Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

I’m of the opinion that had this film been created under its original title “Simon Says,” that it could have been a wonderful action thriller with a new franchise start. But as a continuation of the “Die Hard” series it’s a strong and unique sequel. Sure it drops off in the climax, but for the first half of this action thriller, “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is a unique and fresh new direction for a series in a rut. The first film is a classic, and the second is arguably entertaining, so it’s interesting that this film chooses instead to mostly be cerebral in its delivery and villain. Rather than John McClane crawling around ducts and hiding in corners, he spends the entirety of the film running around a crowded New York city during the summer trying to defuse brilliant bombs.

This time around McClane is something of a wash out who spends his days living as a wash out. That is until he’s called back in to action by a mysterious mad bomber who is taking a thrill out of planting random explosives around the city in popular public places and monuments. The villain codenamed Simon is always one step ahead of the authorities and is most eager to get John McClane to play his games. Jeremy Irons has a ball as the smug and often snarky Simon who gets his jollies off of giving the heroes of the film a run for their money while also never being above humiliating them in public. Bruce Willis returns with much fanfare as the crabby and crusty police officer who finds himself in a dastardly plot that threatens to kill thousands of people in New York City. During a rather comical incident involving a sandwich board in Harlem, McClane is saved by a local store owner named Zeus who accidentally gets entangled in Simon’s games.

By helping McClane and preventing him from being murdered by a mad mob of African Americans, Zeus is included in the games initiated by Simon and the two form an uneasy partnership. The one and only Samuel L. Jackson brings his charisma and talent along for the ride, keeping the film at a steady balance of tension and nervous comedy. As Zeus he’s a hapless if clever average Joe drawing parallels to McClane, drawn in to an incredible situation beyond his comprehension and finds no choice but to save the day in spite of his first instincts to preserve his own safety. A majority of “With a Vengeance” relies on Zeus and McClane learning to work together while ignoring their racial tension and solving the riddles that Simon poses for them at every monument.

This typically involves riddles about measuring and classic word problems, while both men attempt to ward off distraction and obstacles around them. That includes driving through crowded streets, and Zeus’ hilarious confrontation with a racist businessman in a subway that’s about to explode. Jackson owns the role of Zeus and plays him beautifully, working well off of Willis and adding a flavor to what could have been a stale film. Sadly, the climax of “With a Vengeance” drops off poorly resorting to a typical action film climax involving fist fights with strong arm thugs, plenty of blood splatter, and broken bones.

“With a Vengeance” seems to run out of ideas mid-way and drops down in to a derivative action film that pits McClane against mad Russian terrorists and it’s a monotonous affair that we’ve seen a dozens times over. For a film that’s set in a clever action series, the final half is pretty tedious and lacks in any creativity or innovation. Nonetheless “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is a refreshing new twist on the formula of the series and it keeps McClane on his toes always skirting the edge of death. Just as we like it. The first half of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is a creative and daring new approach to the film series that was in a rut and needed a shot in the arm. The presence of Jeremy Irons and Samuel L. Jackson lend the third film in the series a much needed dose of charisma and entertainment, and if you ignore the last half, it’s quite a good entry.

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