillips was asked to audition for the role based on her appearance on one of her CD covers. This was her debut appearance in movies and she never says a single word in the entire movie.
What's not to like?
Sadly, it isn't a complete return to form. Willis still feels utterly invincible, despite the amount of blood he gets on his trademark vest. The action really does get turned to eleven but it doesn't flow as well as I hoped it might, as though the action scenes were thought up first and then had the story written around them to link them together. By the time of the ending, it has lost its way completely and has reverted back to action genre stereotypes.
The other thing about the action, while still full of old-school stunts and pyrotechnics, is that it also seems a little lacking compared to the first one. They simply look unbelievable and so you don't invest in the picture the way you did when Willis was stuck up Nakatomi Plaza. The magic has gone and while everyone is trying really hard, it can't generate that spark you felt with Die Hard. It's an improvement on the first sequel but it fails to compete with the first film, settling quite comfortably somewhere in between the two.
Should I watch it?
Bombastic and full of the sort of havoc we associate with the series, Die Hard With A Vengeance is a surprisingly worthy addition to the franchise, given how far the series has strayed from the initial premise of an out-gunned lone wolf. It doesn't fully recapture the first film's class but it is a solid and explosive action film which will satisfy most audience goers. As it is, it's arguably the best of the Die Hard sequels so far.
Great For: action fans, New Yorkers, people who don't pay too much attention to plot
Not So Great For: screenwriting students, intellectuals, Germans
What else should I watch?
This and Die Hard are the two best films in the series and the only two you should probably watch. Die Hard 2 is OK but not great while Live Free Or Die Hard and A Good Day To Die Hard (5) are both pale imitations. Hopefully, we've seen the last of John McClane but somehow, I doubt it.
Luckily, there are no shortage of other action movies to tickle your fancy. The Lethal Weapon series offers both exciting action and a good double act in Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Samuel L. Jackson even gets another go in the oft-forgotten and under-rated Long Kiss Goodnight (6) which is much better than people remember. More modern movie goers will prefer stuff like The Matrix (7) with its sci-fi leanings and influential and impressive CG, gobsmacking Thai martal-arts masterclass Ong Bak (8) and Taken (9) for its sheer brutality and Liam Neeson in full-on 'bad ass' mode.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox