This 1995 American action film is the third in the ‘Die Hard’ film series; produced and directed by John McTiernan and starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Nick Wyman and Larry Bryggman.
After a bomb explodes in the Bonwit Teller department store in New York City, suspended and washed up NYPD Lieutenant John McClane (Willis) is requested to take part in a dangerous game called “Simon Says” when the man responsible for the bombing, also known as Simon (Irons), demands McClane to take part unless they want another bomb detonated.
After McClane manages to pull off an audacious show of bravery in Harlem wearing a sign reading “I Hate Niggers”, he is saved from a gang attack by local shop owner Zeus Carver (Jackson) who becomes embroiled in the game. The two narrowly save a train of commuters from a bomb that explodes in the Wall Street station and the city plunges into chaos when Simon is revealed to be Simon Gruber, brother of Hans and clearly out for revenge. He reveals there is another bomb in a school in the city, and with only 3 hours until detonation, McClane and Zeus race around the city to find the trail leading to the disarming code as the police begin a city wide search of all schools.
However with the law wrapped up searching for the bomb, Simon and his team of German mercenaries carry out an audacious heist of the Federal Reserve Bank, taking over $140bn worth of gold bullion. When McClane pieces together they have been sent on a wild goose chase, they race to track down Simon and get the code from him and prevent him from escaping with the gold. But McClane is always mindful of his last encounter with a Gruber and that nothing is as ever as obvious as it seems…
Very few third films in a series can offer a fresh approach to the original and deliver a generally favoured bigger, bolder and better outing. I can think of ‘Goldfinger’, ‘John Wick 3’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’. I don’t mean in terms of box-office appeal, but general critical and audience applaud of a film that builds on the previous to give us something new, but also familiar. While ‘Die Hard With A Vengeance’ may not top the simplicity and stripped down thrills of the original (what could?), it comes very close and manages to better it at times with the action and character humanity. It’s fast, frantic and furiously entertaining as it builds on the tepid, action-hero stages of ‘Die Hard 2’ to blend everything we love about the series into one explosive thrill ride.
For me, this is one of THE best action movies of the 90s, and of the genre. It’s often just overshadowed by the 1988 original.
Now we are not restrained to just a tower block or an airport; here we have the whole of New York City to play in. On McClane’s home soil, he’s thrown in at the deep end when the action kicks off at just over 1min 10secs before with a superb explosive opening. In a film focusing on NYC terrorised by the threat of bombings where no-one is safe, in a post 9/11 world the films seems to hit more notes with audiences about just how dangerous the world we live in really is. We see citizens pulling together in times of fear, the law enforcement pushed to their limits and the desperation of our heroes in trying to save a city that means so much to them. And there’s something always so haunting seeing the Twin Towers in the backdrop as McClane and Carver race to save the city.
But I digress; with the continuous threat of the ticking time-bomb that fuels the majority of the movie, there is no time to stop and think. With the action hitting an all-time high filmed on location around the city, the stuntwork and direction to make everything feel so real is one of the reasons this film excels. From dangerous driving through and around Central Park and rush-hour traffic, to dramatic Wall Street shoot-outs and explosions, there is very little CG enhancement here thankfully and you see literally everything play out before you with a mix of stunt work and actor involvement. I don’t know to this day how director John McTiernan caused so much chaos around New York, while at the same time remembering every crash, bang and shot was tightly choreographed. It is stellar film-making for the ‘Die Hard’ series and action films in general before CGI took over to lower the threat but detract from the excitement and reality of things.
Bruce Willis is back on fine form as John McClane and is far more human than he was in ‘Die Hard 2’ where action-hero invulnerably was creeping in. Here, he is introduced with heavy stubble, bleary eyes and a bad f***ing hangover. His marriage is over, his career is near collapse and his lust for live has dwindled. This is the hero we left in ‘Die Hard’, and he has flaws, regrets and dreams that come to fruition over the story. He makes mistakes, he bleeds, tires himself out and constantly challenges the danger he puts himself in. The white vest even returns throughout, and this is why Willis plays McClane so well; he can handle himself in the action, but he is only human and reminds us of this and how flawed he is. Coupled with the outspoken Zeus Carver, played brilliantly by Samuel L Jackson, the two characters are perfect for each other as they start a prickly partnership evolving over the duration to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film. Jackson’s no-nonsense attitude and clued up Carver is a man who has seen the cultural divide of black and white people in New York, and this fuels his outlook on the situation (“That’s a white man with white problems – you deal with it.”), yet he never comes across as arrogant or rude; simply a devoted man who wants to protect himself and his family from the confrontation out in the world. This makes his reluctant but heroic involvement more worthy as you see him take more and more risks to knock down the racial barrier he has up.
McClane and Carver don’t like each other, or have time for the other’s problems, but are brought together by a greater threat that forces them to bury whatever angst, racial issues or ego they have and work together. Quick fire bickering, insults and conversation that is hard to believe is scripted make their first meeting to the explosive finale a joy when they are on screen. It actually makes you miss them more when Simon and his gang take over for a portion of the film to commence their heist. Jeremy Irons is perfect as the snake-like Simon Gruber, mirroring Alan Rickman in his appearance as being not very physically imposing, but channelling a brilliant tactical mind that keeps us, and McClane, guessing to where he is taking things. As we don’t see him for over 40 minutes, his charming and memorable voice alone hooks us as he phones in his threats and riddles for us to simply listen to. Irons manages to convey humour, anger, frustration and confidence with just his voice which presents more of a danger than seeing a man trying to walk and talk tough with a machine gun. We see his threats come to a head in the opening titles and straight away become hooked that this is a man with a plan and not to under-estimate him.
Thankfully not re-hashing plot points characters from the previous two films (Holly McClane is carried through the film by name only), new faces are brought in on McClane’s home soil and they are likeable from the outset, with their already established tolerance and admiration for McClane and how they act to save the city as one unit. Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Anthony Peck and Larry Bryggman make for an entertaining NYPD team who you feel have been a strong unit for many years previous.
As I say, the only moment things seem to slow in during the heist itself. It’s fun to watch unfold, but you just want to carry on with the wise-cracking McClane and Carver show and find out where the next explosive confrontation will be. Regardless of that however, this really doesn’t let you sit back and relax – from the opening minute to the 119th minute, this is a ticking time-bomb of pure adrenaline-fuelled excitement, thankfully offering a fresh piece of ‘Die Hard’ action with a solid return to form but in a much wider playground. It’s bloody, brutal, foul-mouthed and chaotic; just like it was back in 1988 at Nakatomi Plaza.
And on such a high as the memorable, triumphant fan-fare of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” blares out leaving our heroes to recover in such a fitting end, it really makes you wish the John McClane story had ended there in 1995.
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