Explosive Action! ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ Retrospective
Yippie Kay Yay
This was the first Die Hard film I ever saw, which came on AMC’s Story Notes. I thought it was going to be boring as action films aren’t really my thing. It turns out it was much better than I thought, and I couldn’t get enough. The film is the third in the series, however I have since seen the first one, also on Story Notes. The film is the 1995 action film Die Hard with a Vengeance, which was directed by John McTiernan.
The film’s plot continues the antics of Detective Lieutenant John McClane who must go around solving riddles to keep bombs from exploding in New York City. Meanwhile, a mysterious person named Simon is planning a big heist.
The film begins literally with a bang as a store in New York City explodes. Someone calling themselves Simon, played by Jeremy Irons, takes credit for it and calls the police. He forces recently suspended Lieutenant John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, go to an African American neighborhood wearing a sign with racist material or he’ll set off another bomb.
Close by, a store owner named Zeus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, notices McClane and attempts to warn him about wearing the sign in public. As McClane attempts to explain that it’s a police matter, they are met by a group of black men. They harass McClane for the sign and Zeus for protecting him. They are forced to retreat back to police headquarters.
Simon calls headquarters and tells McClane, and now Zeus, that they must do a series of riddles or kaboom. In a comedic scene, McClane and Zeus fail to answer a riddle from a payphone and collapse in public thinking a bomb will go off. When nothing happens the crowd acts appropriately to seeing two guys suddenly duck on the ground.
McClane and Zeus are next tasked with reaching an underground subway and answer the phone there to stop a bomb which was placed on a subway. Despite reaching and answering the phone the bomb still goes off causing mass destruction underground.
In the aftermath McClane and Zeus meet back with the police. Simon calls again and reveals that he’s the brother of Hans Gruber from the first film and apparently wants revenge for his death by McClane. Simon tells them of another bomb at a school.
While all of this is happening, Simon and his Russian team use the distractions they caused to rob the Federal Reserve Bank of its gold bars. While they mostly use tranquilizers, his right-hand woman Katya, played by Sam Philips, slashes a guard to pieces. They end up stealing billions of dollars’ worth of gold and places them on several dump trucks.
McClane and Zeus pass by a park. While there McClane finds and accidently arms another bomb, but another riddle later he and Zeus defuse it and give it to a nearby police officer. Well, they think he’s an officer. He’s actually one of Simon’s guys. McClane figure out that the bombs are a distraction for something else and follows the dump trucks into large tunnels.
After some tunnel shenanigans, an underground dam is destroyed causing the tunnels to be flooded. McClane escapes and meets back up with Zeus. McClane found quarters in a dump truck and figures that they’re about to cross a toll and board a tanker to unload the gold.
At the same time, the police work to find the school with the bomb Simon mentioned. They eventually find it and the bomb. The school is evacuated except for a small group of kids. An officer finds them and attempts to evacuate them, but there’s no time. The bomb technician Charlie, played by Kevin Chamberlin, attempts to diffuse the bomb as fast as he can, despite being given the order to evacuate himself.
McClane and Zeus board the tanker and split up to look for Simon. McClane gets into more shenanigans with Simon’s group. Zeus encounters Simon and briefly holds him at gunpoint, but because Zeus doesn’t know what he’s doing he’s injured and captured by Simon. It’s eventually revealed that the bomb at the school is a dud filled with pancake syrup while the real bomb is on the tanker. McClane too is captured by Simon after some banter. The third act then plays out.
While the film is an action flick, I must say that this film is loaded with comedy. There are so many moments done purposely to make you laugh. There are too many moments to list but one that stands out is when Zeus attempts to steal a gold bar that was left behind. As he and McClane follow the dump trucks, they steal a car from a civilian because it had a car phone. They ask him the name of a president, but the civilian swears at them. As Zeus jokes about this, McClane remarks that he’ll feel better when he looks in the back seat. To Zeus’s dismay, he left the gold bar in the other car.
Another notable moment is the bomb McClane activates in the park. Zeus tells him not to open the briefcase containing the bomb, but McClane opens it and is greeted by the message “I am a bomb, you have armed me.”
The film’s main dynamic is the duo of McClane and Zeus. They constantly bicker and argue over what to do and how to handle situations. McClane’s police experience clashes with Zeus’s street-smarts. Zeus is also constantly on his guard around Caucasians and comes off as a bit of a racist. This is actually lamented by McClane during the park bomb scene in another comedic moment. There was originally going to be a scene that would describe Zeus’s backstory. He’s introduces as a store owner who’s teaching his nephews to be cautious around certain people. Throughout the film Zeus is shown to be quite knowledgeable as he at times comes off smarter than McClane, especially with some of Simon’s riddles.
That’s not to say that McClane isn’t smart. There’s an elevator scene where he uses his detective insight to figure out who the people are that are around him, which turn out to be Simon’s men. McClane himself complains most of the film of a headache which eventually leads to a major plot twist near the end. Like usual, McClane is sarcastic, a deadpan snarker, and spits out one-liners. We do learn some personal things about him later, such as his relationship with his wife.
Simon is a mixed villain. He wants one thing but makes everyone think another. His true motives aren’t revealed until much later. He has a solid goal which makes him boarder-lined anti-villain. Despite being the villain, he cares deeply for most of his men and won’t harm children, despite threatening to blow them up. He does develop feelings for his henchwoman Katya, who doesn’t speak a single word.
Honestly, all the other characters don’t stand out. They’re not really characters, just plot devices to advance the story. There are several police personnel, but none of them stand out as having a lasting impact. It’s not that their roles are bad, it’s just that there isn’t enough there for them to be major characters. Same goes for Simon’s men, as Katya is the only one who really stands out. The only other one was Targo, played by Nick Wyman. He was a big guy who fought McClane, but what ultimately happens to him is anticlimactic.
The only song I can think of is the song Johnny Comes Marching Home, which is an abridged version of Ants Go Marching. It fit the scenes of Simon’s men robbing the bank, but it was overused and got irritating to listen to.
Overall, Die Hard with a Vengeance is a watchable action flick. It’s not really a film with the deepest story, but that’s not its goal. This is more of a summer popcorn flick that fills in those action needs. All the action scenes are well done with lots of explosions and guns. The film has lots of outlandish, over the top moments and a great chemistry between the two main characters. It starts with a bang and ends on one. This is your film if stories aren’t your style but if you like loads of action.
Original film trailer
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