Plot: Things haven't been going well for Lieutenant John McClane (Willis). Now back in New York and not speaking to his wife, he's recovering from a massive hangover when he's targeted for a deadly game of "Simon Says" by an unknown terrorist (Irons). And things go from bad to worse when an innocent bystander named Zeus (Jackson) gets trapped into playing the game as well. But is this one game even McClane can't win?
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W]ith Live Free or Die Hard (2007) now on DVD, we wanted to finish our look back at the previous films. So, running off the adrenaline boost provided by Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990), we settled in to check out the third film in the series, Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Bruce Willis is back again as everyone’s favorite cop, John McClane. Relocating back to New York, his character has pretty much fallen apart since viewers last set eyes on him. Groggily, he is tossed back into another terrorist situation, and does his best to struggle through. While the mind games multiply, it seems Willis’ character has simplified. Gone is the wit and brains that got him through the first film. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, he’s going the straight action hero route, dashing all around to save the city…and not stopping to wonder why he’s being led on this merry chase after an easy explanation is offered.
As McClane has gotten more brawn and less brains, so has Willis’ acting. With two successful films already under his belt, Willis slacks off a bit in Die Hard with a Vengeance, obviously thinking he can play this character in his sleep. Unfortunately, that’s about how well he plays it too. Without the crazy one-liners and he brains that backed his character up before, Willis’ performance comes off as brash and a bit campy. Obviously, both Willis and his character have bought in to the legacy of John McClane, and it’s a sad sight to see.
Tossing another rule in the toilet, McTiernan turns this Die Hard film into a buddy flick, teaming McClane up with an innocent bystander. Thankfully for the viewers, that bystander happens to be played by Samuel L. Jackson. While his role is just about as cheesy (and probably led him down the sad road of “comedies” that included The Great White Hype and The Man), he manages to bring a decent performance to the role, and is a good reality check for McClane’s overblown heroics.
Jeremy Irons, while a consummate actor, seems totally out of place as the villain in Die Hard with a Vengeance. With the simplistic feel of this film, Irons’ talents are largely wasted, and he seems to know it. His character pales in comparison to both the cunning style of the original’s Hans Gruber and the military precision the second film’s Col. Stuart. Irons walks around most of the time uttering ridiculous rhymes that belong to someone like The Riddler instead of in a Die Hard film, and, unlike the previous two villains, actually shows compassion a couple of times during the course of the film, which does nothing but make him look that much weaker.
When the climactic first face-off between McClane and his character finally arrives, Irons seems a bit surprised at the state McClane is in, almost as if he’d forgotten what he’s put McClane through to get to this point. After a brief banter between the two, mostly compiled of inane spouting, he forgets him again and walks off, putting McClane out of his mind. Then, through an even sillier plot twist, McClane is a nuisance once again, and Irons is furious. While it’s great that Irons is able to display so many differing emotions, the script makes each of those emotions seem at the very least ridiculous, while most even seem somewhat laughable. All in all, Die Hard with a Vengeance is a sad, sad waste of Irons’ talents.
The plot is full of holes in Die Hard with a Vengeance. To begin with, it’s obvious that Bonnie Bedelia probably refused to portray Mrs. McClane again, leading to some ridiculous ideas from the filmmakers. Suddenly, after moving to LA prior to the last film, McClane is back in New York and hasn’t talked to his wife in a year (and when the viewer does get a chance to hear her voice, albeit briefly, it sounds remarkably different than in the previous films). There was a similar dilemma when Sylvester Stallone tried to make Rocky Balboa (2006) – but his solution worked much better.
Oh yeah, and unlike the previous film (which spewed out pretty much all the info on his moves in the first few minutes), Die Hard with a Vengeance makes the viewer wait to find out what happened to McClane. Obviously he’s upset over his wife, but that’s about all they give for basically the first half of the film. The result: the viewer is more interested in what has happened since they last saw McClane that they don’t pay as much attention to the happenings on-screen.
And then there’s the “buddy flick” idea. Why mess with success? If the character has done a tremendous job on his own, why does he suddenly get a partner for Die Hard with a Vengeance, when in the second film, despite being surrounded by people, he goes the lone wolf route more often than not? Suddenly, there’s another person, and McClane acts like that’s exactly what he’s wanted all along. Maybe it was the success of Lethal Weapon (1987) that did it – who knows? Either way, it was a bad movie – even if they got Samuel L. Jackson to fill that buddy spot.
Aside from the character with the name McClane and a few ridiculous references to the previous film that pan out to be pretty much worthless, this film seems more like a parody of the first films than an actual film in the same vein. Even the name: Die Hard with a Vengeance sounds like a title of a parody of the films! Even Samuel L. Jackson can’t save this mess of a film.
After Die Hard with a Vengeance, it’s not really a surprise that it took 12 years to make another sequel – it’s more surprising a sequel ever got the go-ahead at all.