Our reviews of Die Hard With A Vengeance (published April 20th, 2000), The Die Hard Collection (published June 25th, 2007), and Die Hard with a Vengeance (Blu-ray) (published October 17th, 2011) are also available.
On a good day, he's a great cop. On a bad day, he's the best there is.
It had been five years since Bruce Willis starred in Renny Harlin's slam-bang action sequel Die Hard 2: Die Harder. In that time, he spent his days making movies such as Quentin Tarantino's hit Pulp Fiction, held a supporting role in the acclaimed Nobody's Fool, and flopped big time in the silly if underrated Hudson Hawk. By the time 1995 rolled around, Willis and original Die Hard director John McTiernan decided that it was time for John McClane to strap on his piece one more time for the whooping Die Hard With A Vengeance. This time around, McClane was teamed up with Samuel L. Jackson as an irritable black civilian with a grudge against white folks (Rodney King was apparently busy). Die Hard With A Vengeance went on to be a hit with audiences, proving that when you've got a good formula, keep it going to the explosive end. Fox sets loose a double-disc set with Die Hard With A Vengeance: Special Edition on DVD.
Facts of the Case
No one seems to have worse luck than John McClane (Willis). Back on his home turf of New York City, McClane is on suspension from his job and once again estranged from his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia in the first two films). As Die Hard With A Vengeance opens, a department store is blown to smithereens by a mysterious stranger. What's he want? None other than John McClane.
Our bad guy, "Simon" (Jeremy Irons), is in the business of playing games. His first one sends Lt. McClane out into Harlem decked only in his boxers and a sign that reads "I hate (word that will get any white person killed in Harlem)." [Editor's Note: Willis filmed that scene in Harlem, and they didn't write "that word" on the sign…it was added with CG.] It will be only minutes before McClane is torn open like a piñata. Before he is pummeled by neighboring African American teens, a local shop owner named Zeus (Jackson) rescues McClane. At the police station, a disgruntled McClane and Zeus are snagged into Simon's game, aptly titled "Simon Says." Simon's instructions are to have McClane and his disgruntled partner run from one end of New York to the other to do figure out menial riddles before Simon starts blowing up deadly bombs in very public places. Why does Simon want McClane? Let's just say that he's got a connection to John that won't surprise observant viewers.
The Big Apple is in for a BIG surprise if McClane and Zeus can't keep up with Simon's sadistic game.
Die Hard With A Vengeance is a very good popcorn movie. That being said, it's probably the weakest of the three Die Hard movies. Even so, it's still a very well done action thriller with slick performances and stunts. Maybe the sole reason this doesn't stack up as high is that the premise has worn a bit sour. By 1995, there had been a lot of other action movies in this same vein, and with the inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson as a sidekick, Die Hard With A Vengeance starts to smack a bit of the Lethal Weapon series.
But I'm nitpicking. Die Hard With A Vengeance is tons of fun and superbly directed by John McTiernan. The story for Die Hard With A Vengeance deviates from the norm, this time using an entire city as a hostage playground rather than just a corporate building or winter worn airport. New York is a great setting for McClane, as this is his home turf. We get to meet some of his colleagues at the station (Colleen Camp, Graham Greene) and his new partner in Zeus makes for fast, funny one-liners. When McClane lets Zeus know that he knows exactly what he's doing by driving a cab through a crowded park, Zeus strikes back, "Not even God knows what you're doing, McClane!" Since the buddy element in now included in this final Die Hard film, the comedy is more expansive and filling. Hardly a sentence goes by where McClane or Zeus aren't slapping each other with witty insults. Bruce Willis walks a fine line of making McClane a parody of himself, though this is not entirely his fault. Since so many action movies have involved this same type of character over the years (gritty, angry, hard smoking cop), it's expected that the audience will have seen this done many times before. Willis is still able to keep McClane grounded in "Hollywood" reality, though With A Vengeance comes close to making McClane seem more super human than regular Joe. Samuel L. Jackson is a welcome addition to the cast, a man caught in a game that he has no desire to play, yet is forced to keep going. Jackson shows that he's just as adept at somber drama as he is at comedy (Jackson mugs and reacts with nervous verve whenever the chance arises). Sadly, Jeremy Irons gets lost in the shuffle. His character of Simon is done with professional energy, but with all the action swirling around him (and not to mention following Alan Rickman's stunning performance in the original film), he eventually gets lost in his own game.
