The first “Die Hard” film is a tough film to beat in the action film genre. It has a complicated villain, great action, characters get great exploration and the stakes continue to rise throughout the film…which when combined with great cinematography and music lead to the creation of an unforgettable classic. “Die Hard with a Vengeance” does all that better and manages to add even more to create the perfect action film concoction.
The film was directed by John McTiernan, who was also one of the producers and the guy who had directed the first “Die Hard” film, written by Jonathan Hensleigh, produced by Michael Tadross and based off the story “Simon Says” by Jonathan Hensleigh.
The story involves John McClane (Bruce Willis) who has been suspended from the NYPD but is called back into it when a mysterious terrorist called “Simon” (Jeremy Irons) who is placing bombs around NYC and only McClane doing what he says can prevent them from being set off. After Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) says John in Harlem, he finds himself pulled into the mysterious Simon’s plot as well.
The Pros: The Premise – The premise is pretty great! John McClane’s life has fallen apart and someone who is causing chaos and death in NYC has a personal issue with him and wants to make his life and even greater living hell. The whole idea of “Simon Says” is clever too as well as the riddles on where the bombs are placed.
The Ticking Bomb – The ticking bomb is something present throughout the film. Simon has bombs everywhere and it raises the stakes on what our heroes (Zues, John and the NYPD) have to do in order to save lives. The twist with this too is sometimes there are riddles within riddles and some bombs might be fakes. It is brilliant and reminds me of the Joker before the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of creating tension and making open spaces around NYC feel threatening. Peter Menzies Jr. really does a fantastic job!
The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography is great at raising the tension and has a great placement of “The Ants Going Marching” while Simon is robbing the New York Federal Reserve of all the money. Michael Kamen really did a good job creating an unforgettable score for the film.
The Action – The action is the best it has ever been. We have a ticking bomb in a school and on a ship that need to get disarmed at different points, we have a car chase and a huge battle in a truck yard and countless other great action scenes.
The NYPD – The NYPD is more than just caricatures and are actually good at their job. There is Detective Joe Lambert who helps keep the school kids calm when and prepares them to get out, Connie who is the connection between events going through the city and the Police Chief Walter who works with John even though he’s a mess and is on top of every problem as it is happening and does a good job making sure Zeus and John meet what Simon says while and the NYPD work on preventing other problems Simon might be calling. Weiss, the bomb defuser also has his own arc too as we see him face his fears (this being his first time doing this with this high of stakes) in order to save the kids in the school.
Simon’s Crew – Simon’s crew is just as memorable as Hans’s crew. Both of them are a team of mercenaries who are almost like family as they are risking it all for the job and are highly professional. In the case of Simon he also has a relationship his “Dragon” and muscle Katya who kills his handler the Iranians sent to take the money and keeps the NYPD at bay. They are really awesome and it is super cool when it looks like they have won and Simon promises them buying their own nation since they’ve stolen all the world’s money that was in the New York Federal Reserve.
Zeus / The Samaritan – Samuel L. Jackson does a fantastic job as Zeus…a shop owner who saves John McClane in Harlem and finds himself in over his head. He rises to the challenge though and we see that he is a man who deals with his problems, unlike McClane and is actually able to help McClane grow and they even develop a friendship too as Zeus works through his own prejudices in it all. He really is a fantastic character and was much more compelling than McClane at the end of the day. He’s dubbed “The Samaritan” by Simon for saving John in Harlem when Simon’s trap doesn’t work.
John McClane – McClane begins the process of growing up finally! In this film he starts out a mess and is alone and isolated until Zeus helps him deal with his issues and the fact that he doesn’t communicate with people. In this he starts too and actually works with the NYPD rather than against them which ends up saving the day in the end. He learns this from Zeus who is also a bit standoffish and learns a variation on it too. The film ends with him calling his wife who he is separated from and actually talking to her as what lead to them being separated in the first place was his refusal to call her back and deal with his crap.
John and Zeus and an Ensemble Show – Together these two made a buddy cop film which was fantastic as the “Die Hard” Franchise has almost always been about just McClane and his lone wolf cowboy way of getting things done, which just makes those around him look stupid even though plotwise they shouldn’t be. Making this film a buddy cop and him working with Zeus to start with was powerful as we saw John is human and not a cartoon character who does need help. This is completed with the NYC doing their job too and showing they are competent as it takes John, Zeus and the NYPD to save the day in the end.
Simon Peter Gruber – Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber is one of the best villains in cinema. He presents himself as an idealistic terrorist who is just a thief, but does care about people as his crew is one he he is close too. Simon like Hans is a thief but he also has a huge ego and has to play mind games (like the Riddler) but also has a much bigger army who is loyal to him (like Bane) and is willing to do anything to win even if it is killing the men who claims to be close to (like the Joker and Bane) as we see him pause when saluting “Dead friends,” showing those deaths meant nothing to him. Where Hans was just greedy, Simon is a psychopath who also loves as the assassin Katya is his lover and his ambitions are greater than Hans’s too as he wants International Sovereignty through the cash, where with Hans we never found out what he wanted to use the money for beyond getting rich. After everything he puts John and Zeus through it is rewarding to see him defeated, though I was hoping he’d escape. He’s one of the greatest movie villains of all time and Jeremy Irons played him so well that to me, he is the best villain in the Franchise.
This was the perfect action and was even better than the first “Die Hard” film. The reasons for this were the Ensemble cast who all worked to save the day in the case of the heroes or to complete the mission in the case of Simon and his men, this movie was about more than McClane and was stronger because of it as it made the film more real and made the stakes all the more powerful as John couldn’t just shoot his way out of every situation like he could in the first 2 films. “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is easily one of the best action films ever made and is one of my favorite films of all time. I seriously recommend this film to any fan of this Franchise and action films as a whole.
Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect action film.