FROM THE VAULT: Die Hard With A Vengeance
When you get right down to it, a well-made action film is quite rare. Most of the time these type of movies suffer from bad acting, bad dialogue, too much editing, and weak scripts. Still, they tend to rake it in at the box office, if for no other reason then Americans enjoy watching stuff blow up. But in terms of a true action classic, they have become more and more rare since the late 1990s.
The third Die Hard film may be one of the last great action films I’ve ever seen. I recently re-discovered it on Netflix instant watch, and I appreciated it much more this time around.
An action movie will almost always sacrifice story and character development in place of car chases, explosions, and fist fights (or more recently martial arts). However, the great adventure pictures stand apart precisely because you are invested in the story and care about the character.
Die Hard 3 strikes the perfect balance. The movie doesn’t even waste time w/ credits before a building blows up. The police receive a call from the bomber, who calls himself Simon, instructing that they round up John McClane and force him to complete a task. Our returning hero is not well; suffering a hangover, an impending divorce, and poor hygiene. It turns out that task involves wearing a racially insensitive sign in the middle or Harlem.
He is saved by a black racist named Zeus, not Jesus (played memorably by Samuel L. Jackson), and Simon decides to involve the samaritan in his diabolical game. The next job is for McClane and Zeus to travel halfway across New York City before a bomb on a train explodes. From this point on, the movie literally never slows down. The pair are constantly hijacking one vehicle after another in pursuit of the villains final threat: a school bombing at 3:00pm.
Along the way, the audience slowly pieces together who the bomber is, what their real intentions are, and so on. This installment is also by far the funniest of the franchise, and uses Zeus as an interesting spin on the “buddy cop” subgenre made famous by Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs. Even more memorable are some of the deaths of the bad guys. The best by far is a henchman who is killed when a towing cable from an SUV is connected to a boat crane. The wire runs out of slack, pulls the SUV into the Ocean, and severs the henchman in half on the way down.
Obviously the main attraction of a well-made kill-a-thon is a unique weapon or explosive, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Simon has stolen a weapon that mixes two chemicals together cause maximum property damage. Once the chemicals are mixed, there’s no way to disarm the device. It is earlier demonstrated that a paperclip dipped in both substances creates an explosion powerful enough to destroy a desk chair. Simon’s school bomb is made up of about 2,000 lbs of this stuff, so there’s not going to be much left of the school if this baby goes off.
Perhaps what makes this movie so good is that the special effects are done practically. There certainly hasn’t been a lack of action films made since the early 2000s, but CGI hasn’t aged these films particularly well. Die Hard 3 uses liquid blood, real cars crashing, and REAL EXPLOSIONS and fire. I feel audiences have been pretty clear about this, but CGI saves studios millions of dollars and is a lot safer. Still, it makes for an inferior product, at least in my humble opinion.
Die Hard with a Vengeance also doesn’t feel compelled to cut every half-second for the M-TV generation. You can actually keep track of who’s who and where everybody is. This is important because John McClane covers a lot of ground in the two-hour running time. It starts late and ends early, another thing that movies can’t seem to get right lately.
When this movie was released, it was greeted with lukewarm critical reaction but impressive box office. The critics were wrong… plain and simple. Die Hard with a Vengeance should go down as an action movie classic, and it deserves to be remembered.
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