R. I wanted to write, "Rated R because it's Die Hard, but that's not true. The next one is PG-13. Regardless, we have quite a bit that would be considered R-rated in this film. The language alone is pretty intense. Let's add onto the fact that a lot of it is racially motivated. Then there's the violence. Oy, the violence! There's some violent sex, but I don't think that there's any nudity. Regardless, this movie has earned the R-rating.
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
This movie is not the same movie that it was in 1995. In a weird conglomeration of moments that reminded me of the events that have transpired 24 years, there's a lot of establishing shots of the World Trade Center. In a movie without a ton of references, they namedrop both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In that Hillary Clinton example, they were fairly certain that Hillary Clinton would be president. It's a very step-out-of-yourself movie. And it's Die Hard 3. I shouldn't be constantly removed from a movie based on some weird fourth wall breaking stuff. I should be thinking about how great the third entry in the series should be. I think Die Hard with a Vengeance was my favorite at one point in time. It's a very great "return to form." I use quotations because I am one of the die hard Die Hard 2 fans. (I can close up the blog after that wonderful bit of writing. It gets no better than that.) But Die Hard with a Vengeance was only fun this time. It didn't blow my mind this time. I don't know if any of it is actually Die Hard with a Vengeance's fault. Mainly because Die Hard with a Vengeance shows its age stronger than the other entries of the series. I'm not used to feeling like '90s films show their age so hard, but Die Hard with a Vengeance shows what the blockbuster films of the '90s were really like.
You know that old idiom, "Yesterday's liberal is today's conservative"? Yeah, Die Hard with a Vengeance was revolutionary entry in the series in 1995. It feels like I'm writing about the 1950s, but Die Hard 3's themes of race really run smack dab in the middle of our discussion of race today, it's odd to think that this idea probably was once progressive. I love the addition of Samuel L. Jackson to the DieHardiverse. (Patent pending.) He's great, especially because I have no real love for Bruce Willis. He's a fun actor and all, but I actually really like Samuel L. Jackson. My wife might not care for him that much, but he's okay in my book. But Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus brings up a political climate that is as powerful today as it was then. The only issue is that it is in the background of this film as opposed to the forefront where it belongs. Zeus hates McClane because of the history of abuse by white police officers in Harlem. This is huge. Die Hard with a Vengeance talks about race relations with the police and makes one of the two protagonists a crusader for change. But part of Zeus's character is that he is the one who changes. John McClane can't change. I mentioned in my Die Hard 2 review that McClane's changes actually stuck from the first movie. But John McClane is set back to zero in terms of his growth. Because this character is now spearheading a franchise, he has to be a tabula rasa. He can't actually retain any of the character growth that he experienced in previous films. He has no relationship with Holly. He can't even have Alan. His dynamic is that of a lone wolf burdened with help that he didn't really look for. (Okay, he kind of looks for Alan, but not Alan specifically.) If the movie needs a character arc, McClane can't really have that change. He doesn't actually get back with Holly in this one. He makes the phone call, but then it doesn't really end with a happy ending with his wife. Heck, he's even a New York cop again. So all of the character growth has to be heaped upon Zeus.
And that leads me to the line that irks me a bit. John McClane calls Zeus a racist. He hates white people. This is a time that we thought that race was simple. I remember thinking in the '90s that anyone could be racist. (I'm aware of what I'm writing. I'm writing a film criticism. There's even nuance to the nuance that I'm writing.) But there is no understanding of privilege when it comes to Die Hard with a Vengeance. Zeus makes his character change. He becomes far more cooperative with McClane. They actually kind of become friends when Zeus gets woke. But I can see how this was a big progressive moment in the '90s. It's the whole "Give-Peace-a-Chance" moment that has some value, but is wildly too simple. It's such a weird moment when Zeus is seen to be the morally questionable one. It's so interesting to think of Zeus in the 21st Century. Zeus can exist as a character. He's actually a minable character because there is a depth there. He's fallible, but that's because he lies to himself. When Zeus confesses why he saves McClane, he says that he is stopping a white cop from being killed in Harlem. But Zeus doesn't know McClane is a cop when he saves him. He values life and I don't think he realizes this. He is a more noble hero than he is aware of. He sees mental illness and doesn't respond with hate. Having McClane point out his genuine goodness might be a better character change for Zeus. Instead of being accused of being a racist, he could acknowledge that he finds value in the preservation of life and the progression of a cause. I really like that angle of it. Regardless...
