Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Release Date: May 19th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John McTiernan Actors: Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Anthony Peck, Sam Phillips, Sharon Washington
ie Hard with a Vengeance” (or, unofficially, “Die Hard 3”) failed to retrieve anyone from the cast, save for Willis, but it reintroduces the deviously intelligent villain that the second film sorely lacked – as well as retaining the same extreme level of action, violence, and humor. More than the first two, this third chapter increases the verbal comedy, with an original script by Jonathan Hensleigh (“Jumanji,” “Armageddon”) and the addition of Samuel L. Jackson, who magnificently plays off of Willis’ overactive, smart mouth by spouting impertinent interjections of his own. Despite the regular acknowledgement that “Die Hard” (1988) is one of the finest action films ever made, “Die Hard with a Vengeance” nicely holds true to the themes, tone, and style introduced in its practically perfect predecessor.
A mysterious terrorist blows up a building in Los Angeles, and then demands that former NYPD lieutenant John McClane (Bruce Willis) is to be taken to Harlem to follow rather life-threatening instructions – or another establishment will be destroyed. Calling himself Simon (Jeremy Irons), the bomber is quickly identified by the authorities as Simon Krieg, the notorious brother of heister Hans Gruber (the man McClane dumped off a skyscraper in the first film). John teams up with Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), a store clerk who saves the erstwhile officer from the mind games of Simon’s vicious stunt in Harlem. Continuing to play the puppet master’s deadly onslaught of riddles and clues, McClane eventually discovers that it may all be a mere distraction to smuggle tons of gold bricks out of the Federal Reserve. Racing against time and the new threat of an explosive planted in an L.A. school, McClane must use every resource – law-abiding or otherwise – to outsmart the deceptive antagonist.
Now a burned out, worn down cop on suspension, Willis’ McClane has a more carefree, antiestablishmentarian, and irresolute outlook on vigilantism – yet he’s still the only one clever enough to solve the crime. Drawing him into his morbid diversions, Simon is apparently not familiar with McClane’s ingenious tactics from the previous two features. McClane is still very much a heroic combatant (perhaps more invincible than before), even though his appearance has drifted into the antihero side of the spectrum. Jackson brings a certain level of complementarily dark humor to the project through constant cynicisms, though the screenplay surprisingly manages not to go overboard. A buddy-cop feel is also instilled as the unlikely team depends on one another for survival, but it’s unable to duplicate the lighthearted and often hilarious mood of “Lethal Weapon’s” more appealing central combo.
The primary villain is a step in the right direction, as Irons skillfully portrays a memorable psycho, but he’s surrounded by dreadfully stereotypical henchmen – including the maniacal, bloodthirsty blonde Katya (Sam Phillips) and a bevy of muscly bodyguards. The action stays as impressive as before, while the suspense is a touch greater due to the race-against-time element imparted by bombs rapidly counting down. Car chases, fistfights, and gun battles similarly keep things in motion. Oftentimes the stories behind actioners are bland and serve solely as a backdrop for ridiculous stunt sequences and set pieces unveiled back to back, but here, thanks to a little deception, double-crossing, and cinematic misguidance, the audience gets to solve the mysteries alongside McClane, creating a bit more complexity than could be expected from the third part to a blockbuster franchise.
The Christmas motif is completely ignored this time around, but the “Yippee Ki Yay” catchphrase is still at the ready. Fast-paced, regularly thrilling, and with a greater serving of wisecracks, “Die Hard with a Vengeance” packs as much punch as “Die Hard 2” and supersedes it in its amusing knottiness and quirkiness. Anticipating the inevitably “hard” deaths of the villains has always been an entertaining event; and with the return of director John McTiernan, his unmatched, high-octane vision for this paradigmatic action trilogy is once again realized in full.
– Mike Massie