It’s almost axiomatic that the third iteration of a movie franchise is when the sucking starts to begin, assuming that the first sequel didn’t already bring the suck to the table. The good news is that the third Die Hard movie, with John McTiernan back at the helm, manages to avoid this “curse of the third movie.” The bad news is that it doesn’t miss the mark by all that much. This is a Die Hard movie done mostly by the numbers and it’s only because of the sheer professionalism of the enterprise that they bring it off at all.
One problem I have with it is that, as the film begins, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is divorced, on suspension and spending much of his time curled up in the bottle. This means that the film tosses aside all the good will we developed in him repairing his marriage to Bonnie Bedelia during the first two movies. This is the same mistake made by Alien3 and it’s completely unnecessary in this case. The story would not play out any differently if the character of McClane were happily married, so all we get from his development is some cheap hangover jokes.
The movie gets off to a bang as a bomb is set off in the New York City department store Bonwit Teller. The bomber calls the police and demands that John McClane perform a series of tasks. The first involves walking through Harlem in his underwear, wearing a sandwich board with a message guaranteed to get the shit kicked out of him in Harlem. He gets saved from the angry mob by a locksmith named Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), who becomes McClane’s reluctant partner through the rest of the day’s recreational pursuits.
Eventually the bomber, played by Jeremy Irons, reveals that he has hidden a bomb inside one of the couple thousand schools in the New York area and forbids the police to evacuate the schools. This forces the authorities to divert every available warm body to the task of looking for it, which pulls every cop out of the financial district, which of course only McClane figures out.
The early to middle parts of the film, in which McClane and Carver are forced to dash all over the island of Manhattan solving Simon’s puzzles, have an aimless quality that almost drag the film down with it. It’s only when our hero figures out the bomber’s real plan that Die Hard: With a Vengeance switches into a true “action movie” mode and things really start cooking.
Unfortunately, the character of Simon makes for a pretty hollow villain, never more than the sum of his clever rhymes and puzzles. It takes some truly mediocre writing to make Jeremy Irons seem uninteresting but this movie manages to pull that off. It doesn’t help that the character has a link back to Alan Rickman in the first Die Hard, which only serves to remind us that this is a sequel to a completely superior movie.
On the plus side, having Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis teamed up for most of the movie is never a bad thing. These two actors play off each other effortlessly and elevate scenes that, on the page, are little more than f-words and strained racial humor.
Of course, the big question is whether this movie is better or worse than the first sequel and I can only say that it is better in some parts, not as good in others, so it’s pretty much a wash. One improvement is that, in this movie, McClane’s fellow cops are not a bunch of bumbling morons. I’m certain that the LAPD, the FBI and the Fraternal Order of Airport Police were not exactly fans of the first two movies.
Like the second movie, however, the bad guys’ plan is unbelievably (and probably unnecessarily) complex. Seriously, people smart enough to come up with this plan don’t need to rob banks. They start internet companies and make billions before they’re old enough to drink.
Make no mistake, you will be entertained, but do not go in expecting to have your mind enlarged, unless you’re also reading Proust by the light of your plasma TV.