Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp
Scavenger hunts make for fun activities with kids, but somehow do not carry the same level of entertainment when lives are at stake. I’m glad Die Hard with a Vengeance clears it up as it proves to be the truly good sequel the original action phenomenon deserved. A fun premise and wildly explosive sequences put the protagonist in situations he has never seen before.
Now a suspended police officer in New York, John McClane (Bruce Willis) gets called back into duty after a bomb goes off and the perpetrators specifically ask for him. Working alongside an electrician, Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), they both need to go along with this scavenger hunt, as the terrorists threaten to continually blow things up in the city should they fail.
With the bitter disappointment of Die Hard 2, expectations sat comfortably on the ground for the third one and despite initial trepidation, this third installment proved to be a delightfully fun time because McClane gets a worthy partner and the large expansion of the setting. The first two films took place in relatively confined spaces like a building and an airport, but Die Hard with a Vengeance expands it to all of New York City. The difference is where this film finds its success, as it has the same DNA as the first film but it changes it up in distinct ways to validate why the story needs to get told.
McClane gets put in precarious situations and finds himself at the will of some lunatic willing to kill hundreds of people just torture him. The reveal of this villain makes complete sense with why they would be so sadistic with McClane, which makes it extremely personal. This villain not only wants to kill McClane but also wishes to make him suffer in multiple ways as well. It becomes the scavenger hunt and riddle challenge from hell and McClane needs to rely on his skills and the trust of a man he just met on unideal terms to complete it. One smaller tidbit where this film introduces something fresh comes from showing McClane operating in New York. In both of the previous films, McClane had to operate in areas he did not know, but this go-around takes place in his backyard, which shifts the dynamic of what he can accomplish.
The action in this film continues the continual crank up this series of films wants to display. Large explosions and consequential decisions come at a discount in this film with the way it plays out because the threat needs to be bigger than ever. It no longer impacts a small number of people in an office or airport, these are New Yorkers that will suffer if McClane does not stop this mad man. Gradually, each riddle comes with more tension and higher stakes, which allows for the pacing to ramp up to each of these moments fervently.
A true supporting character and co-lead for McClane, we have Zeus, who brings his own energy matching up well with the protagonist. Zeus has his own fervent beliefs and challenges McClane many times, but he brings the capability for this stressful moment, which assists more than it harms. Their back and forth really works for the film because Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson shine as actors together. A quick reunion after Pulp Fiction, these two know how to play off each other as actors and will continue to do so decades later. Whatever energy Willis may be lacking at times in the film, Jackson responds and fills the void. A strong partnership, which contributes to how different this film feels overall.
To no surprise, bringing back John McTiernan to direct this feature proved to pay out good dividends, as he recaptures the wildness of the first movie. He knows how to make a solid action film and does so once again because of the intensity he brings to the story and how he plays into the vengeance anchoring much of the plot. With who the villain turns out to be, it just makes sense to get the band together again and it worked out well for this film.
Still not reaching the heights of the original, but a worthy sequel with plenty of fun and exhilarating moments, Die Hard with a Vengeance certainly justifies its existence narratively. It pushes McClane in a way he has never seen and it all happens in his own backyard. New York becomes a character in the story and contributes to the explosive and boisterous atmosphere this film provides. The corny one-liners get proper service because it had actual substance tagged along with it.