Principal Cast : Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Anthony Peck, Nick Wyman, Sam Phillips, Kevin Chamberlin, Stephen Pearlman, Richard Council, Mischa Haussman, Aldis Hodge, Phil Theis, Robert Sedgewick.
Synopsis: John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist named Simon, in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building.
The one with Samuel L Jackson.
Third time’s the charm for John McClane, now firmly ensconced in his home city of New York, as a madman with incredibly dangerous chemical bombs goes on a rampage through the metropolis; Die Hard With A Vengeance re-teams Bruce Willis with his Die Hard director John McTiernan for this, a legitimately thrilling entry into the franchise. Although lacking any of the bit-roles from previous films – no Hollie, no Thornton, no Al – the new players in town, from Jeremy Irons as Simon, to Samuel L Jackson as McClane’s begrudging accomplice, deliver terrific tongue-in-cheek performances that elevate this into an outright classic. Subterfuge and plot-twists come in all shapes and sizes here, as McClane is forced to traverse the city with multiple “ticking clock” motifs accompanying him, not to mention an outraged Jackson and a hangover-induced splitting headache. It’s a recipe for yet another Die Hard gem.
Following a terrorist attack on New York City, on-suspension cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is forced to return to the street at the behest of the instigator, who calls himself Simon (Jeremy Irons). Simon, apparently, wants to humiliate McClane, forcing him to carry out crazier and crazier challenges – racing across the city to stop a bomb exploding, et al – along with an innocent Harlem shop owner, Zeus Carver (Samuel L Jackson), who hates white people, authority figures, or any form of action. As the day wears on, McClane suspects that he’s being sent on these tasks to mask Simon’s real motives, which turns out to be stealing the gold bullion from the Federal Reserve vault beneath Lower Manhattan. While the NYPD and McClane negotiate with Simon, the race is on to prevent a massive chemical bomb exploding inside one of the city’s numerous schools.
Armchair critics, bloggers and casual viewers often point to Die Hard With A Vengeance as the second best film in the franchise, after the original, and there’s a fair bit of truth to that claim. Rather than the winter heat of an LA Christmas, or the snowy chill of Washington DC’s equally icy Christmassy joy, Vengeance returns John McClane to his home town of New York City, perhaps the best place to have a Die Hard film that relies on speed, endurance, swift movement (something not really achievable in the often gridlocked metropolis), and a sense of belonging. McClane’s hard-bitten attitudes match perfectly to the city he calls home, and with his obvious displeasure at being “recalled” from suspension to face the challenges Simon blackmails the city with, it’s an attitude layered as the foundation to what it a white-knuckle ride through the boroughs of the city.
Returning director McTiernan once more delivers a ragged, engaging, energetic romp, favouring a raw, almost realistic style of film-making as opposed to Renny Harlin’s slicker, more formal visuals from Die Harder. That’s not to say Harlin’s work wasn’t great, but McTiernan cannily takes the franchise into somewhat different visual pacing, alternative camerawork (plenty of hand-held stuff here), and a wider, more “epic” look to the proceedings. The script is like fine razor-wire, sharp and dangerous as it pits McClane against a largely unseen enemy (McClane doesn’t meet Simon until almost the very last scene, really, much like the template established by the original movie), an enemy possibly smarter than any he’s gone up against before.
Willis still has plenty of his trademark snark going on here, making McClane more antagonistic than ever as he scratches and claws his way through a number of scrapes to come out on top. He’s bloodied and bruised again, as he traverses the city with Jackson’s shouty, equally antagonistic Zeus in tow. It’s funny, really, because Zeus mirrors McClane in almost every way, and their early head-butting inevitably gives way to a mutual friendship; I suspect Zeus is this film’s Al, a sounding board and humanizing force for McClane’s heroic derring-do. Jackson and Willis have a natural spark – neither give an inch on screen, and in some ways Jackson actually steals the scenes from Willis whenever they’re together. He certainly has most of the best lines.
Jeremy Irons plays a slimy, slick terrorist in Simon, with his trademark smirk when the actor finally appears on the screen. Simon’s an intellectual, allowing his lackeys to do the heavy lifting while he sits back and plays mind-games with McClane. And those mind games are pretty intense, a go-fish jeopardy roller-coaster that splits McClane from his police officer bosses, played with solid conviction by the likes of Graham Greene, Colleen Camp and Larry Bryggman, all of whom are faces you’ll know, but names you may not. The supporting cast are excellent without being exceptional; they do the job, but given this is a Bruce Willis vehicle, the main man is given every opportunity to shine.
One of the best features in With A Vengeance is just how well the film keeps McClane front-and-center in the story without giving it a sense of compromise or contrived circumstance. The story revolves around the grungy cop, yes, and Willis’ presence holds the film together, but at the moments the film needs to focus on other characters, McTiernan does so well, yet without heraldry. This is a vastly circumspect film in this regard, and I think it adds to Vengeance’s on-the-down-low visual aesthetic. As Simon’s bank-heist plot starts to unravel, the film snaps between McClane’s desperate chase to find Simon, and the NYPD’s mission to find the school-bomb and save the city’s kids – and hopefully defuse one hell of a massive explosion.
With A Vengeance is a film that thrives on twists, and the screenplay’s onion-layered approach to Simon’s one-step-ahead modus operandi makes the film a real gut-wrench when all’s said and done. With a kick-ass soundtrack, a real sense of place and time (the real New York City is a magnificent location, and the production uses all the access it could get in hurling us across the entirety of it…), Die Hard With A Vengeance is a film I consider to be on-par with the paradigm-shifting original. It’s slick, well directed, well acted and exciting; as legitimate an action successor I’m yet to see, especially the two following sequels, which never lived up to the franchise name. Die Hard With A Vengeance is a knock-out, drag-em-up action classic in its own right, and a damn fine Die Hard film to boot.