In the first part of my retrospective on the Die Hard series, I talked a little about Die Hard and DieHard 2: Die Harder. This time, as expected, I’m moving forward to the next two entries, Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard. Do either of these sequels measure up to the ultimate action movie template that is the original? Let’s find out.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
Though Renny Harlin did an admirable job with Die Hard 2: Die Harder, this time around, John McTiernan reclaims his rightful spot in the director’s chair. As such, the action is more consistent, the jokes funnier, and it’s a better experience over all. While one could argue it’s just more Die Hard, the formula is altered enough to make it feel fresh again.
The most notable difference in Die Hard with a Vengeance is the inclusion of a partner for John McClane. That idea could have easily backfired, but since Samuel L. Jackson is that partner, only good things come of it. On a side note, I think this movie has the most f-bombs in existence. I mean, you have Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, so if f-bombs were a currency, the gold stolen by the terrorists wouldn’t even come close to the amount of loot these two guys would have. I won’t spoil Zeus’ (Jackson) introduction, but it’s believable and – more importantly – absolutely hilarious.
The movie is set years after the original, and McClane is back in New York after separating from his wife (again). As you may remember, the original Die Hard ended with McClane dropping Hans Gruber off of the 30th floor of a building. Die Hard with a Vengeance picks up with Gruber’s brother, Simon (Jeremy Irons), on a quest to make McClane pay the price for offing his sibling. Roughly the first half of the movie is spent watching McClane and Zeus run from pay phone to pay phone as Simon plays a sadistic game with them – if they fail to reach the next phone in time, he blows up a school or a subway station, and innocent lives are lost. One of my favorite scenes has McClane cutting through Central Park in a taxi in order to get to the other side of the city before time runs out
Die Hard with a Vengeance – Trailer
One thing that finally dawned on me as I was re-watching this movie is that John McClane is kind of a crappy person. He’s a dead-beat dad, a terrible husband, and probably an alcoholic to boot. But even with all those character flaws, he’s somehow still a hero worth rooting for. It’s probably because he just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about him, and because he’ll stop at nothing to kill the evildoers – even at the expense of his personal life.
If I were to fault it for anything, I’d say that it runs a little too long, and the ending lacks the punch of the two previous entries in the series. Still, both the action and the tension stay at a more consistent pace than Die Hard 2, and Jeremy Irons plays a much better villain than William Sadler. Overall, Die Hard with a Vengeance is a more than welcome addition to the franchise, and watching Willis and Jackson run around New York spewing expletives makes for another two hours well spent.
Live Free or Die Hard
TLive Free or Die Hard is, by far, Len Wiseman’s best movie. You might not think that’s saying too much, but if you want to see the potential he has as a filmmaker, here’s your chance. Compared to the first three installments, it’s certainly toned down in some respects, but it’s still a unique entry in the series and one that I think will surprise you if you’re not too cynical about the idea of another Die Hard in the first place.
DH4 picks up about twelve years after Die Hard with a Vengeance. McClane’s daughter, Lucy, is in college. The movie opens with father spying on daughter as she’s out on a date, thus setting up their antagonistic relationship that ties in with my observation about the last movie, where I pretty much called McClane a dead-beat asshole. Dysfunctional family relationships aside, the actual story is about a terrorist group plotting to use technology as a means of sending us back to the stone-age. The leader of the group, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), designed the security system the U.S. government is currently using after showing Uncle Sam just how shoddy their old system was. Unfortunately for Gabriel, as soon as he finished installing the new system, the government dumped him like yesterday’s garbage. Understandably pissed off, he decides to get back at the government by wiping out all the advancements we’ve made as a society in the digital age.
I actually dig the plot, but it’s the way Wiseman handles the material that really impresses me. The movie was made not too long after 9/11, and it strikes a definite tone of fear and anxiety over attacks that could happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any moment. In one scene, Gabriel calls in a fake anthrax attack on a federal building, and while everyone is in panic mode, he shows a video of the U.S. Capitol building blowing up. The Feds don’t realize it’s a fake image until they run outside to visually confirm the explosion. Scenes like this set the mood well and the hyper-reality of what could maybe, possibly take place if the bad guys were skilled enough at cyber-terrorism is quite effective. It works not only as a good plot device, but also as a commentary (or at least a reflection) on the state of our country at the time.
Live Free or Die Hard – Trailer
The second aspect that garners major points with me is how McClane is portrayed within this scenario. When we last saw him, it was the mid-’90s, and everything made sense to him. Flash-forward to 2007 – and he’s a man lost in a world he doesn’t understand. Multiple times, he tells people he’s not good with all this computer crap, and he has to rely on his sidekick, Matthew Farrell (Justin Long), just to get by. Mind you, none of that stops him from kicking ass and taking names. It just takes a little more figuring out on his part.
All of this adds up to a genuinely thrilling experience, and one that stands up well alongside the rest of the Die Hard series. While I’d forgive you if you initially wrote this one off as a bad idea, I think you’d be doing yourself a favor by checking it out at least once. While I can’t make any promises on how John McClane will fare in 2013, he did pretty alright in 2007.
– George Bell
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