Country: United States
Director: John McTiernan
TRASH CINEMA ESSENTIAL MOVIE
Director John McTiernen and screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh waste no time getting around to the good stuff in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Within minutes, mad bomber Simon (Jeremy Irons) is playing a game of Simon Says, sending John McClane (Bruce Willis) on one wild goose chase after another, threatening to blow up bombs in public places if McClane refuses to dance on his strings.
First assignment for McClane: walk around in Harlem in his underwear, wearing a sandwich board. What’s written on the sandwich board attracts the attention of Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), who runs a locksmithing shop. Zeus is a model of civic responsibility, lecturing his nephews on self-reliance, doing well in school, and staying away from illegal activities. He only has one teensy weensy flaw. He’s a stone bigot.
After a tense and hilarious scene in which Zeus has no choice but to extricate McClane from his predicament, the mad bomber forces Zeus to join McClane on his adventures.
For my money, Zeus is Samuel L. Jackson’s crowning achievement to date. Granted, screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh has written the character brilliantly, but it’s Samuel L. who really brings Zeus to life. His reaction shots to McClane’s latest outrage are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
Then there’s the relationship between Zeus and McClane. They’re like a bickering couple, with Zeus taking every dig as evidence of McClane’s racism. It’s a hoot.
The first half hour or so of Die Hard: With A Vengeance is just perfect — it’s thrilling, it’s hilarious, and it’s completely unpredictable. Then we get the plot.
Once again, terrorists are depicted as using politics as a smokescreen for their real motivation: making boatloads of money. That is so boring and unrealistic it makes me want to scream. However, credit Jonathan Hensleigh for at least coming up with a heist that is original and creative. The mad bomber’s strategy is a lot of fun for the audience to unravel. Director John McTiernen keeps us scrambling to keep up, along with McClane and Zeus.
The portion of the picture detailing the heist is almost as good as the opening, and is beautifully paced by McTiernen. There is one glaring flaw, however. Whoever decided to make “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” a key aspect of the film’s score deserves to have their eardrums punctured. It comes close to ruining whole sequences of the film.
Still, in the sheer volume of wonderful setpieces, Die Hard: With A Vengeance makes up for it. The Harlem sandwich board sequence which I already mentioned; McClane taking the scenic route through Central Park in a taxi; McClane and Zeus shimmying along a wire high above a container ship with a gunman down below on deck; McClane surfing a truck on a 40 foot wall of water (don’t ask); and more.
Sadly, the ending of Die Hard: With A Vengeance is weak.
The filmmakers struggled with the ending to Die Hard: With A Vengeance. There are at least two alternate endings that I know of. In one, a briefcase bomb that Zeus and McClane disarmed is accidentally opened in the mad bomber’s getaway plane. Although witty, I’m sure that one was rejected for not directly involving McClane and Zeus.
Another ending, which was actually filmed, has the mad bomber getting away with his scheme and McClane catching up to him later in a bar. McClane forces the bomber to play a game of McClane Says with a rocket launcher on which the sights have been filed off. The rules of the game: as long as the bomber can answer McClane’s riddles, he doesn’t have to fire the rocket launcher. No prizes for guessing how that game ends. This ending was rejected because it made McClane look too cruel.
In any case, the first and second acts of Die Hard: With A Vengeance have built up so much audience good will, that you don’t really resent the weak ending so much. In fact, Die Hard: With A Vengeance is the best of the series, narrowly edging out Die Hard 2, which has a better climax.
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