Time: 128 Minutes
Bruce Willis as John McClane
Jeremy Irons as Simon Peter Gruber
Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus Carver
Graham Greene as Joe Lambert
Colleen Camp as Connie Kowalski
Larry Bryggman as Walter Cobb
Anthony Peck as Ricky Walsh
Nick Wyman as Mathias Targo
Sam Phillips as Katya
Director: John McTiernan
John McClane (Bruce Willis) must enlist the help of Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), a local shop owner, to stop Simon (Jeremy Irons), a former colonel from East Germany, from detonating bombs across New York.
I remember Die Hard with a Vengeance being one of the best Die Hard movies, my favourite just after the original. I recalled that it was on a much larger scale from the previous two movies, and it had Samuel L. Jackson as well as Jeremy Irons as the villain. On rewatching it I can say that it is the best Die Hard sequel despite a couple of issues.
The story is suspenseful with a brisk and relentless pace, and it never lets up. It’s not the most original of stories for action movies, but it is well executed. The narrative is consistently engaging and really benefits from the central buddy dynamic with the main two characters. The initial plot having the lead characters racing around New York City trying to stop bombs going off was a great way to add tension. It is also quite funny, it’s probably the funniest of the Die Hard movies, mostly because of the dynamic between the two leads. Something about Die Hard with a Vengeance is that it isn’t a carbon copy to the first or second Die Hard movies. It scraps the idea of John McClane stuck in one location with terrorists or robbers running about and expands it to the entirety of New York City. It also abandons the Christmas setting of the first two Die Hard movies for Summer in the city. As a result, it definitely does more than just recycle the first film’s plot. The movie marked the biggest change of the series, for better and for worse. Even within this movie itself, the change does lose some things from the first movie, like it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic. Additionally, the third movie’s more expansive setting and complex plot does rob it of some of the simplicity of the predecessors. However, this change was necessary given that Die Hard 2 was already very similar to the first movie. There are a couple of changes that I wasn’t a fan of, some things were left off from the last two movies, mainly to do with John McClane. They explain what happened with him since Die Hard 2, but its all done in a rush. However, the biggest problem with Die Hard with a Vengeance is that the third act just doesn’t work as well as the previous two acts. It starts to lose steam when the mysterious villain is revealed even before his personal motivation becomes apparent. The ending feels especially rushed and tact on in a “here’s everything resolved now” way. It’s worth knowing that there was an alternative original ending which was much darker. While I usually would gravitate to it, that ending doesn’t work well either and would’ve needed a lot more work on it for it to be satisfying. Despite its issues, the disappointing theatrical ending is still fine and definitely an improvement over the alternate and more sombre ending that they abandoned.
There are some solid performances from the cast. Bruce Willis is once again ever reliable as John McClane. McClane in this movie is at a low point in his life, his wife left him again, he’s suspended and he’s an alcoholic. These additions are a double edged sword, it does make him more vulnerable and as a result more relatable, and again he’s really put through the wringer. However, there is also a sullenness to McClane here that can be off-putting, especially compared to his appearance in Die Hard 2. Samuel L. Jackson’s character of Zeus Carver is one of Die Hard’s best characters behind McClane, providing some great comic relief with his line deliveries. This movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the chemistry between Willis and Jackson, they are a perfect on-screen duo, bouncing off each other so well. This movie also has the Die Hard movies’ second best villain in Jeremy Irons, who is thoroughly chewing the scenery, even when we don’t see him for most of the movie and only hear his voice. Unfortunately, the writing for Irons just wasn’t that great and the character in retrospect is a little lacklustre, especially when it reveals the character later in the movie. The rest of the villains are forgettable even by Die Hard standards.
Original Die Hard director John McTiernan’s return to the director chair was more than welcome. As written earlier, Die Hard 3 takes a very different approach and is no longer the claustrophobic thriller the first one was, and I thought that change was handled well partially because of the direction. The action sequences are great as expected. I don’t think they come close to the first Die Hard’s action, but With a Vengeance comes closest to achieving this.
Die Hard with a Vengeance is a worthy third instalment in the franchise, and the best of the sequels by far. Despite some issues including the third act and some changes from the previous two movies, the fresh new direction in terms of scale and story really helped it. It is energetic, thrilling and entertaining to watch, and strongly benefits from the main duo of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.