After Die Hard, which took place in a 40 floor building, came Die Hard 2, which was set in an airport. How do you top that? Well, according to this series, you move to an entire city. That seems like a big jump to me. Was a mall not available for filming? Where are you going to go next? A country? The entire world? After you do an entire city, you’re going to have to go pretty big to top it. Thankfully, I’m not in charge and don’t have to worry about these kinds of problems.
There’s one other area where we’ve upgraded in Die Hard with a Vengeance. This time, John McClane (Bruce Willis) gets a sidekick in the form of Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson). No, not the Greek god, but instead, a man who saved John from a potentially deadly situation, and who is now lumped in with him. The plot involves Hans Gruber’s brother, who goes by the name of “Simon” (Jeremy Irons), commanding the pair to go all over the city obeying his orders and solving riddles. In one case, this involves figuring out how to get exactly four liters of water with only a three and five liter buckets. I remember doing that sort of question in school, but it takes our heroes right up until the last minute to solve it.
At the outset, Simon seems like he’s just out for revenge. After all, his brother was killed in the first Die Hard, and wanting revenge seems like a fun plan. Why didn’t he do this earlier though? There was a film before this, called Die Hard 2, although Die Hard with a Vengeance seems to completely ignore that film. That’s probably for the best, because it wasn’t all that good anyway. Instead, this plays out more like a direct sequel to the first film, just taking place a few years later, where John McClane is “one step” away from being an alcoholic.
Not that his potential alcoholism ever comes into play, except for a running gag involving John claiming he has a really bad headache. It seems that we’ve officially passed into the territory where we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, as lines like this appear early and often here. There isn’t much seriousness here, except for when Simon declares that he’s hidden a bomb in one of the Manhattan schools, and if our two heroes don’t follow his directions exactly, he’ll blow it. At one point, police find the school in question, and have to decide what to do. (We’ve been told that evacuating the school will activate the bomb too.) The film is series in any scene involving children, but otherwise, Willis and Jackson seem to laugh through most of their action scenes.
There are plenty of action scenes in this film, and they’re creative enough to hold interest. Having the film take place in a city seems like a good idea, because it allows you to use things that weren’t in the last film: Cars. And they are milked for all they’re worth, with cars being the main source of transportation, as well as the obligatory chase sequence that seems to creep into every action movie.
There’s also a lot of racist talk in this film, although not much is done with it apart from bringing attention to this issue. Zeus, whenever possible, asks John if he’s a racist. But that’s as far as it goes. There’s no point made to doing this, and nothing ever comes from it. I’m unsure why it’s brought up at all, except to add to “realism”, something that rarely appears in action movies in the first place. It certainly doesn’t appear often in this film. Or maybe it was there to give Jackson’s character more depth. Sure, let’s go with that.
Like Alan Rickman before him, Jeremy Irons does a good job with his role as the villain. I still don’t understand why the family was made German, but I suspect that it just makes them sound more “evil.” Regardless, Irons gives his role a similar feel to Rickman’s, all the way down to the true motive of his crimes. We still don’t know a lot about them, but both characters have a fearsome screen presence. Jackson and Willis end up having a good chemistry, and their dialogue is reminiscent of John McClane and the police officer from the first film — sharp, witty, and not all exposition.
While the action scenes may be inventive, the plot is not. The initially set-up of what Simon plans to do is intriguing, but the plot eventually degenerates into having our main characters chasing the bad guys, all while someone else tries to disarm a bomb. It’s predictable and cliché, and even the final twist near the end won’t even make you bat an eye. The twist also serves to extend the running time, leading to what should be a twenty-minute action scene ends up lasting only five.
All things considered, this feels like a much better sequel to the first Die Hard than what we got with Die Hard 2. It has the same type of tone and nature, and it doesn’t have a plot that’s basically retreading old ground. It simply feels more like a sequel than what we initially got was, and it seems like the filmmakers knew that, because no references are made to Die Hard 2. Again, I think that’s for the best, because I didn’t enjoy Die Hard 2 all that much.
Die Hard with a Vengeance is a pretty good film, one that ends up being a good sequel to the spectacular Die Hard. It has wit, charm, charismatic characters and fun action scenes. It also has another great villain from Jeremy Irons. The plot is where it starts to get weak, thanks to typical action movie clichés, but it’s still a fun ride that you’ll probably enjoy if you liked the first Die Hard.