Now back in New York City, cop John McClane (Willis) has hit the booze after separating from his wife, and is on suspension from work. When a bomb goes off in the streets, however, a man named “Simon” (Irons) claims responsibility and demands that McClane participate in a series of deadly games. Reluctantly helped by a Harlem shop owner (Jackson), McClane is about to have another very bad day…
Though still a far cry from the peerless original, Die Hard With A Vengeance, the third in the series, is a big improvement over the second. The main reason for this, of course, is that action maestro John McTiernan returns to the director’s chair after missing the sequel (where Renny Harlin stepped in). Realising that Die Hard 2: Die Harder tried too hard to include elements from the first, McTiernan changes things up. Immediately stating his intentions, the usual festive backdrop is replaced with a sweltering summer. Hell, the film even opens with The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City. The biggest change, of course, is that while the previous two took place in and around a single location (first a high-rise skyscraper, then an airport), here McClane’s fly-in-the-ointment antics are opened out to the whole city.
“But Die Hard is supposed to have a claustrophobic setting!” you argue. Well perhaps, but what’s more important is that McTiernan restores tension and excitement to the series. From the mind-testing riddles to some huge set pieces, Die Hard With A Vengeance is often thrilling, even if it runs out of steam during an overloaded third act which is a helicopter shootout too far. Pairing John McClane with Sam Jackson’s racist sidekick might remove his lone-wolf essence, but it gives our hero someone to back-and-forth with who isn’t on a walkie-talkie or a conveniently-appearing janitor. Also, the decision to have him at rock bottom is a wise one (a happily married John McClane is a far less interesting one). Jeremy Irons isn’t on par with Alan Rickman (who is?), but he’s a strong, underrated villain, regardless, and good enough to make a potentially hoary plot twist work.
Though still not on par with the peerless original, Die Hard With A Vengeance is a big improvement over the second.