Money was apparently no object for this third outing as the effects team blows up anything and everything they can get their hands on. Department stores, subway trains, Federal Reserves—it's all for the taking (or should I say exploding?). The action is paced slickly and quickly, a great ride for any fan of this genre. The script was originally written for another film, and with a few tweaks by screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, it was formulated to fit the Die Hard mold and myth. Though not as tight as the first film, Die Hard With A Vengeance will still be a lot of fun when the mood for mindless action strikes you.
Die Hard With A Vengeance is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Like the first two films, Fox has done a fantastic job of making a newly anamorphic transfer look generally crisp and clean. Though I noticed more edge enhancement than normal (at one point it's so obvious that it borders on intrusive), this is a pretty clean transfer. Some dirt was spotted, but not a ton. The flesh tones and colors were brightly natural with blacks dark and solid. Though not as good as the other two transfers, Die Hard With A Vengeance passes muster (and is certainly miles above Fox's previous DVD release).
Die Hard With A Vengeance also features the same audio tracks as the other films. Included are a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English, a DTS track in English, and a Dolby Surround 2.0 track in English and French. Both the DTS and 5.1 are excellent in their reproduction, practically knocking the viewer through the back of his couch. Rear speakers are constantly engaged with dialogue sounding undistorted and clear. Michael Kamen's wonderful score swoons over all the speakers as explosions and gunfire engulf the viewer. This is a great mix, almost besting the first two movies' mixes. Also included are Spanish and English subtitles.
Die Hard With A Vengeance—Special Edition, like the first two films, comes in a double disc set full of special features. The first disc includes a commentary by director John McTiernan, as well as screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh and former president of marketing at Fox, Tom Sherak. Like the previous commentaries, this one is very informative and technical, touching on almost all aspects of the film's production. McTiernan seems to be the most informed, though screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh does add much to the proceedings. The three commentators were all recorded separately, though Fox manages to do a good job of making this track seamless.
The second disc starts with a few behind-the-scenes features. The first, "Behind the scenes: Die Hard With A Vengeance," is hosted by Die Hard 1 & 2 actor Reginald VelJohnson. Slow at first, this soon picks up speed and gives the viewer some nice glimpses at what it took to bring Die Hard With A Vengeance to the screen. "A Night to Die For / McClane is Back" was originally shown during a broadcast of Die Hard 2: Die Harder on the Fox television station. Hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, this is one of the most bizarre promotional spots I've ever seen. Where else can you see blues artist B.B. King, Kato Kaelin, mayor Rudolph Giuliani, ex-Bears coach Mike Ditka, hockey star Wayne Gretzky, Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher, rapper Ice-T and more come out to show their respect for the character of John McClane? A funny extra and a lot of fun to have. Finally, there's a "Making Of" featurette that's only around four minutes in length and is more a promotional spot/clips and interviews feature more than anything else. All of these are featured in a full frame presentation.
A rough, non-anamorphic "Alternate Ending" (with timecode) is included that is drastically different than what ended up being in the final film. Though this ending is much slower than the original ending, it seems to be more in keeping with the movie's tone. A commentary by screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh is also optional.
Three "Behind the Scenes" features—"Terror in the Subway," "Prepping the Park," and "Blowing Up Bonwit"—show how much skill, time and energy were put into producing some of Die Hard With A Vengeance's most harrowing stunt sequences. Some additional storyboards are included, flipping from drawings to film and back again.
An Interview with Bruce Willis shows our star discussing his character background and motivation. "Villain's Profile" spotlights Jeremy Iron's megalomaniac Simon character, plus his henchwoman/lover singer Sam Phillips. This feature includes interviews with some of the cast, as well as Irons and Phillips. Both of these features are short and not all that insightful. A visual effects gallery offers up "a cross section of visual effects and stunt sequences." each of these sequences includes a look at the making of the effects and stunts. All of these are relatively quick and informative. Finally, there are some promotional materials in the way of two anamorphic theatrical trailers and no less than ten TV spots.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even though Die Hard With A Vengeance is the weakest link of the three films, it still gives lots of bang for your buck. Some of the plot holes are gaping (uh…someone explain to me how those trucks got to Canada again?), but you can't be picky when you get such a well oiled action movie.
A rousing final chapter (we think?) to a very well done action series. Bruce Willis should quit while he's ahead and let the Die Hard trilogy end on a high note. Fox does a great job with this special edition DVD. With a wonderful transfer, great audio tracks and well done supplements, Die Hard With A Vengeance—Special Edition is a must for any Die Hard collector or adventure fan.
Free to join its brothers fighting terrorists wherever they may strike! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director John McTiernan
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