John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist Simon in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building.John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist Simon in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building.John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist Simon in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building.
Samuel L. Jackson Through the Years
When one thinks of buddy action pictures, Lethal Weapon is immediately the first film to pop into your mind, since it virtually birthed the genre. Another choice would probably be Midnight Run or Rush Hour, the latter of which somehow took pop culture by storm (I recall my friends going around, shouting "My daddy once caught a bullet..."). So often left in the dust, probably because it was the third film of a trilogy and strayed quite a bit from its predecessors, is none other than Die Hard: With a Vengeance which, off the top of my head, is the best buddy action film I've ever seen.
How can this be? Better than Lethal Weapon 1 and 2? Better than Rush Hour? Hell, I'll even say it's better than Die Hard and Die Harder. Here is a film that wisely knows, as a second sequel, not to simply repeat the same material over again. This has partially to do with the numerous Die Hard rip-offs (namely Under Siege and Speed), so those hooks were gone, and I absolutely thank God John Mctiernan and company didn't suddenly decide "we'll do Die Hard on a plane!," which would eventually be done three times (Executive Decision, Air Force One, and Con Air). But what the filmmakers have done here is ingenious, they've widened the setting to include all of New York City.
They do this and still manage to retain the intense claustrophobia that permeated the previous entries, doing so by displaying just how frantic morning traffic is and just how BIG New York is. As nonsensical as that last statement may sound, imagine trying to get from point A to point B in the middle of a traffic jam. Mctiernan really knows how to let the tension ratchet up from just the sound of honking horns.
Then there's the case of John McClane himself. This time around, he's at the whim of a madman named Simon who requires him to perform certain tasks or New York buildings will be demolished by explosives. In the first two films, McClane was an everyman, which added much appeal, but he also acted a bit too much like a superhero to work consistently as an everyman, so what the filmmakers have done here is turn him into a jaded cop. He's seen this stuff before, so he's not as scared as he was before. Willis is great at this role, too, seeing as he's done it before in The Last Boy Scout, but takes it to perfection here.
Rather, who we now have as the everyman is Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus, and he's a brilliant addition. Not only is Jackson simply awesome in his role, he's likeable, tough, and hilarious, but he's also easy to sympathize with because he's not an action hero. He doesn't know how to use a gun, he has no combat training, and he's never had to take on terrorists before. What makes him so effective is his street-wise nature, and this quality of his works perfectly with McClane's own street smarts AND action heroics, which they combine in their day-long adventure. These two have a chemistry that at least equals Riggs and Murtaugh and if there's a Die Hard sequel, Jackson needs to come back.
Too many action movies give us poor villains who aren't menacing, vile, or charismatic enough to make for effective antagonists. Jeremy Irons' Simon Gruber is an exception. He is the best Die Hard villain, oozing charm and snaky intelligence. This was one of the last few roles of Irons' career I could take seriously. He's done what since then, Dungeons and Dragons? Pity how his career has taken such a downward spiral.
And last, there's the story and action. The plot's a lot of fun, with McClane and Zeus having to use both their brains and brawn to save the day. The contrivances in the finale (the scene with the handcuffs, the aspirin bottle) aren't enough to bring the climax down, though it's true the conclusion isn't as exciting as the rest of the film. That's understandable though, since the rest of the action is magnificent, particularly a car "chase" through the streets of New York which is as unstaged as a car chase can possibly look. The film moves at a lightning pace that grips you from the opening scene to the very last. Die Hard: With a Vengeance is an action flick that has it all.
- Apr 16, 2003