Wednesday, December 23, 2009

“Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus?”

1995. John McClane and John McTiernan were reunited, which is great, but it wasn’t Christmas anymore, which is sad. Instead we got Samuel L. Jackson. Its time to Die Hard With A Vengeance.

Its summer in New York City, and John McClane is a New York cop once again. Except he’s suspended and borderline alcoholic and estranged from his wife. Then some stuff blows up in the city and the Police get a call from the mastermind, demanding John McClane wear a very offensive sign in Harlem or else more explosions. John survives in part because of the intervention of a bystander, who then gets dragged along because the terrorist is pissed he interfered. Like always, a lot of money is involved, John’s trying to figure out who exactly wants it, and why. And he’s got a really bad hangover.

John McClane: Bruce Willis (as always). It really sucks to be John in this one. He’s on the outs with his wife, has his superiors at the station constantly pissed at him, and he’s been drinking in the morning on a day. Then it turns out the bad guy knows who he is and is really pissed at him. So John’s being played as the bad guy’s pawn as he races around trying to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. It’s a really bad day to be John McClane, however, he tends to be extremely badass on his bad days.

Zeus Carver: Samuel L. Jackson plays an engineer from Harlem who’s a loving family man, reasonable guy and doesn’t trust whitey. He pulls a Good Samaritan when he helps John not get killed in Harlem for being forced by the bad guy to wear a sign that, well, let’s just say it would get you killed in Harlem. They build up a typical buddy cop movie relationship, where they don’t like each other at all until near the end and Zeus plays the race card on John a lot with hilarious results.

Inspector Walter Cobb, Joe Lambert, Connie Kowalski and Ricky Walsh: Okay, these are the NY Cops involved in the case. Respectively, they are Larry Bryggman, Graham Greene (from Maverick), Colleen Camp (from Clue), and Anthony Peck. They’re all competent cops who are basically the B-team trying to keep things under control while John & Zeus do their thing, and they even get a moment to shine near the climax.

Charlie Weiss: Kevin Chamberlin plays the unlikely badass of the film. He’s a chubby bomb unit guy called in to help find and defuse the explosives planted in the city. While he starts off as a minor character, when they find one of the bombs in a school and evacuate it, he’s right there trying to shut the thing off. No such luck and he gets ready to get out, but then the cops find some kids who decided to hide out inside and he mans the fuck up and stays at it. Now, you expect badass things from Bruce Willis & Sam Jackson, but from a lowly secondary character to get that kind of moment, truly badass.

Simon Peter Gruber: Jeremy Irons is quite awesome as the German-accented, blonde mastermind of the attacks. He’s also a class A asshole, calling the police up and having John & Zeus jump through hoops trying to figure out his obfuscating (look it up) riddles that follow the “Simon says” format. Turns out he’s Hans Gruber’s brother, and at first you think that’s why he wants McClane dead, but it turns out that’s just a very welcome bonus objective to his main ambition, which involves stealing a LOT of money with his multi-ethnic-but-mostly-white army of mercenaries. He’s also got a hot girlfriend/lieutenant who’s a mute sociopath.

From the very first shots framing New York City, you can tell John McTiernan’s visual style is just so damn effective. Then the movie wastes no time in getting into the thick of things as we get lots and lots of explosions and cutting it close to the wire. The pacing is frantic, but its also fairly focused. In a lot of ways, it feels a lot more like Die Hard than Die Harder did.

Writing credits go to Jonathan Hensleigh (who also happened to direct the 2004 Punisher movie) and to Roderick Thorp for “certain original characters” on IMDB. While its not exactly the character driven piece that Die Hard was, the interactions between John & Zeus are entertaining, Simon’s a great villain and its nice to see the B team of the other cops behaving as competent individuals. Still, characterization here is completely secondary to plot and explosions. The movie seems to know it can’t top Die Hard, so it just lays on the wildly entertaining action scenes that stretch the bounds of credibility and survivability. Which isn’t really so bad, because its done well here.

Michael Kamen back once again for the score, and once again it’s a very solid piece.

Die Hard 3 With A Vengeance is not as good as the original, this is obvious. However, it is still a hell of a lot of fun and as far as sequels go, just seems to work so much better than 2 did. Recommended.

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