Die Hard With a Vengeance [retro review]

Beer is normally taken internally, John.

The Scoop: 1995 R, directed by John McTiernan and starring Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, and Samuel L Jackson

Tagline: Think fast. Look alive. Die hard.

Summary Capsule: It’s the only Die Hard movie that doesn’t fit the “Die Hard in a _____” formula. Unless you consider Manhattan a restrictive space.

PoolMan’s Rating: PoolMan’s Die Hard trifecta… COMPLETE!

PoolMan’s Review: I really do love my mother. She’s a fun lady. She’s the kind of mom that all the neighbourhood kids liked, who always told the best jokes, and who always had one more space at the dinner table for a friend (even well into my twenties!). Heck, when she met Justin, the first thing she did was bonk foreheads with him. It was really cute. But when it comes to movies, I’ve come to notice she’s just a little clueless. Just a bit. She likes some weird stuff (don’t get me started again on her Tom Selleck fixation), and for whatever reason, she has the damndest time telling the difference between originals and sequels. For Christmas two years ago, I asked for Men in Black. She gave me Men in Black 2. Last year, I asked for Die Hard. I got Die Hard With a Vengeance. So close, yet so far.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! If I had to rank DHWAV in the series, I would put it at a close second behind the original Die Hard, and ahead of the second movie, Die Hard 2: Dances With Stewardesses. I had remembered differently than it actually was… I saw the movie years ago, and had kind of dismissed it because it didn’t precisely follow the old Die Hard formula: sticking take-no-prisoners NYPD cop John McClane in a tight space with a whole bunch of terrorists and watching him take them all down while cracking jokes over a walky-talky with a cuddly black guy.

But just because they changed things up a bit doesn’t mean the movie’s no good. Instead of restricting McClane (Bruce “Yippee Kiyay” Willis) to just a single office building or airport, they’ve finally brought him home to New York City, and he’s all over it. We see him walking through Harlem (in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes), bicycling through Wall Street, and driving through Central Park. Yes, I said “through”. Instead of being on walky-talkies, he carries some pretty hilariously dated cell phones. And instead of a cuddly black guy, they brought in Samuel L. “Say WHAT again!” Jackson. That’s a little like going from a teddy bear to a hardcore, white hating grizzly with indigestion. And it totally works. Willis and Jackson are so good together on screen it just makes you jump. Plus, as an added bonus, Zeus (Jackson’s character) even gets to kick in the occasional zinger instead of letting McClane have all the fun.

Just like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the film’s creators saw fit to return to beating up Germans, after the all-American traitor bad guy team of Die Hard 2. We pick up the movie right in the thick of things, with a Eurotrash terrorist identified as Simon (played to the hilt by Dungeons and Dragons’ Jeremy “Emperor Crazy McDragonstick” Irons) blowing up an expensive store in NYC, and threatening to blow even more unless one John McClane starts doing exactly what he says, which is basically to take on a series of increasingly dangerous “games”. Of course, there’s more at stake than just John’s hangover here, and watching the plan unfold is really quite interesting. Sure, it’s over the top and full of plot holes, but that’s all part of the fun.

The return of John McTiernan (who directed the first Die Hard, while Renny Harlin directed the second) makes the movie feel a lot more like the original. The fact that they changed a bunch of the staples of the series doesn’t actually alter the feel all that much, and it was probably a good idea to get away from being too formulaic. So the stuff that worked in the first movie (the Euro enemies, the vengeance plotline) stays, and the stuff that works as original plot devices (opening the playing field to all of New York, having another tough guy character) is just icing on a deliciously explosive cake.

I had honestly forgotten how much I liked Die Hard 3. It’s fast paced, full of all the traditional explosions and whatnot, but it’s very much its own movie. I had been kind of dreading rewatching it, but darned if I wasn’t right on the edge of my seat as Zeus and John argue about how to get 4 gallons of water in a 5 a gallon drum. Die Hard is Die Hard, after all. Thanks, Mom!

