Saturday, February 9, 2013

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 3 (1995).

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard.  As such, the third film on the list is obviously Die Hard: With A Vengeance.  Brandon, myself, and the OutNow Podcast crew did a commentary for this picture a few weeks back which just posted yesterday, so if you want a truly exhaustive and time-consuming look at the film, double-dip accordingly.  But I will say that the film's esteem has grown very much over the last 18 years, so the point where it's no longer scandalous to admit that you like it as much or more than the original.  In that sense, it's the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade of the series.  I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Director:  John McTiernan
Starring:  Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Sam Phillips, Kevin Chamberlin
Rated R

Wait a minute. You mean to tell me I'm in this shit 'cause some white cop threw some white asshole's brother off a roof?
                        ~Zeus Carver

After a five year hiatus, Die Hard roars back…with a vengeance (*sigh* I tried, but I couldn’t resist).  And that’s literally the title.  John McTiernan resumes directorial duties and returns the franchise to the fresh original and fun that infused the original entry.  The film was a big success and went on to become the highest grossing in the series and the highest grossing film worldwide in 1995.  Instead of following the sort of “Die Hard formula”, McTiernan opens it up instead of keeping it closed in.  New York City becomes John McClane’s playground this time around.  Early on, the plans were for it to either happen on a cruise ship (that script later became Speed 2: Cruise Control) or the Los Angeles subway system.  Both ideas were scrapped for a hot script called Simon Says.  Simon Says had already been turned to down by the Lethal Weapon franchise for their third entry.  McClane was added and the script was infused with Die Hard and became Die Hard: New York.  Later as we know, the title became Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

McTiernan’s return is greatly noticeable and appreciated.  The film is packed and paced perfectly with heartpounding chase sequences and action sequences.  There is a ticking clock throughout the film.  And once again there are stakes and consequences, and they both matter a great deal.  The action is pulse pounding, brutal and you feel it like it hurts.  John McClane is the only returning character and nobody from the previous films is shoe-horned in.  The new characters, especially the good guys, are wonderfully woven in and are colorful and likeable.  There’s no lousy, forced backstories or dumb exposition to get us to like them.  We like them because of the way the do their job (competently), how well they do it and because, damnit they’re willing to listen and cooperate with each other and John McClane to work this whole crisis out!  How often do we get to see this in action movies let alone other genres.  Normally there’s at least that one “Oh no you don’t” power-tripped ego freak.  The first Die Hard even had that.  Not in this movie.  If there were ANY characters to bring back to another film, I wish it’d been some of these folks, but alas, none return.  And I’m ok with that.

With A Vengeance gives us a strong villain, Simon Gruber – brother of Hans.  This sounds like some corny fan fiction, but through Jeremy Irons performance and the nature of the plot, it works better than it probably sounded on paper.  Similar in greed, Simon Gruber and Jeremy Irons come very close to touching that high stature with which Hans Gruber and Alan Rickman stand.  He’s a menace without ever truly losing his cool until the very end. Partnering up with John McLane this time around is Zeus Carver.  This was Samuel L Jackson’s first big movie following the success of Pulp Fiction.  He’s an innocent civilian identically inviting himself into the situation.  Trust me, it works.  Willis and Jackson have tremendous chemistry and its incredibly fun watching these two solve puzzles and tackle racism throughout their day in New York together.  Speaking of the puzzles-that’s another aspect I love about this film.  As an audience member the film allows you to mentally invest yourself along with the characters ramping up the intensity another notch.  You sit wanting to solve the riddles before McLane and Zeus, hoping to beat the clock yourself.  Its that kinda non-winking audience enjoyment that helps invest oneself deeply into this film and allows you to completely escape into this adventure.  

The film definitely pieces together some very great and memorable actions sequences.  From the opening explosion on we get a car chase through central park, stopping a bomb on a subway, McLane shootout in the vault, boarding and escaping a ship, its pretty awesome. McTiernan utilizes filming on location and lets New York live and breathe in this film.  The whole thing feels authentic and New York itself becomes a character rather than a setting within the film and not in a distracting way.  A stereotypical throwaway exposition part of a New York construction worker (played by Joe Zaloom) becomes fun, colorful and memorable, leading us to forget how Deus Ex Machina the part really is.  The most intense sequence of events in the film doesn't even involve McLane, Zeus or Simon Gruber.  The police are told that there is a bomb inside an elementary school that will go off.  The school, conveniently attended by Zeus’ kids, is successfully evacuated except for these younglings.  This turns into a completely intense no win situation for Lambert, Kowalski and the children.  In a moment of self sacrifice, bomb expert Weiss stays back to try to defuse it til the last possible second.  The bomb is a fake.  Even knowing that to this day, the scene STILL plays insanely intense and I feel for some reason the film might change and the bomb might go off.  This scene single-handedly may just be the most intense and suspenseful moment in the entire series…and it doesn't even have McLane in it.

Speaking of McLane, as a youngster, I wanted things to be all hunky dory and he’s happy with Holly and the kids.  It was quite a lackluster surprise (as being a youngster I wanted John The Hero not John The Deadbeat), after the last second films, to see where he picks up now.  But as I've grown, I LOVE it.  He’s hungover, still probably a little drunk, suspended and separated from Holly.  Once again folks, the odds are completely against McLane.  And it perfectly adds to the “randomness” of things happening like the first film without being the “how can the same shit happen to the same guy three times” type scenario.  They forego the enclosed area and expand it to a city.  Proving to us that this series CAN and IS more than just “Die Hard on a…” The weakest point of the film is definitely the ending.  It completely reeks of the “Well, we gotta wrap this up somehow”.  For me, this incredible, intense, suspenseful and completely fun movie has earned the right to just “end”.  It’s a bit messy, doesn't make too much sense in a lot of areas if you think about, but, fuck it…things go boom, John says “Yippie-Ki-Yay Motherfucker”, Simon dies, John & Zeus high five, John calls Holly.”  I’m fine with it.  The original ending, while interesting in its own right, tonally doesn't fit with the film and frankly just doesn't feel as satisfactory. 

Die Hard With A Vengeance was and still is one of the best action movies of all time.  It’s a genuine crowdpleaser that lets you get involved, has you on the edge of your seat and keeps a smile on your face.  It comes really…JUST A HAIR shy of matching the original.  A hair.  Slim margin.  If you prefer this one over the first one, I can’t say you’re wrong.  This is damn fine entertainment.  And it goes by so quickly no matter how many times you've seen it.  You could honestly skip the second one and get to this just fine.  Along with the first one, I say this is a MUST.

Now, this film felt like the perfect capper to a trilogy.  I wanted, but really didn't think another would be in the pipeline for this series.  But alas…around the time of Armageddon…life started beginning for 4th film.  But we’ll get to that in…

Next Up:  Live Free Or Die Hard

Timothy Olyphantastic (credit Aaron Neuwirth), jumping off a plane wing, a lazy ass director cameos, hackers drink energy drinks and the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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