Die Hard With A Vengeance
directed by John McTiernan
starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons
at Sony Fresh Pond
"Aliens," "Predator," and "Terminator" are three of he best action films of all time, and all three have atrocious sequels. "Lethal Weapon" was an excellent movie. Its sequels were the same movie with different bad guys. The "Indiana Jones" films are all exciting, but the last two don't live up to the standard's set by "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In fact, the only action trilogy that has remained faithful to itself by creating fresh, exciting, meaningful sequels is "Star Wars." The only one, that is, until now.
The original "Die Hard' is, for my money, probably the greatest action film of all time. It takes place in a limited space (the top floors of a building), combining the action of gunfighting with wonderful stunts involving elevators and elevator shafts. "Die Hard" seems formulaic now, but that is because it is as responsible as any other film for inventing and defining the action-movie genre. "Die Hard" was followed by "Die Harder," which almost surpassed it.
The third installment, "Die Hard With a Vengeance," reunites Bruce Willis with John McTiernan (director of the original "Die Hard"). Like "Return of the Jedi," the new movie is a slight let-down in a from the first two. But a slight let-down in a third movie is a great success in a world that has produced "Beverly Hills Cop III." This latest "Die Hard" movie cements its place at the top of the action movie pyramid.
"Die Hard With a vengeance" wisely keeps some of the formula that makes its predecessors so wonderful, but still introduces enough new twists to make itself independent (it even has an elevator sence of its own). The movie brings back John Clan (Bruce Willis), veteran New York detective and hero of terrorist incidents at Nakitomi Plaza in Los Angeles and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.. McClane is having marital difficulties, not having talked to his wife in a year, and is "one step" from being an alcoholic. He is also on suspension from the police force.
McClane's nemesis this time is Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons, with bleached blond hair), founder of an East German special forces unit and brother of Hans Gruber, the man McClane dropped from the thirty-second floor of the Nakitomi building two movies ago. Simon is a man with terrible anger (towards McClane), a propensity for migraine headaches and access to more than a ton of powerful liquid explosive. A deadly combination.
Simon has decided to play some games with McClane, making the cop solve various riddles, with the penalty for failure being a large explosion in a public place. Eventually, Simon threatens to blow up an elementary school. Were this the entire plot, the movie would be a silly, predictable way to cover up a lack of ideas. Fortunately, like its forerunners, "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is full of surprises.
John McAllen, like all good action heroes, rises to the occasion. He becomes involved reluctantly and out of necessity, but he never gives up. He jumps off boats, leaps onto subway train roofs, rides steel cables and faces down machine-guns. Throughout the movie, he is beaten, shot-at and half-drowned; but he always comes back with a wisecrack.
We see in his humor a reflection of ourselves, and we admire his resilience and ability to laugh nervously at what is going on around him. We laugh both at the joke and at the total outlandishess of what he has just done. When he drives a taxi at sickening speed through Central Park (not Park Drive, but the park itself), we are not so much surprised as fulfilled. As the cab careens through the park, his sidekick asks, "Are you trying to hit these people?", McClane snaps back, "No'! Well...maybe that mime." We see that through all the terrorist incidents, beatings and domestic troubles, John McClane has not lost his spirit.
The most definitive trait of the "Die Hard" movies is that the danger is not only (or even mostly) to the hero, but rather to the many innocent people that hero, but rather to the many innocent people that the villain holds hostage. In "Die Hard," it was people in a skyscraper, in and above Dulles International, and in "Die Hard With a Vengeance," it is the entire city of New York. That gives some indication of the ambition of this movie,
Bruce Willis was so good in "Moonlighting" (on television), and then in the first is seemed impossible to measure how successful he could be. He was hip, funny and tough, an rare enough combination, and on top of that he was completely believable. As Mcclane, his interactions with Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Vel Johnson), allowed him to show that he had a soul, something action heroes rarely possess. In the last 10 years, he should have developed into an actor of moresurprising dimensions. But bad choices like "Blind Date" and "Hudson Hawk" brought him quickly back to earth. Now he is having a kind of resurgence, sparked first by his excellent performance in "Pulp Fiction," and blown into flame by the greatness of "Die Hard With a Vengeance.
Samual L. Jackson, Willis "Pulp Fiction" co-star, fills Vel-Johnson's empty partner slot as Zeus, a former cab driver, current Harlem store-owner and hater of thieves drug-dealers, and white people. After saving McClane's life early in the movie, Zeus comes along for the ride, helping McClane to solve the riddles and do the things that "Simon says." (The film-makers are careful to use every pun and nursery rhyme they can think of with the name Simon.)
Before the press screening started, I told the man behind me, a critic from AP Radio how nervous I was this that movie would not live up to its position in the series. When he tapped came on at the end of the show he tapped me on the shoulder. "I think you've got a winner," he said. I couldn't agree more.