Sue’s Rating: How many arch-villains do you know who use the phrase, “Holy Toledo!”? I can think of… one.

Sue’s Review: There was a time in the annals of history, when heirs to thrones were not chosen by the order of their birth, but rather by their fitness to rule. Therefore, being basically as old as dirt myself, I have no qualms (qualms — I love that word!) about embracing the old traditions and passing over Die Hard 2 — undoubtedly the weakest link — to crown Die Hard With A Vengeance as the heir apparent of the franchise. It remains (at the time I’m writing this) to be seen where Die Hard 4 will fit in the order of ascension.

Actually, and I wouldn’t admit this to just anybody, but I know I can trust your discretion, I’d rather watch DHWAV than the original Die Hard nine times out of ten. I know, I know, that’s practically heretical, but when you’re old you can say what you want with impunity. It’s not like they still burn wacky old women at the stake. Not legally anyway. They just, you know, ignore them. Ask my kids. I said, ask my kids. Hey! Are you listening to me?!

In any case, here’s what DHWAV has going for it that puts it smack near the top of my movie comfort zone list.

  • The Zeus and Bruce show. (All right I’m mixing up character and actor names, but it rhymed, okay?) As unlikely a buddy team as you’ll ever see (outside of lions, meerkats and warthogs that is) they engage in a hilariously reluctant choreography of kicking and screaming, whining and cursing, and general temper tantrum-ing all for the good of mankind. Yeah, Die Hard might be Willis’ franchise, but Samuel L. Jackson isn’t anybody’s flunky sidekick.
  • Puzzles! Guess what? I stink at puzzles. Especially math puzzles. If you want to know how many apples Bob gave Mary if the train is going north-west at fifty-seven miles per hour and gets to Portland at 9:03pm — hey, Google it and don’t ask me! The fact is, I’m so excrementally bad at puzzles that nothing makes me happier than seeing them inflicted on other people. With high explosives even.
  • Simon. Can I just say, with all due respect, that Jeremy Irons owns this movie? Simon is smart, suave, charming, polite, unflappable, diabolical and even… whimsical. Now there’s a word you don’t attach to too many villains! There’s no arguing that Simon calmly and deliberately unleashes massive amounts of mayhem wherever he goes — but by golly, the man has style! He even exhibits a certain amount of honor and… dang… compassion. You can’t help but like him, even when he’s making hash out of the NYC subway system. He’s sexy as all heck too. There, I said it. I don’t approve of Simon’s taste in women, but by golly Jeremy Irons is hot! When even a man’s arms are sexy, you know you’re in trouble! And that voice…. Evil never sounded so good. I’m wibbling, aren’t I? Okay, enough said.
  • Action. It’s basically non-stop in this movie. Oh, maybe they stop once in a while for a band-aid, but there’s just about always something going on and it does manage to keep you guessing between the explosions and bloodshed.

All in all, a well rounded movie for the Action/Adventure inclined.

The fact is that while DHWAV is far from a parody, it definitely doesn’t take itself seriously either. There are a few cartoonish elements, and there are plot holes big enough to drive fourteen dump trucks through, but it’s darned good fun.

They're too cheap to call the naughty phone lines one on one.


Intermission!

