Die Hard with a Vengeance (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Perhaps the best way to describe the third segment in the popular Die Hard series is by comparing it to the previous two. That should give an adequate assessment of how far the adventures of John McClane (Bruce Willis) have fallen. The original Die Hard took place in the confined space of a high rise building. The first sequel widened the field to an airport. This one zigs and zags all across New York City. Apparently, the greater the scope, the less engaging the movie. Then there's the character of Holly McClane, played with warmth and appeal by Bonnie Bedelia. She and John had a lot of interaction in the original. In part two, they were separated by the few thousand feet, but she was still there, circling Dulles International Airport in a plane low on fuel. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, Holly is nowhere to be seen. These things, amongst larger issues (like script quality), help explain why the second Die Hard wasn't quite as good as the first, and why this installment doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the 1988 and 1990 episodes.

When formulating a sequel, the film makers should attempt to recapture the style of their movie's predecessor without regurgitating specific plot twists. While Die Hard with a Vengeance transpires in a vastly different setting than the first, that doesn't prevent it from shameless pilfering. One chief "surprise" this time around is nearly identical to an element of the original. There are also fragments borrowed liberally from the likes of Speed and Blown Away (not surprising, considering that those pictures, like this one, deal with mad bombers). And, of course, coming in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, there are times when the explosive excesses of this film seem in bad taste, even though it was in the can long before that April morning.

In the first two Die Hards, John McClane was an ordinary Joe caught in extraordinary circumstances -- a hard-working cop trying to save the lives of his wife and whole lot of other people on Christmas Eve. Now, McClane is one step from alcoholism, Holly is living on the opposite coast, and it's the middle of the summer. There's a guy out there called Simon (Jeremy Irons) bombing buildings, and he wants to play a game of "Simon Says" with McClane. Each time he gives an instruction, it has to be carried out or some new target will be blown to smithereens. Along the way, McClane picks up an ally in a Harlem shop owner named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), who gets involved when he saves McClane from a street gang. Simon makes Zeus part of the cat-and-mouse game which turns into a wild goose chase. There's a bomb in one of over 1400 New York schools, and it's up to McClane to find out which one.

John McTiernan, the director of the first Die Hard, is a great crafter of action sequences. All the explosions and fights are filmed with consummate skill, and are thrilling in their own right. But that's where it stops. The pacing is erratic and the level of tension ebbs and flows. While parts one and two built momentum to an exhausting, exhilarating climax, part three has too many peaks and valleys (and, it seems, more of the latter than the former). Worst of all, the hero doesn't have to be John McClane. It could be any hungover cop able to utter a few, widely-spaced one-liners.

Samuel L. Jackson, one of the best actors around today, rises above the material. Even more often than Willis, he is the central attraction. Jeremy Irons is no better than adequate as the suave villain. The nature of his character automatically resurrects the ghost of Alan Rickman's first-part antagonist, but it's not a favorable comparison. Of course, Irons is handicapped because Simon doesn't appear in the flesh until half-way through this film. Meanwhile, Graham Greene is horribly underused as just another face in a crowd of one-dimensional cops.

After the second Die Hard, Bruce Willis stated he would never do another. He should have stayed firm in his resolve. If quality is any indication (and it may be, with all the available blockbusters), box office returns will be disappointing this time around and, if nothing else, that will do to John McClane what dozens of assorted bad guys couldn't manage: kill him.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (United States, 1995)

Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Sam Phillips
Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh
Cinematography: Peter Menzies
Music: Michael Kamen
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 1995-05-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1