Review: Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Directed by: John McTiernan

I'll be completely honest. I hated this film when it first came out. And that's saying something because I am a sucker for a good action flick. Throw in John McClane and i'm all over it like white on rice. I only saw it once in the theater and never saw it again. Here I am 16 years later and I've only now had the desire to watch it again. And it was really a test, to see if all the reasons why I hated it back when I first saw it still held true.
While it's not nearly as horrible as I remember it being back in 1995, it's still got problems, mainly technical, that really keep this entry in the Die Hard franchise from really shining.
First i'll point out the problems I had when I initially saw it. I hated John McTiernan's directing in this one. It looked nothing like what he'd done on the 1st one or what Renny Harlin did on the 2nd. It looked much more dirty and gritty, which I did not like. I also remember it being mostly hand held crap, which of course drives me nuts! Well i'm happy to say that the hand held aspect isn't as severe as I remember it being. It's really just a few scenes here and there throughout the beginning and middle. It's not until the final act where it really just falls apart and makes me dizzy as hell. This is where the hand held bullshit takes over and this is what I remember mostly about this, even as a 19 year old kid when first watching this in the theater.
I remember seeing an interview with McTiernan where he states he didn't want to do the same thing he did on the 1st one. I think that was stupid. It's what made him famous and god-like to people like me after delivering a one-two punch of Predator in 1987 and Die Hard in 1988. Buuuut, he decides he doesn't want to give people what they want or expect to see so he decides to go for a different look. So in this one, as opposed to the previous 2, it's shot almost entirely during the day. And with this one, he goes with a more gritty look and feel. And to be fair, it works for most of the movie because the guy knows how to set up an action sequence like nobody's business. And he always uses a specific kind of camera and lens that always gives his films a particular look. So yea, most of the movie worked and I was pleasantly surprised when watching this again. There's some cool camera work, except when he reverts to lazy-ass hand held, going on even when nothings happening. When the camera's mounted, it looks good. I just wish he had done the entire movie like that.
I know i'm a huge pain in the ass when it comes to that hand held stuff but even I realize that if you can look past that part of it, the movie is fucking good. It starts off right away when a department store magnificently explodes during a busy day in New York during the opening credits and does not let up for the entire 2 hours and 8 minutes running time. It never stops. John McClane is put through hurtle after hurtle as terrorist Simon puts him and unexpected bystander Zeus Carver through one obstacle after another to try and prevent more bombs from exploding in New York. Seemingly it's about revenge as Simon is Hans Gruber's (the villain from part 1) brother and will stop at nothing to exact punishment on the man that killed his brother. But in the end we realize these games are just a distraction as Simon and his German henchman are really in New York to steal gold from the Federal Reserve Bank.

In this 3rd installment, McClane is a full blown alcoholic who complains about his hangover for the entire length of the movie. He's been estranged from his wife for a year and he's admittedly a certified asshole, which he in fact is. At least in the first 2 films he was kind of charming and even funny in an asshole wisecracking way. But here he's just a prick with a bad attitude. At least he's still got his hair and his dirty wife beater though. At least here he still "looks" like John McClane in a Die Hard movie. I wish the same could be said for the entry after this, Live Free or Die Hard. Psshh!! Don't even get me started on that shit.

I liked how screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh was able to keep things running along the lines of a Die Hard film but at the same time keeping things fresh. Some of the action in here is brutal. There's a scene in here that really sticks out in my head. McClane heads to the Federal Reserve Bank on a hunch to check things out. He's asked by the security guard if he wants to tag along for a routine check of the building. But you and I know that the security guard is really a German henchman. Once they step into the elevator they are accompanied by 2 or 3 other guys who came out of nowhere. Everything's cool for a minute until McClane notices a badge on one of the cops to be one of an officer he had met earlier. He knows immediately that everyone in the elevator is a bad guy and starts some nervous banter until he figures out what to do. In a split second he's killed every single one of the men in the elevator and he and the elevator walls are covered in blood. This sequence was so intense and raw and bloody as hell and made me love this film a little more. It's scenes like this that makes me look past McTiernan's directing choices that drove me nuts. Like I said, most of the movie is pretty tight and solid, it's that final act that could have used a lot of work.

This is the first film where McClanes character is offered a sidekick. Samuel L. Jackson does a bang up job as Zeus Carver, a racist electrician who thinks every white man is evil and the world is against him. Sidekicks can be the death of a film, but these two play it perfectly. It's where a lot of the comic relief comes from because these two do not like each other, but they are forced to work together to prevent more bombs from exploding in the city. Nobody can yell the way Samuel L. Jackson can, and that's a plus for this character. Jeremy Irons was an odd choice to play the villain Simon, but then again so was Alan Rickman for part 1 and look how well that turned out. Irons beefed up considerably for his role here and it makes him even more menacing.

The film works and i'm happy to say that my memories of this were not as bad as I remembered them being. It's annoying in some parts, but overall it's much better than I remember, which is refreshing.

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