  • The phrase “silent but deadly” applies to girlfriends, too!
  • It’s weird seeing a movie about bombs in NYC after 9/11. Also, one character remarks to another about the cleanup “at the World Trade Center”, referring to the bombing in 1993.
  • Who would notice a chunk of wood stabbed through their leg? Not a hulking Euroterrorist, that’s for sure!
  • Although she’s mentioned a few times, we never actually see Holly (McClane’s wife).
  • Look! A psychologist! You can tell by his distinctive suit and beard!
  • Nothing like a nice, relaxing drive through the park.
  • Canada. Gold smuggling terrorists always end up in Canada.
  • Nobody notices the gun taped to McClane’s back when the sandwich board gets cut off him until he falls down, even though there’s guys standing behind him.
  • Although this is the only Die Hard movie (so far) not set at Christmas time, there are at least two references to Santa Claus made, one mention of reindeer and one about Christmas itself.
  • When you manage a powerhouse banking firm on Wall Street, it seems imprudent to tell a brand new client that the alarm system is fried and the joint is totally vulnerable.
  • Surfing in New York? You don’t need no stinkin’ ocean. You don’t need no stinkin’ surfboard either!
  • Have you ever noticed that mimes get no respect?
  • When the bomb goes off in the Bonwit Teller department store, there is an “Atlantic Courier” truck parked in front of the store that gets flipped over. In Die Hard, Hans Gruber and the other terrorists arrive at Nakatomi Plaza in a “Pacific Courier” truck.
  • The movie is based on a script called “Simon Says”, which was considered for the third sequel to Lethal Weapon. Zeus was scripted as a woman, and the ending was radically different (see DVD Review below), but the first 100 pages of the script was shot almost word for word as it was written.
  • The famous scene where McClane is forced to wander through Harlem with a sign that says “I hate n*****s” was filmed with a sign that said “I hate everyone”. The “everyone” was changed to a racial slur with CGI in post production.
  • The Russian translation used for “Die Hard” in the title of all three movies is “A Tough Nut to Crack”.
  • I watched the scene where Zeus and McClane solve the water jug puzzle (measure exactly 4 gallons of water using only a 3 and a 5 gallon jug) a few times, and they go so quickly through the explanation that it totally loses me every time. So here’s PoolMan’s solution (even though I don’t think it’s the same as in the movie).

1. Fill the 3G jug.
2. Pour it in the 5G jug.
3. Fill the 3G jug again.
4. Pour the 3G jug into the 5G jug until the 5G jug is full (leaving one gallon in the 3G jug).
5. Empty out the 5G jug.
6. Pour the one gallon in the 3G jug into the 5G jug.
7. Fill the 3G jug again.
8. Pour the three gallons in the 3G jug into the 5G jug. Voila! Four gallons!

Groovy Quotes

McClane: I’ll tell you what your problem is. You don’t like me because you’re a racist!
Zeus: What?!?
McClane: You’re a racist! You don’t like me because I’m white!
Zeus: I don’t like you because you’re going to get me killed!

Zeus: Didn’t I hear you say you didn’t even like your brother?
Simon: There’s a difference between not liking one’s brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out of a window.

Zeus: You famous in LA or something?
McClane: Yeah, for about five minutes.
Zeus: Don’t tell me. Rodney King, right?

[driving through Central Park]
Zeus: Are you AIMING for these people?
McClane: No. [pause] Well, maybe that mime.

Cobb: [about McClane] His own wife wants nothing to do with him, and he’s about two steps to becoming a full-blown alcoholic.
McClane: *One* step. One step.

Zeus: What the f*** are you doing?
McClane: Interrogating him.
Zeus: Well, what’s he gonna tell you, “I’m dead”?
McClane: Well, I ain’t gonna know till I ask him, am I?

McClane: Hey, can you pick locks?
Zeus: Is this one of those black things again?

McClane: I got a deal for you. Come out from that rock you’re hiding under and I’ll drive this truck up your ass.
Simon: How colourful.

Jane: Nothing wrong with him a shower wouldn’t cure. Beer is normally taken internally, John.

McClane: I know what I’m doing.
Zeus: Not even GOD knows what you’re doing!

Simon: Said Simple Simon to the pieman going to the fair, “Give me your pies… or I’ll cave your head in.

Zeus: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m not going anywhere.
Cobb: Simon says you’ve got to go.
Zeus: I’m not jumping through hoops for some psycho! That’s a white man, with white problems. You deal with him. Call me when he crosses 110th Street.

Simon: Where are my pigeons now?
Cobb: Pigeons?
Simon: I had two pigeons, bright and gay, fly for me the other day. Why is it they did go? You cannot tell, you do not know.
Cobb: You mean McClane?
Simon: No, I mean Santa Claus.

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7 Comments

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