It's really weird to think that Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn't already a Die Hard movie. I don't understand how Die Hard 3 was made. It had to go through a million drafts, right? It was simply supposed to be a good action movie. But Die Hard with a Vengeance is the first one that gives John McClane a mythology. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a copy of the first film. The only thing that really ties part 2 to a greater universe is the fact that everyone has to acknowledge, but ultimately ignore, the events at Nakatomi Tower. But Die Hard with a Vengeance embraces the events of the first film. I mean, John McTienrnan directs the first and the third entry, which is odd because the movies look very different from one another. (It takes place in the middle of the summer. That helps.) The ties to Hans Gruber are central to the film. What did the original film look at? I mean, making John McClane the protagonist is such a shorthand. The movie ultimately feels way more personal than the first two films. The first two films have a larger than life story fall into John McClane's lap. It's actually so boggling of the mind that the character has to address this coincidence multiple times in the second film. But the problem finds McClane here. It chases him. In the film, McClane is on suspension and spends the entire time on a bender. It is the event that calls him out and singles him out as the only person who can deal with this threat. So who was the original protagonist? The back of my brain is scratching at me and telling me that this movie was called "Simon Says" or something like that. But the movie is ultimately personal, with a twist that mirrors the original Die Hard. It's just such a Die Hard movie at heart. Who wrote this? Was he a Die Hard fan? Is it anything like the original film? I'm sure all these questions have been answered at one point or another. But the movie is really interesting. It's a real simple concept that I'm surprised more screenwriters haven't done before this. When building a plot, there have to be certain hoops that a protagonist has to be thrown through. A direct line from A to B makes a boring story. But this movie smartly just uses the obstacle course as something very literal. John and Zeus have to get from one point to another because the bad guy tells him to. Why didn't we just do that earlier? Having Simon create this labyrinth for McClane keeps the movie constantly movie. Heck, the very nature of transportation becomes a major plot point. Rather than McClane just being at a new location is riveting. I mean, there's some parts of your brain that need to be shut off, but that's not the worst thing in the world like this. Hans Gruber will always be the uber-villain of the Die Hard films, but Simon actually kind of dwarfs him a bit.
The way that John captures Simon is a bit...weak? It seems like such a stretch. SPOILERS because I really want to talk about it. It's weird that Simon is carrying a bottle of aspirin on him. The fact that he throws it to McClane as an insult is even more odd. The fact that this bottle of aspirin has the exact location of the bad guys' getaway point is just beyond expectation. I really like that it looks like McClane actually loses in this one. But to resolve this very deep hole that is dug, the ladder has to be taller. We get a good ending to the movie, but not a great one. The thing about Simon is that he's really good at this. I know, it is satisfying to have the master planner stymied by something completely dumb. But this moment is beyond reproach. On top of that, the big resolution and face-off is just meh. I know that McClane doesn't really have that with Hans either. There's no big fight. Instead, he just drops him off a building. Shooting down Simon's helicopter is only okay at best. It feels like Jeremy Irons and Bruce Willis aren't even in the same location with this face-off. That's odd. Also, why is Zeus there? I mean, I'd have Zeus there too. But realistically, he's done with the story. It would actually be endangering a civilian to bring him. Is the hotel in Quebec? Is it on the American side? I don't think so, with all of the French stuff going on. Were the Canadians cool with allowing American law enforcement planning a very intense operation all willy-nilly? Considering the crafting of the rest of the film, the customs at the Canadian border is just a really weird choice.
Die Hard with a Vengeance used to be my favorite in the series. It was still a good time, but it feels really dated today. I know it's no one's faults, but it is so odd to see moments reminding you that the world has changed beyond people constantly using payphones. Regardless, it is a fun entry in the series and possibly the last great entry in the Die Hard franchise.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.